Regularly Fast Running ranks the fastest male and female performances at parkrun. Many enjoy reading it, but some say it’s against the spirit of the event, while others believe it dilutes competitive running on a Saturday. What do you think?

Every week the fastest times at parkrun are celebrated on Fast Running, along with race reports from the UK, Ireland and around the world.

Sometimes the publishing of the quickest times from the Saturday morning time trial provokes comments like: “This isn’t what parkrun is about” or “they’re not even races, we shouldn’t be celebrating winners”. However, generally, people enjoy the list, especially if they’re on it. So why the opposition?

It’s against the spirit of parkrun

This is a fair point. parkrun’s mission is to get the UK and the world moving. They celebrate average times getting slower and numbers growing. The volunteers at the back are walkers and no one is ever singled out for being too slow or not fast enough. It is why parkrun is so great.

With any large community, there are multiple levels. People come to parkrun for fitness, socialising, mental health and sometimes just to get a bloody good workout. As the event has grown and progressed there are certainly people who turn up on a Saturday morning ‘to win’, but that has happened naturally. 

So is highlighting the fastest times against the spirit? Hopefully not.

The top 10 was started for multiple reasons, not least because it was believed people would enjoy reading it, but also because Fast Running values the ethos of parkrun and the positive contribution it has made to the running community.

There is a new influx of runners into our sport and they’re not coming through the traditional school or club systems. Culturally we treat sport very differently to how it was treated it in the past. 

The younger generations sometimes see it as a chore or they would rather be playing computer games. The other side is that those who do get into sport, have such a huge selection to choose from, and running just isn’t as popular these days, even if it is integral to nearly all sports.

The parkrun developmental pathway

People are running fast at parkrun. Not ‘super fast’, as some have pointed out and possibly on shortened courses, but against other people and getting the bug for competition. The team at Fast Running felt that having a top 10 might make those people want to run faster. It might lead to runners looking into local clubs, competitive races and starting to work with coaches. 

Several people I have spoken to have different experiences in converting ‘parkrunners’ into club runners. My club, the North Norfolk Beach Runners, organise the Sheringham parkrun on the Norfolk coast. It’s one of the toughest parkrun courses in the UK and will never feature in the top 10 (unless maybe Adam Hickey visits). Yet the club membership has gone through the roof since the formation of its Saturday morning event. 

Others say they have trouble getting runners to take the next step to club running, and a select few say that parkrun has stopped these people joining a club in the first place. On these statements, the whole running community needs to ask why a runner would stop at parkrun and not want to develop more? What is parkrun doing that clubs can learn from?

It dilutes competitive/club running

What about cross country weekends and road relays? Some athletes may choose to go and ‘race’ at parkrun in order to cross the line first and get home for 10 am, rather than representing their club at a weekend fixture.

The top 10 rankings may encourage this because runners get a little bit of ‘fame’ rather than being the fourth counter for the club, but this is something Fast Running is against.

Runners should to competing for their clubs first and foremost, and if a name is spotted in the parkrun top 10 on an important weekend in club running, the team won’t shy away and will call it out.

However, the ease of parkrun and the opportunity to get a good workout is often why ‘fast’ runners turn up. While there are some regulars in our top 10, if they are too regular we’ll make sure to jibe them about ‘entering a real race’ every now and again. 

It could just be that they love to race, the event is on their doorstep and the kids need looking after all weekend. Many can’t travel all day to run a race and just want to do something fun and fast. Others are building up to key races and use parkrun as a weekly session. A double parkrun is a good workout, either running a 5k tempo before or after the actual event. 

Others also use it as a test after injury. Wasn’t it great to see Alex Yee’s return this year?

They’re not all measured properly

Yes, it’s listed as a separate event on Power of 10 and I can’t confirm that all parkruns, week in week out, are accurately measured. Before publishing the top 10, if someone runs a 60 second PB over a muddy parkrun course then it will be investigated.

A few years back a bunch of ‘real races’ were all measured incorrectly and there are plenty of rumours from the good old days of courses being short to promote fast times. It worked, didn’t it? Athletes believed in themselves more, they ran faster times and a lot of that was down to competition but also self-belief.

The rankings do not include runners attached to their dogs. Short courses don’t make the cut either. Everything we write is still all listed as parkrun PBs and parkrun times, rather than 5k or 5000m.

Sometimes the team event goes as far to check the event out on Strava and if it were 2.8 miles it would probably not be included, even if it was hilly. 

So should the parkrun top 10 be published?

As an athlete myself there is an urge to go run a fast time and get in the top 10. It’s a small gimmick that I can feel working on me, myself and I. Is that really a bad thing? If there was an opportunity to run for my club then I’d do that instead. If there’s a real event then again, that’s the first choice.

When I visit my Ma there is a couple of parkruns really close by. The added benefit of seeing friends and meeting others in the community over a good old tear up is a big appeal. Might I push in those last few 100 metres because of the possibility of sneaking into a Fast Running article? Maybe. So surely that’s a good thing?

parkrun itself is taking care of participation in the UK, so the next step is to focus on development and performance. Maybe the next Olympic 10,000m champion isn’t going to come through the parkrun ranks after a midlife crisis, but they might through junior parkrun.

Athletes like Kevin Rojas started with parkrun and have gone on to run 2:18 for the marathon. It’s part of how the AB Training Group started. Rojas was one of Alison Benton’s first athletes and now the influential south coast coach works with a whole host of international and promising athletes.

It’s all about creating those pathways, working with clubs and coaches to help athletes get faster.

Getting ‘parkrunners’ to clubs

So as part of Fast Running’s commitment, how about adding this to the end of each parkrun article: “If you enjoy running at parkrun, but want to develop and get a bit faster then find a running club near you today.

“Running clubs have all the great social aspects of parkrun, cater for all levels and coaches to help you progress too. Find out more here.”

Joining a club is actually one of the tips given in the article ‘7 ways to run quicker at parkrun‘ that has always been displayed at the bottom of parkrun top 10 articles.

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