The people of parkrun
For 15 years parkrun has been encouraging people of all ages and fitness levels to walk, jog or run a 5k track. This free timed event originated in the UK, with an Australian offshoot starting in 2011. There are now hundreds of parkrun events held across the country.
The parkrun in Diamond Creek is one of the most popular in Victoria, with around 350 participants descending on the creek-side trail every Saturday.
One of these runners is 76 year old Mabel Kealty, who first attended Diamond Creek parkrun in 2015.
“About five years ago I decided I would take up running,” says Mabel. “My son does marathons and I felt if he can run 42k, I could run 5k. I started to train and did my own 'start to run' program by running around my local streets and gradually increasing my distance until I could run 5k.”
While training, Mabel googled ‘5k run’ and found her local parkrun. She immediately registered but it was some time before she felt confident enough to turn up.
“I thought you had to be able to run 5k before you could go – I didn’t know they had walkers,” she says.
Arriving at her very first parkrun alone, she instantly felt welcomed. “I went there not knowing anybody and have made lots of friends and am still making new friends,” says Mabel.
Mabel has now run the event 116 times, and while she’s usually at Diamond Creek, she has also done parkruns in Vancouver and Belfast.
Wanting to give back, Mabel started volunteering at parkrun, about five times a year. She has recently increased this to once a month.
“I really enjoy volunteering,” she says. “I get to meet people who run a lot faster than me that I wouldn’t normally meet.”
79 year old Gerry Lovett is also a volunteer at Diamond Creek parkrun. While he can usually be found marshaling on ‘Gerry’s corner’, he also has helped out in other roles, having volunteered over 60 times.
Like Mabel, Gerry started as a participant of parkrun.
“I’d been a walker for years and used to walk this track,” he says about how he first discovered the event back in 2016. “Out of the blue there was a stampede coming behind me, scaring the living daylights out of me!”
“In the end I thought, ‘if you can't beat them, join them’.”
After walking the event 29 times, Gerry could no longer complete the 5k. Rather than stop attending, he decided to become a volunteer.
“It's great,” he says. “I love the company and I look forward to Saturday mornings.”
Statistics from parkrun Australia show that there have been 228,490 total runs from people aged over 65. 44% of those in the 65+ age category agree or strongly agree that parkrun prompted them to take part in other forms of physical activity outside of the parkrun event.
Curious to try parkrun? All you need to do is register (it’s free) on parkrun’s website and turn up to one of the many parkrun events held across the country. To find the event closest to you, check out the parkrun map.
“Come even if you don't know anyone – you soon will,” says Mabel.
“It's not a race,” says Gerry. “Just get involved and you'll enjoy it once you've done it; you'll keep coming back.”
Main photo by Chanan Greenblatt