A SATURDAY morning at Strathclyde Park in Lanarkshire and I’m standing nervously in a car park, waiting for a couple of strangers I met on the internet.

Well, technically, they are not complete strangers - Ryan Miller and Alison Jardine are co-hosts of the popular Press Play & Run podcast - but this is the first time I’ll have met them in person.

The reason? I’m about to make my parkrun debut. For months, I have wanted to give it a go but kept wimping out. Yet, after much encouragement from the pair, who are both big parkrun aficionados, I have finally been persuaded to pop along to my local event.

It’s May 2023 and marks the first time I will have run with anyone since I took up running again as a hobby after an 11-year hiatus. I can feel my nerves jangling.

But then, as we walk towards the start area, an immediate sense of calm descends over me. Looking around at the sea of several hundred faces standing shoulder-to-shoulder, I feel instantly at home. A truncated quote from the writer Anthony Burgess pops into my head: “All human life is here”.

The Herald: Alison Jardine with Susan SwarbrickAlison Jardine with Susan Swarbrick (Image: free)


There are babies and toddlers being pushed in buggies, lanky teenagers, twenty-and-thirty-somethings, the middle-aged (like me), right through to sprightly septuagenarians. Oh, and dogs too. One of the best bits about parkrun is getting to meet dogs.

Fast forward a little under 40 minutes and I have completed my first parkrun, a 5K (3.1 mile) out-and-back route along the edge of Strathclyde Loch. The sense of achievement as I pass through the finish funnel is incredible. And in that moment, I knew I was hooked.

So, what is parkrun? For the uninitiated it might seem like a curious concept: a free 5K held every Saturday and organised entirely by volunteers.

The event at Strathclyde Park is one of 816 around the UK (as well as in a growing number of international locations from Australia to Namibia and Poland to Japan).

What makes parkrun so special is the communities that grow up around it. If you’re not a runner, then you might be thinking that it isn’t for you, but don’t let the name put you off. Many people jog or walk too. And everyone gets the same buzz when they reach the finish.

Then there is the beating heart of parkrun: the volunteers. Every event has a roster of dedicated folk who selflessly dedicate their time.

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They act as marshals, timekeepers, photographers and pacers, set up and pack away equipment, scan barcodes and process results, write round-up reports and update social media. And it is not the same group of volunteers who do this each week - everyone takes a turn.

Parkrun was the brainchild of Paul Sinton-Hewitt who, while newly unemployed and unable to race due to injury, began organising weekly timed runs for a few mates at Bushy Park in London. Soon, numbers began to swell as other people showed up asking to take part too.

That was 2004. In the two decades since, parkrun has grown into a global phenomenon. At the core of its ethos is inclusivity, fun and community.

It is a sentiment echoed by Liz Corbett, parkrun’s lead ambassador for Scotland. The 77-year-old retired environmental health officer from Glasgow has been involved since she first went along to Pollok parkrun in 2009.

“Some people want to run fast,” says Corbett. “Some want to have an easy chat as they go round. Some want to volunteer and never run or walk.

“Because it is a combination of different fitness levels, ages and lifestyles - different everything - it just comes together. You talk to and befriend people you might never otherwise have met. It is a true community event.”

As a concept, parkrun is continually evolving. Earlier this month, a decision to remove data such as first finishes and speed records from the official website sparked controversy among many parkrun regulars.

The Herald: Runners at a dreich Strathclyde ParkRunners at a dreich Strathclyde Park (Image: free)

Parkrun said it was aimed at making its events less “off-putting” to new entrants and to “find ways to remove barriers to registration and participation”.

The organisation said it had been looking at making changes to the data parkrun publishes for “many months” and the move was not in reaction to recent criticism for allowing transgender women to participate in the female category.

This, however, only served to add fuel to a growing furore, with everyone from former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies to Harry Potter author JK Rowling wading into the row. A petition to reinstate the records garnered close to 7,000 signatures in the first two days.

When I started working on this story for The Herald Magazine, what I wanted to capture was the essence of parkrun, the magic and joy that you feel turning up on a Saturday morning. The fortitude and friendship. The massive sense of achievement.

There are 69 parkrun locations across Scotland (not to forget the 31 junior parkrun events held on Sundays for youngsters aged four to 14).

To date, some 330,039 people have registered for parkrun in Scotland. Last month alone saw 24,221 participants walk, jog or run at Scottish parkrun events, with 6,529 volunteering.

