A year ago last Saturday, I watched the northernmost parkrun in the world on the Isle of Bressay - a 10-minute ferry trip from Lerwick, the main township on the Shetland mainland.
Running in the field of about 50 were the Jones family from Whanganui, Elliot and Oliver and father Gareth and mother Lesley.
Last Saturday I watched the first Whanganui Riverbank Parkrun which attracted an encouraging 76 starters.
A major difference, apart from the ferry trip to reach the start, was that first light in the Shetland Islands was 2.21am with sunrise at 3.53am, as opposed to leaving home at first light with sunrise at about the time of pre-race briefing at 7.50am.
Three weeks after the Shetland run, I sat at a table with the Mellsop family at Josh van Dalen's wedding in Madrid and mentioned the Shetland experience. Judy Mellsop mentioned that they had run in various parkruns and were keen to start one in Whanganui but that it had been a challenge to establish.
Finding a suitable park (the runs must be held weekly in a park and must be 5km), finding volunteers and completing the many requirements by the international body was just the start of those challenges.
Money had to be raised to get the whole thing under way and, although free to competitors, the financial obligations for start-up including the purchase of a defibrillator were considerable. And of course, along came Covid-19 to add to the challenges, delaying the start by nearly three months.
Eventually, with the help of the Whanganui District Council, an attractive course was designed along the riverbank walkway to become the Whanganui Riverbank parkrun.
Donations were received from Belverdale Hospital, Craigs Investment Partners, Eyes on Victoria, John van Dalen Ltd, Leedstown Trust and Wanganui Eyecare Centre which were gratefully received and a trial was held just before alert level 4 in early March.
Mellsop and her team of volunteers are to be congratulated on their determination and tenacity to allow the launch last Saturday (July 4).
Seventy-six runners faced the starter on the riverbank start downstream from the Cobham Bridge and ran or walked, turning at the bearing silver ball sculpture and returned to bring them back to the start-finish line. The inaugural run at a new venue is always popular and there were out-of-town guests from many parts of the North Island. The couple from Cooks Beach in Coromandel so enjoyed the experience that they have stayed on for an extra week to run again on Saturday.
The photographer Andy from New Plymouth commented on Facebook that the picturesque riverside route, a welcoming cafe and a large and varied market near the course made Whanganui an excellent 30th New Zealand parkrun venue.
For the record, local GP Chris Jacques was first across the line in 18 minutes 38 seconds and, although this time may well be beaten in the weekly event in the future, he will always be the first to complete the Riverbank parkrun.
Holly McKinlay pushing her son William in a stroller was the first woman home (26:21). McKinlay (nee van Dalen) is no stranger to 5km running and as a former New Zealand Schools Champion, New Zealand representative and successful runner for Stony Brook in the USA, like Jacques remains as a first.
New Zealand under 20 Racewalk Champion Lucas Martin had a recorded walk time of (50:15) but did set off 24 minutes late as he went to the Kowhai Park rather than the start opposite 282 Taupo Quay.
This was almost certainly the fastest walk time but he will have to prove it by starting on time from the correct venue.
The launch was successful with 76 starters and 13 volunteers. The runners/walkers of all abilities received a recorded and published time and thus can keep track of their progress at what is a weekly event. Entry is through the website www.parkrun.co.nz.
While writing this article on Tuesday recording a first parkrun for the city, I noted that exactly 96 years ago Whanganui's Arthur Porritt won the 100-metre bronze medal at the Paris Olympics.
Next week I will preview the Manawatu/Whanganui Centre Cross Country Championships to at the Bason Botanical Gardens, Westmere, Whanganui on Saturday July 18.
Thanks to · Whanganui District Council: for help with the course and to
businesses who made donations to enable us to set up this free event.
· Belverdale Hospital
· Craigs Investment Partners
· Eyes on Victoria
· John van Dalen Ltd
· Leedstown Trust
· Wanganui Eyecare Centre