The Official History of Milton Keynes parkrun
I I founded Milton Keynes parkrun towards the end of 2009. We launched in January 2010 with 49 runners. Since then it has grown to an average of around 700 runners and 30 volunteers each week (pre-Covid) and 10% of the Milton Keynes population has taken part. parkrun has been a huge part of my life, and I would love for you to enjoy this incredible, inclusive, health promoting event for all ages and abilities with low barriers for entry.
Free, weekly, timed.
Every Saturday morning, 9am, Willen Lake
It is the seemingly insignificant actions that change our lives
In 2009 I spent a day training gym staff in Teddington, West London. Overestimating M4 traffic I arrived some time before the facility was even open. The obvious choice in this situation was to go for a run, and having noticed a patch of green in the A-Z, I headed off towards Bushy Park. It is deer park in West London with enough trails to keep you interested on repeat visits, and a couple of routes of 5 and 8 km around the periphery. I had a lovely little run around, surprising myself as I came across a deer herd, forgetting that London has deer parks for a reason. A few weeks later two articles about Paul Sinton-Hewitt caught my eye. They were about ‘parkrun’, a free, timed 5km run around Bushy Park every Saturday morning at 9am. “Hang on”, I thought, “I’ve run around there”, then I read all I could about parkrun.
Think of the possibilities
I couldn’t sleep, all I could think about was the possibility of a community event in Milton Keynes, where I could really make a difference in helping more people get active and feel good about their achievements. I got in touch with parkrun office, and their event at Black Park, Slough, so I could get a taste of what I was getting myself into. October 3rd 2009 was Black Parks 12th run, and I was one of a seemingly massive 91 runners. The same day was Bushy’s 5th Anniversary, and they had a record 806 runners. Good grief, what was I thinking of? The following week I returned to Black Park as a volunteer but by then my decision was already made. After talks with the lake management company I was able to set up the course around Willen Lake. I ran dozens of routes, finding problems with flooding, closed paths, broken paths, confusing detours and aggressive wildlife before settling on a technically challenging, but incredibly beautiful, course from Willen, along the canal, past the Peace Pagoda and around the south lake. January the 16th 1010, a week after a snow blanket across England put plans on hold, saw our inaugural run, a great success with 44 runners. By our first anniversary we had broken the 200 mark. We even had 64 turn up on Christmas Day!
2010 - 2015
Looking back it is fascinating seeing how parkrun has evolved, how the tone has changed, and how we have been able to reward our running community. I do wonder if, perhaps, the anniversaries didn’t mean as much to be early on. It was a bigger deal when we reached 20 runs! For our 2nd anniversary I didn’t even write a report, I just posted up the numbers. Maybe I was too tired on the back of a 4th consecutive sub 20, the first three of which were all PBs? After that we had the wonderful Paul Woodward taking over as editor-in-chief, so we have his words to thank too.
It is the numbers that really interest me. You will see that in our first year we had 1058 different runners attend the event. On 31st August 2019 we had 1075 run that single morning. That record didn’t last long, but that is next weeks story.
In the early years we were always inclusive, but not proactively so. We used to write race reports, we celebrated winners, we awarded trophies to those runners that scored the most points in a year. Now I prefer to celebrate everyone. In 2013 I donated two concrete cows to Milton Keynes parkrun. Ahead of the curve, I wanted a sustainable award for the future. One that shouted out “We love Milton Keynes!". I think you will agree that the concrete cows do exactly that.
Those first five years were a steep learning curve. The technology moved on leaps and bounds. When we launched we had been sent metal discs for the positions, replaced by the first iteration of barcodes just in time for event 1. The Access database had to updated every Friday night, and we would scan off a hand held scanner enabling an auto-search of 50-60,000 athlete records (On my first parkrun we had to search by typing in each persons name, or their code if they knew it. Imagine trying that now. I had to cancel for floods, snow and ice, create different routes (another part of this series). And deal with the runner’s heartache at reaching milestones yet not having the t-shirts available. You may recall we started with Nike, moving through Adidas and onto Tribe.
I would not have been able to do any of it, if it wasn't for an incredible team. Right from the off I had runners asking if they could help out volunteering, and I soon was soon surrounded by wonderful people. I am glad to know all of you as my friends. Thank you.
After our 5th anniversary parkrun exploded, and you can read all about that, next week.
Click here for the early years 'race' (I know!) reports and links to the originals as they creep beyond 2000 words