Runners taking part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London, the largest and oldest Parkrun in the UK, and one of many runs taking place across the country for the first time since last March. Picture date: Saturday July 24, 2021.
Joggers and walkers have said they are delighted after taking part in the first Parkruns in England for adults since coronavirus restrictions were lifted.
The free 5km runs, which take place in parks, were suspended during the pandemic.
They are billed as a chance for people – regardless of age, gender or ability – to regularly run, jog or walk together and enjoy their local park.
Lots of people stayed behind to cheer on Paul Williams 63, who was the last of the 293 finishers at the Southwark Parkrun in south-east London
Mr Williams, who has learning disabilities and a bad leg, has been a familiar face at the weekly event which he first started attending in 2015.
He took an hour and 16 minutes to walk around the course and said he has “missed” the Parkruns during the Covid-19 pandemic.
After finishing his 78th park walk, Mr Williams, who has volunteered at over 30 Parkruns which included cheering on runners from an adapted chair, said: “I have been stuck indoors for about a year because I have got diabetes and I wasn’t allowed to go out. There was no exercise. I have been meeting everyone again and seeing everybody.
“It gives me exercise, helps me lose weight. I like to keep myself fit and to talk to people.”
PhD student Cameron Dockerill, 24, took 16 minutes to become the first person to complete the Southwark Parkrun.
He said: “It has been a lonely time for a lot of people with lots of lonely training miles, solo runs, along with virtual and cancelled races.
“It is good to have people cheering you on again. I think this (Parkrun) makes a difference not only to someone’s physical health but also to their mental health as well. It has been quite a lonely time and to come here is quite uplifting.”
Lawyer KC Lloyd, 32, ran with her 11-month-old daughter Edie Cameron in a buggy, who was not born the last time the run was staged.
Ms Lloyd said: “It was a lovely experience. Everyone was waving to her which was just lovely and there were lots of smiles.
“It has just been so lovely to be with all of our friends again and seeing everybody. It has been part of our Saturday and our community that has been missing for the past 16 months. It is so nice to be back.”
She said she thinks her daughter, who was smiling and quiet, was “probably overwhelmed because she has not seen this many people before”.
Parkruns are now part of the weekly calendar after lockdown was lifted in England on July 19, allowing outdoor running events to return.
Volunteer Augustine Moemere, 38, said that over 36 helpers were involved in staging the south-east London event, up from around 14, in order to ensure extra safety controls were in place.
They included a wider starting point on the grass, a longer finishing area to aid social distancing along with an app to record people’s times.
He said: “A lot of the runners and volunteers here, we are seeing for the first time since lockdown. They have all been saying ‘thank you’ and ‘I hope there is not another lockdown because I have missed Parkrun so much.’
Mr Moemere, who is an NHS wellbeing adviser, said the organisers looked at how they could support people who might have anxiety about being in a crowd for the first time in a long while.
He said there are lots of measures in place to help keep people safe, adding: “I know people who have struggled to come out. I have had friends that I go on long runs at the weekends who during Covid-19 have been anxious about it. I tell them to wait until they can build up confidence.”
Wes Ball, 42, a public affairs director from Buckinghamshire had been looking forward to running in the Wendover Woods Parkrun.
He said: “When you get there it is one of the most uplifting things you can do. It’s never a race, it’s always a chance to go running with friends.”
During lockdown, he and other fellow runners held virtual Parkruns on Facebook where people undertook challenges or posted selfies to keep the community spirit alive during lockdown.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, of the Local Government Association, said: “These popular events are incredibly valuable for many people in supporting both their physical and mental health and wellbeing.”