Everyone has their own reasons for going along. Here, we meet some of those who regularly run, walk and volunteer at parkrun, sharing how it has changed, shaped and enriched their lives.

The Herald: Richard LeytonRichard Leyton (Image: free)


The story of parkrun in Scotland owes much to Richard Leyton, who was introduced to what was then known as Bushy Park Time Trial (BPTT) by friends on a visit to London in 2007. On his next trip, he popped along to a sister event, Richmond Park Time Trial (RPTT).

While there, Leyton got chatting to the team of volunteers. He was struck by the simplicity and grassroots nature and wondered if there might be something similar that he could get involved with back home in Glasgow.

There wasn’t. At the time, he was still quite new to running. “I wanted a free 5K in my local park, where I could get up on a Saturday morning and go whenever I fancied,” says Leyton.

As it happened, Pollok Park in Glasgow was right on his doorstep. So, he got his sleeves rolled up and began the process of contacting the relevant authorities, liaising with parkrun HQ and rallying a team of core volunteers.

It took just over a year to get Scotland’s first parkrun launched. On December 6, 2008, the inaugural event took place in Pollok Park (the 11th in the world).

Leyton has fond memories of that day. “The first week we had 40-odd runners, it went down to 20 as it was coming up to Christmas. It picked up again, then grew and grew. We were at 200, then 300.”

Until then, the weekly 5K events founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt had been known collectively as UK Time Trials. “They were looking at the idea of it being about more than just for runners or those pushing for fast times; it is about the community,” says Leyton.

“I think we were the first pure, only-ever called ‘parkrun’. We were initially ‘Glasgow parkrun’. As there became more events across the city, we changed to Pollok a few years in.”

As for why Scotland’s parkruns all start at 9.30am, half an hour later than their counterparts south of the border? This is partly down to the later sunrise here during the winter months, but another swaying factor, says Leyton, was the opening times of the cafe at The Burrell Collection in Pollok Park.

A 9am start would have meant many runners heading home before the cafe opened at 10am which, in turn, would have impacted fostering the all-important, post-run, chat-over-coffee community.

As word spread, people flocked to visit. They began to talk about setting up events in other areas. “You quickly realise that there is only so much space in Pollok Park and wouldn’t it be nice if there were other parks in Glasgow that did this?” recalls Leyton.

“To grow it, you needed more events. The communities that form around parkrun are a huge part of the experience. The growth has been phenomenal.”

To date, there have been 706 parkruns held at Pollok Park, with 228,503 finishers since 2008. Last weekend saw Leyton tick off his 200th parkrun at the venue. In total, he has completed 269 parkruns at 36 locations and amassed 230 volunteer credits.

“I haven’t been doing them as much as I used to but that’s the nice thing - they are always there, so you can do them whenever you want,” he says. “Having so many on my doorstep, I feel fortunate.”

The Herald: Steph McCann Steph McCann (Image: free)


Spend even a few moments chatting to Steph McCann and you will be left in little doubt about how much parkrun means to her.

She took up running in 2019, starting a couch-to-5K plan with her mum in a bid to get a bit fitter. “During lockdown in 2020, we were sitting in our garden talking to neighbours in the next garden. My neighbour said, ‘Oh, you want to do more than 5K, what’s next?’ I replied, ‘I’m fine with a 5K.’

“We made an agreement that if I got my 5K time under 30 minutes, I would sign up for a half marathon. When I managed that, I signed up for the Scottish Half Marathon in September 2021.

“I realised that I better get experience running with other people because up until then I had only run alone, or with my mum and cousin. I had never done an event or race. So, I went along to try parkrun.”

It quickly became an integral part of her Saturday mornings as McCann not only became a parkrun regular, but she also started volunteering too.

“The community at Greenock parkrun is great,” she says. “I love volunteering - everyone is so encouraging and friendly. My favourite volunteer role is tailwalker because you are out on the course and get to chat away to people.

“You never know who you are going to meet. Sometimes they are doing their first one or maybe it is someone coming back from injury who fancies a chat and a walk.

“A few weeks ago, there was a family whose loved one had died suddenly. He loved parkrun and they had decided to all do a parkrun together in his memory. I found it quite emotional.”

McCann, who completed her 100th parkrun last December, is also a fan of “parkrun tourism” and enjoys ticking off events around Scotland, as well as having made the pilgrimage to Bushy Park in London where parkrun first began.

“When you go to different parkruns, everyone is happy to see you and they chat away,” she says. “The volunteers are incredible. There are people who volunteer who never walk or run. But they show up week in, week out and are part of this amazing community.”

