First time Parkrun participants are more likely to return if events are near to freshwater and woodland, a study found.

The analysis, by Stirling University, suggests the creation of more routes alongside these habitats could encourage people to regularly take part, improving public health.

The study, led by ecologist Dr Andre Gilburn, also found that a higher proportion of new runners at an event increased the return rate; that people are more likely to return to smaller events and that participants who completed routes in a relatively quick time are more likely to return.

Parkruns are community-organised, timed, 5-kilometre runs that take place every Saturday in locations across the world with 67 organised in Scotland.

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The University of Stirling’s campus hosts a weekly event around Airthrey Loch and Dr Gilburn, a Senior Lecturer in Biological and Environmental Sciences, is a regular participant.

The Herald:

He analysed the return rate of 20,191 first-time participants (11,459 female and 8,732 female) at all 58 Scottish Parkruns over a twelve-month period from February 2019 and before and after lockdown when the events were suspended.

He said: “Understanding what factors determine whether a new participant returns to participate in Parkrun again is essential to maximising its effectiveness in promoting good health to ultimately reduce burdens on healthcare systems.

“This study identifies various new factors associated with the likelihood that a new runner will return to do it again.

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"Analysis found return rates are higher at smaller events, at events where there’s a higher proportion of other new participants, and at events where routes go through woodland and alongside freshwater.

“Identification of these features provides Parkrun with additional information that could be used to manage their events to increase their effectiveness.

“The results also have potentially important wider implications for other organisers of mass participation events as the same characteristics associated with return rates  are likely to be more widely applicable.”

Colin Sinclair, event director at the University of Stirling Parkrun, said: “We are privileged to use a route around the University of Stirling's stunning campus, which takes in Airthrey Loch and local woodland.

“I have no doubt this location encourages new participants to join us and then return time after time. Our Parkrun has also attracted visitors from all over the UK and across the world, including runners from as far away as Australia, the United States and South Africa.”

The study Predictors of successful return to Parkrun for first-time adult participants in Scotland was published by the journal PLOS Global Public Health.