Parkrun runners ‘excited’ to return after 'Freedom Day' easing of Covid rules

Joggers and walkers have said they are delighted after taking part in the first Parkruns in England for adults since coronavirus restrictions were lifted. Credit: PA

Parkrun participants say they are excited to be returning to the weekly free running events.

The free 5km runs, which take place in parks across the UK every Saturday morning, were suspended during the pandemic.

They have been allowed to return after Covid-19 restrictions eased on Monday - also dubbed 'Freedom Day'.

People cheered on Paul Williams, 63, who was the last of the 293 finishers at the Southwark Parkrun in south east London.

Paul Williams was cheered on at the Parkrun Credit: PA

Mr Williams, who has learning disabilities and a bad leg, 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 more than 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.”

People take part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Lawyer KC Lloyd, 32, ran with her 11-month-old daughter Edie Cameron in a buggy.

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”.

A runner pushes her buggy during Parkrun Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Volunteer Augustine Moemere, 38, said more than 36 helpers made sure Covid safety measures were in place.

They included a wider starting point on the grass, a longer finishing area, and 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.’"

The NHS wellbeing advisor said organisers looked how to support people who might be anxious about being in a crowd: “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.”

A runner passes two deer as he takes part in the Parkrun at Bushy Park in London Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

Stuart Wright, 43, an HR consultant who lives in Lancashire, took part in the Pendle Parkrun.

He said ahead of the event: “I’m excited – the weather over the last couple of weeks has made me think it is going to be a bit warm. It’s great to have something to look forward to again on Saturday morning and to see some familiar faces.”

Mr Wright said he spent the past months running on his own while Parkrun was suspended.

“For me, it’s the inclusion aspect of it that I love,” he said. “At some organised 5ks or 10ks you have to be a certain time or be part of a club but Parkrun is open to everyone.

“I go with my son, who’s 10, and my mother in law, who’s in her 60s. At Pendle, we’ve got a bit of a steep course that we have to go up twice, so that’s always a challenge.

“So I can run with her, I can run with my son and we have friends that we regularly see there.”

Wes Ball runs with his son William at a weekly Parkrun event in Buckinghamshire Credit: Wes Ball/PA

Wes Ball, 42, a public affairs director from Buckinghamshire, said: “Parkrun is one of the best things of my life really.

"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.”

Mr Ball ran in the Wendover Woods Parkrun on Saturday.

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.

He said: “Parkrun really isn’t about running, it’s about communities. It doesn’t matter whether you’re four or 90, people will welcome you.”

The chairman of the Local Government Association’s Culture Tourism and Sport Board, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: “The LGA is delighted to see the return of Parkrun.

“These popular events are incredibly valuable for many people in supporting both their physical and mental health and wellbeing. We’re thankful to both Parkrun and councils for their patience and hard work in supporting the safe return of these events.”