The Herald: Patrick Smith and his wife LorriPatrick Smith and his wife Lorri (Image: free)


It was a chance encounter that introduced Patrick Smith and his wife Lorri to the world of parkrun. “We were going on holiday to Turkey and the lad sitting next to me on the plane was chatting away and told me he was a runner,” says Patrick.

“It started a conversation and he mentioned he did Pollok parkrun. At that time Pollok was getting 200 to 300 people and I remember thinking, ‘Really? There is this big event in Glasgow that I’ve never heard of …’

That was mid-2010 and Patrick decided to go check it out for himself. “I went to Pollok a couple of times. Someone told me about Strathclyde, which had started earlier that year, so I decided to venture over there.

“The numbers were a little lower at Strathclyde, about 70 or 80 then, so that was ideal for me. I wasn’t confident enough as a runner at the time to be in a crowd. After a few visits, I cottoned on to the social side of it and the community-based feeling. And that was me. I caught the bug.”

In the years since, Patrick has become a familiar face at Strathclyde parkrun. After regularly volunteering as a marshal, barcode scanner and timekeeper, he was invited to be a run director, responsible for event safety and overseeing proceedings.

Patrick, who has completed 366 parkruns at 42 locations and racked up 345 volunteer credits, is now a parkrun ambassador for Lanarkshire.

“It is definitely the best thing I have done,” he says. “I love the community spirit of parkrun and seeing how people grow - whether they choose to walk, jog, run or volunteer. The social aspect of it too. It is hard to think what else we would do on a Saturday or Sunday morning now.”

His wife Lorri is also a pillar of the parkrun community. The couple were returning from a parkrunning tour with friends, where they had volunteered at a junior parkrun, when she announced her idea to set up an event for youngsters in their local area.

“I thought Pat was going to crash the van when I told him,” she laughs. “Everybody was like, ‘Sorry, what did you just say?’ And that’s how it started, going along and volunteering at parkrun. This was 2020. Just before Covid. I’ve got a wee pendant with the date on it.”

Lorri became the linchpin behind setting up Drumpellier junior parkrun. “I was quite lucky because I was one of the fastest parkruns to get everything done. I did it in six weeks. I got my core team, my funding, we had the meetings, everybody was as passionate and enthusiastic as I was.

“We have a great community. It is rare that I need to ask for volunteers. On the Sunday we get our rota filled for the next weekend. It is friendly and family-oriented.

“There was one wee boy who came along with his dad and his brother. He was only three, but a couple of weeks ago he turned four and was able to join in for the first time. It was amazing. The finish funnel erupted when he came through.”

She has completed 123 parkruns at 29 locations and has 138 volunteer credits. With two grandchildren of her own, Lorri feels strongly about encouraging youngsters to get involved in activities like junior parkrun.

“I try not to focus too much on the times they run,” she says. “For me, it is about getting them fit and healthy, out enjoying the fresh air, building their confidence and off the iPad or [Nintendo] Switch.”

The Herald: Liz CorbettLiz Corbett (Image: free)


As parkrun’s lead ambassador for Scotland, Liz Corbett has an encyclopaedic knowledge on the subject. A runner for more than three decades, she first learned about parkrun 14 years ago.

“At that time, I was injured,” she says. “I decided I would go along and volunteer since I couldn’t run because that would help keep me close to running.”

Corbett soon fell in love with parkrun and says that “the sweetest thing is when you have nursed an event through all the hurdles needed to start it” and then “the parkrun magic begins”.

She is a witty raconteur, describing her many highs and lows as a volunteer. “On one notable occasion, I dropped the timer after the 400 runners had started,” says Corbett. “At that time, we were still quite primitive with technology.

“All the batteries fell out of the timer. I panicked thinking, ‘I’m going to have to run after these 400 people and tell them to come back …’ but it all worked out fine, because the front runners always know what their time is. So, we managed to restart the timer and sort it out from there.”

Something Corbett is keen to emphasise is that parkrun - despite the name - isn’t solely for runners. “People can walk and jog and volunteer at parkrun, as well as run.”

She is a prolific volunteer with 505 credits. “For many people, the first time they do a parkrun is a great moment. It is a huge achievement. For anyone, by doing a parkrun, they have achieved something they wouldn’t have if they had stayed in bed.

“We get family groups and people with buggies and dogs. It ticks more than one box. People look happy as they come through the finish funnel. You might expect them to be puffed out, but they are smiling and enjoying it.”

For more information, visit parkrun.org.uk