Parkrun, the weekly Saturday morning five-kilometre run which involves hundreds of thousands of people across the world every week, has changed the way it reports the outcome of events on its website. Not all participants are happy.
Parkrun, which has been running since 2004 was the brainchild of Paul Sinton-Hewitt MBE. The way it operates is brilliantly simple yet sophisticated. The problem that had to be solved in order to set it up was how, cheaply, to operate a system whereby people could take part without having to register for each run yet have their times recorded. The system also had to be scalable so that Parkrun could take place in any part of the world and any members could run in any event, yet still have their results made available to them.
The solution was found in the use of barcodes. Each runner has a unique barcode which he or she can download and print from the Parkrun website or display on his or her smartphone. When you complete the run your time is recorded, you enter a funnel and a barcode indicating your position is handed to you. Volunteers, using a Parkrun app on their smartphones, scan your bar code followed by the position barcode and shortly after the event your time and position are sent to you by text or email and also published on the Parkrun webpage. At least, that was the system until last week when I ran a wet and muddy Parkrun with one of my grandsons at Peter Pan park in Hull.
The Parkrun organisers have announced that they are going to change the way results are reported on their website. Already mired in controversy over allowing transgender women (a.k.a. men) to compete as women and thereby hold female Parkrun records, the organisation has announced that it will no longer report course records or age category records and will no longer record times for men who run the course in under 17 minutes or women who run the course in under 20 minutes. Ironically, the latter decision may come as a bit of a blow to transgender ‘women’.
The reason for these changes is, the organisers claim, that people who are considering taking part in Parkrun may find the publication of records to be ‘off-putting’. Parkrun has always been advertised as a run rather than a race. But this is out of necessity and that necessity is now being portrayed as a virtue. The reason that Parkrun is not advertised as race is to obviate the red tape that is required if anyone wants to organise a race. The timing system used in Parkrun still involves a degree of human error and would not be permitted for a registered race.
Police would have to approve the course of any race and public access would have to be restricted, medical assistance and hydration stations would have to be provided and the rules over running with children, prams, dogs and headphones would all have to be tightened. Nevertheless, the event starts with “On your marks; get set… go!” and the front runners take off as fast as their legs will carry them. Everyone who runs seriously knows their PB (personal best) time. Try telling them it’s not a race.
Over three million people have participated in Parkrun since its inception and have completed it over 50 million times. Quite who is finding it off-putting is not clear. This has all the hallmarks of pre-emptive wokery; trying to solve a problem that does not exist.
I started park-running about a decade ago and have completed over 200 runs. I have run in various locations in England and Scotland, in Singapore and I run regularly in Washington D.C. when I visit for meetings. One of my grandsons Jack Watson (no stranger to the pages of the Daily Sceptic) started a year ago and has already broken 20 minutes. Another grandson, 12 years old, came in just over 20 minutes recently. They have to wait several minutes before their old granddad comes puffing up to the finish.
Far from off-putting, I find the course records by age inspiring. I am 68 years old and someone in the age category above me still manages to complete in around 20 minutes. We have a 90-year old runner who turns up in all weathers for Parkrun and he is by no means the last finisher. My grandsons can hardly wait for the results to be published, to see what the fastest time was and who did it, as well as checking their own results.
I admire the overweight, the unfit and the slow coaches who clock up Parkruns on a weekly basis. If they don’t like to see the course records then it is open to them or to anyone considering taking part to ignore them. Don’t check the Parkrun webpage. They will still get their own results in terms of time and position sent to them. But who knows, maybe that will stop in due course. Perhaps Parkrun should just delete all the contents of their webpages and stop sending participants their results in case they feel shamed or perceive that they are being discriminated against. Mark my words, you read that here first.
Dr. Roger Watson is Academic Dean of Nursing at Southwest Medical University, China. He has a PhD in biochemistry. He writes in a personal capacity.