My eight-year-old grand-daughter looked up at me tearfully, then carefully inspected her grazed arm and mud-covered leggings. We had stopped running when she toppled over but a moment or two had passed and I detected there was an internal battle going on in her head. She was a little wet and a little battle-wounded and yet… there was so much at stake.
The 1km marker was already a little way behind us; another three and a bit kilometres and she would have completed her 10th run at Newport parkrun.
Just ahead of us, a female runner paused to check there was no serious damage; faster athletes were already passing us, calling out words of encouragement. Cheered by their support, my brave little trooper nodded at me and then we were off again.
Running parkrun at Newport’s Tredegar House every Saturday morning has been a family tradition for over two years now and my grand-daughters have completed the 5km route around the beautiful parklands many times.
They certainly aren’t alone in loving the friendly, inclusive, family atmosphere which has been developed as the event has grown and runners who were once strangers have become good friends.
And those friendships have in turn created a lot more fun… many participants need little excuse to party parkrun style, i.e. running in fancy dress to celebrate an event then enjoying coffee and cake in the Brew House afterwards. We’ve had the chicken run (Celia’s version of a hen night), bird-spotting (for Steve’s 50th run), a Roman gladiator (Ritchie’s 100th), Shannel’s hen run, bandanas (for Merv) and stripy socks (for Newport County-mad Nick’s 100th). The run immediately before Christmas is always fancy dress with carols to follow, and for the well and truly addicted in 2013 there was even a Christmas morning parkrun. What’s not to like?
What’s really wonderful about Newport parkrun is the number of young faces at the starting line every week. News of the event has spread by word of mouth, among cousins, friends and neighbours and the number of children young people getting involved and enthused has grown.
Many are just as determined to achieve a new PB (the most important letters in the alphabet for athletes) as their mums and dads, often breaking into an impressive sprint for those last 200 metres. The really little ones sometimes need a little more encouragement, especially when they realise there’s another lap to go, but when you consider that 5km is over three miles it’s hard not to be impressed at what those kids achieve.
I doubt parkrun HQ ever expected a weekly timed run to prove madly popular with youngsters but that’s exactly what is happening. Week after week, in all weather, young athletes are leaping out of bed and demonstrating that they too have the grit, commitment and determination to keep going.
In Newport, we have infant-school aged children who run parkrun regularly, junior-age runners capable of producing some amazing sprint finishes and teenagers whose performances can be summed up in one word… awesome.
However… 5km is an awful long way for little legs and three years after Newport parkrun started, the race directors have decided to launch a dedicated event for younger runners.
Newport Juniors parkrun will be the first of its kind in Wales. It begins on March 30 at 11am and like Newport parkrun, it will take place at Tredegar House, Newport, NP10 8YW (don’t turn up at Tredegar Park by mistake!).
The 2km run is for children aged between 4 and 14. The event is free and parents can run with their children if they so wish (although only the children’s times will be recorded). Children under the age of 11 must be accompanied to and from the event by a responsible adult who must remain in attendance while the child runs. This last point is really important because the volunteers haven’t given up their Sunday mornings to act as child-minders. Besides, it’s natural for children to want their parents to be there at the side lines cheering them on and parkrun is a great spectator sport (most of us who run it regularly can’t keep away even when we’re not actually taking part!).
(You might like to check out the [minimal] rules and guidelines.)
One of the best things about parkrun is that you get your time recorded every week, so it’s really, really important to register in advance. Once you’ve done that, you need to print up your child’s barcode and remember to bring it with you every week. Most regulars either laminate their barcode or buy a durable plastic personal barcode.
What’s so lovely about encouraging children to take part in an event like Newport Juniors parkrun is seeing their enthusiasm and confidence grow as their fitness and stamina improves. Not content with beating their own parents (don’t say you haven’t been warned!), the children are soon setting their sights on bigger and better things; before you know it, they’ll be talking and thinking like an athlete. Just wait until your six-year-old asks Father Christmas for a Garmin!
I speak from experience here. A year on from her parkrun topple, and my grand-daughter, now nine, is a member of Newport Harriers; her younger sister is counting the weeks until September when she’s eight and can join too.
Running can be addictive… whatever your age… but encouraging a child to be active in the fresh air has to be the best start in life any parent can offer and they do say a little competition never hurt anyone!
Newport Juniors parkrun… coming to a place near you (Tredegar House) on Sunday March 30 at 11am.
It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be furious, but most importantly, it’s going to be fun.