People run the 5km Parkrun in Auckland, New Zealand. Parkrun events across New Zealand were the first to resume following the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Viva Parkrun!

The nation’s favourite fun run fully deserves to return

Parkrun, the community fun run network, has announced that its events in England (but not the rest of the UK yet) will return by the end of October.

The news was widely welcomed on Twitter, with a slew of athletes, Sport England, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Nick Smith, the Labour MP who chairs the parliamentary group on Parkrun, all joining in the chorus.

But some people who actually take part in this popular — and free — Saturday exercise were less enthusiastic. On social media they complained that the apparently “crowded nature” of Parkruns would allow “no opportunity to socially distance oneself […] and every opportunity to spread Covid-19 in effectively wind tunnels of breathed out air [sic]”.

The keyboard warriors will never catch coronavirus from behind their sweaty computer screens

With many team sports returning to training and schools now back in full swing, I’m unsure of the logic behind barring a well-intentioned non-profit fun run. After all, surely Parkrun complements Boris’s war on obesity? There is just no pleasing some people. However, the keyboard warriors are undoubtedly correct: they will never get Covid-19 from behind their sweaty computer screens as they sanctimoniously lecture other people about the perceived health risks of outdoor exercise. But contrary to some media reports, you’re actually quite unlikely to catch coronavirus at the moment – whereas the risk factors associated with a sedentary lifestyle and the high blood pressure associated with being outraged all the time mean they might just as easily drop dead of a heart attack mid-tweet.

Parkrun has been a staple in community-organised events since its inception in 2004 at Bushy Park, south-west London. It has since developed into a global community spread across 22 countries and has seen more than two million people partake in its weekly fun runs. The events not only provide communities with an accessible form of exercise, they also foster a sense of community and social cohesion. Back in April’s edition of The Critic, Nick Cohen articulated why so many have fallen in love with Parkrun: “People have made friends for life on Parkruns, fallen in love on Parkruns, or sworn that the weekly determination to go out at 9am every Saturday and complete a Parkrun has saved them from obesity and thus saved their lives.”

In Parkrun’s statement on its return in England, its global chief executive officer, Nick Pearson, also justified why the charity is so much more than simply “going for a run”:

Across many communities our events provide the most accessible and inclusive opportunities for people, of all abilities and backgrounds, to come together and be active. Disadvantaged communities have been hit the hardest and likely have the most challenging journeys ahead of them, and with every passing week, and with winter approaching, those challenges become greater.

Few could argue that Parkrun has been negligent with its due diligence on the decision to return. It commissioned a review of evidence by the Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research at Canterbury Christ Church University on the outdoor transmission of Covid-19. The review concluded that with “appropriate evidence-based mitigations in place, it is possible to deliver outdoor events and activities across a range of sectors, and of varying sizes and formats, in a way that does not significantly increase risk of Covid-19 transmission”.

Parkrun has also released a Covid-19 framework on how it will operate its events when it reopens. Interestingly, those who have been so quick to criticise the announcement are unlikely to have been as diligent in doing their own research on the risks posed by outdoor group exercise, instead wishing to follow the woeful crowd of chronic complainers who enjoy ruining everyone else’s fun.

Parkrun has arguably been more thorough in its preparations than many other sectors, and so deserves to be up and running once more (no pun intended) as soon as possible.

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