With parkruns popping up from London to Paris to San Francisco, a subculture was bound to develop among runners who like do things a little bit different. Say hello to parkrun tourism.

On International parkrun Day, Emma Moreton who recently shared her running story from the humble treadmill, to parkrun, to a first marathon, tells us about the parkrun tourism phenomenon.

With over 1,000 parkruns worldwide including almost 500 in the UK and Ireland, parkrun tourism is a thing, and a fantastic way to explore parkland all over the globe. The simplicity of parkrun itself means that all you need to register your run is your barcode – an international pass to free, timed 5K events run by dedicated volunteers.

Just take a look at the parkrun event map and you will see it’s peppered with parkruns up and down the UK and Ireland. New events are popping up all the time, like the Isle of Man this month, and in some regions you’ll be spoilt for choice where to get your parkrun fix. From hilly slogs to fast, flat courses, around lakes, castles and along seafronts, no two parkruns are quite the same.

Besides the UK and Ireland, parkrun operates in an impressive number of countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden and USA. Those who run at 20+ events make it into parkrun’s ‘most events‘ table where you’ll find parkrunners who’ve been to over 300 different events – that’s some travelling. parkrun Ambassadors Ian and Caroline who’ve done almost 700 runs between them have travelled to some amazing places including Jersey, France and the USA and “met lovely people, all thanks to parkrun”.

My home event, Bedfont Lakes, welcomes many travellers flying in and out of London – we’re just 15 minutes from Heathrow and have met parkrunners from all over the world who have looked us up on the map and dropped by. We love sharing our park with them and hearing their feedback!

What came first: the parkrun or the holiday?
For some keen parkrunners, their travel plans centre around heading to a particular parkrun and building the rest of their holiday around it. It’s a good place to start if you’re not sure where to go for your next break. Fancy running in Canada with a view of the Rockies, or a woodland jaunt in the fresh Scandinavian air?

Of course, you don’t have to go abroad. Maybe you’d like to visit the parkrun where it all started 13 years ago, Bushy Park in Teddington, or try the parkruns in your vicinity for a change of scenery.

On our family summer holiday to Devon, my first port of call was to scour the map to find the nearest parkrun. I had three to choose from so did a bit of research amongst the parkrun community and settled on Tamar Trails, a beautiful shady wooded setting (with a killer hill at the end). We often visit the south coast and I’ve been to Weymouth and Poole parkruns several times, which means I can aim for course PBs when I return. When packing, my running kit and parkrun barcode are top of the list!

Sometimes I travel alone, sometimes en mass, like my trip to Wimbledon parkrun recently with some Bedfont friends. Spot the branded apricot T-shirts? This range of technical sportswear can be personalised with your favourite event and sale profits are invested back into parkrun which is great. They’re always an ice breaker and a great way to promote your homerun.

My parkrunning feet have travelled as far as Clermont Waterfront in Florida.

It was a good 50-minute drive from where I was staying and the balmy height of summer, but I was absolutely set on doing it. As parkrun in the USA is still relatively young, many of us participating were parkrun tourists on holiday! It was a humid morning but fantastic to take part in my favourite running event thousands of miles from home.

Reassuringly, all events follow exactly the same format, ethos and inclusivity so you know what to expect. David, who’s completed over 218 parkruns at 30 international locations, says “it’s always great to experience new courses, knowing you’re going to be greeted by friendly volunteers”.

Whilst the delivery is standardised across parkruns, each event has its own quirks owing to its unique community. For example, Weymouth has a very interesting warm-up routine, and at Reading parkrun there’s a squeaky rubber “PB chicken” to squeeze if you get a new personal best!

The A-Z of parkrun
Serious parkrun tourists who like a challenge can attempt to complete at least 25 parkruns starting with the letters of the alphabet. Why not 26? There’s currently no parkrun starting with X (unless you count Exeter) and to find a Z you’ll need to visit Zloty (Poland), Zandvlei (South Africa) or Zary (Russia). A great excuse to book that trip away!

Although it’s not technically feasible to run a double parkrun (apart from on New Year’s Day when start times are intentionally staggered), the global scale of parkrun has opened doors for the intrepid tourist. It involves parkrunning in Auckland then flying to San Francisco to ‘travel back in time’ to Saturday morning over in the USA. To my knowledge, this has only been attempted once, for obvious reasons.

Today (October 7) is International parkrun Day when the global community celebrates its 13th anniversary. From that first parkrun back in 2004 with just 13 runners, to a sea of apricot and milestone tops weaving through parks all over the world, it’s a special day.

Where will you travel to next?

Top tourism tips

  • Follow the event web page or social media for important updates
  • Double check the start time – some are earlier/later than 9am
  • Read up on parking/directions – you don’t want to miss the run brief
  • Say hi to the Run Director – they’ll be pleased to meet you
  • Involve your family/friends in volunteering if they want to support
  • Remember there are junior parkrun events on Sundays for 4-14 year-olds
  • Why not offer to write the run report from a tourist’s perspective?

Last but not least, don’t forget your barcode. Happy parkrunning!