June 2024

Harrow parkrun #400!
Mike Lepps, Harrow parkrun & 
Graham Jack, HRUA

Graham: If you go down to the park on any Saturday around 9am you may be in for a surprise, as you are joined by 200 to 300 people setting off for their weekly 5km run/walk.  I’ve been running around Harrow Rec solo for more than 30 years, but joining the parkrun community has been a joy for me.

Saturday 18th May this year marked the 400th parkrun event in our park, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to hear from Mike Lepps, one of the Harrow parkrun event directors, and a volunteering stalwart.

Mike says: Harrow parkrun was started on the 9th May 2015 by members of Harrow athletic club.  With 139 people in the first week, attendance was up and down in the early months. Our first 200 runner finish was 2 years after we started and 300 in June 2019.

Gradually the community spirit built up as we developed a group of regular run directors and volunteers, and a loyal band of runners, many of whom are still with us 9 years later. In our second year we were pleased to welcome the parkrun founder, Paul Sinton Hewitt to Harrow.

Graham: The parkrun has its share of dedicated athletes, and most weeks, as I labour around my second lap I’m overtaken by some Billy Whizz on their way to finishing their final one.  But the great strength of the parkun movement is inclusivity, welcoming athletes, those of us trying to stay fit, and plenty of people who are trying to get out of their armchairs and get moving again.

Mike: For some it’s become a voyage of discovery as they found that they really enjoyed running, increased their running activity to several times a week, or maybe joined a local athletics club or the Metros running club. When the London Marathon rolls round each year there’s always a number of parkrunners participating, and of course people support many other local races including events such as the Ealing Half marathon.

runners posing inside a celebration "photo frame"

Graham: parkrun bills itself as “Free, For Everyone, Forever”.  How does the Harrow event live up to that challenge?

Mike: Over the years we have tried to ensure that everyone is welcome and are enabled to participate in the parkrun. We regularly have unsighted runners, such as Janice, who has been guided around the course by Denis and other volunteers.

We encourage people to walk the course if they aren’t comfortable running it and we can also accommodate wheelchair users of which we’ve had a few over the years!

We have a few baby buggy runners who complete the course whilst pushing toddlers – Ella in particular has a big smile on her face as she is whizzed past with dad, Mark. Over time we’ve also welcomed a number of Duke of Edinburgh youngsters embarking on their volunteering and physical activity goals. 

Graham: Of course, it hasn’t always been plain sailing, like the rest of society, parkun was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 epidemic, despite the obvious benefits of getting people out into the fresh air and maintaining physical and mental health.

Mike:  In January 2020 we peaked at 358 runners finishing the course one week before we went into the nationwide lockdown.  parkrun closed for 14 months, with a slow build up on its return. It’s taken until this year for us to return to having 300+ finishers on a Saturday morning – last week 328!

runners standing in front of a pavilion

Graham: If you do stray into the park when the event is on, you will see marshals in yellow hi-vis jackets spreading out, carrying warning signs, others manning the finish and timing system, and “beepers” recording the finishers – it takes a team of 15 to 20 run-day volunteers to put on the event safely.

Mike: Parkrun depends on the generosity of people to help at each weekly run - we could not run the event without sufficient volunteers Thankfully we’ve not had to cancel our event, but sometimes we have to appeal for more help especially around holiday periods. You could join our volunteer team just send a message to harrow@parkrun.com.

Amongst our total of 695 volunteers are heroes like Joe Turner, who has marshalled “his” corner over 380 times, and Louise Lepps, who has completed 181 timekeeping slots. Parkrun recognizes regular volunteers with special club T-shirts. If you’ve volunteered on 250 or more occasions then you get the coveted green T shirt – a bit like golf’s Masters jacket!

runner pushing child in buggy

 Graham: the parkrun team is an active “Organisation Member” of your Harrow Recreation Ground Users Association, making sure that the event works alongside other park users.

Mike: We recently benefitted from path improvement works performed by Harrow council as they revamped a number of areas where tree roots had caused quite severe trip hazards for all park users, never mind just the runners!  Keeping the event running last winter, while council workers and contractors worked on paths, fences, and the cricket nets, was a challenge.  On several occasions the team were in the park at all hours rerouting the course around hazards, and briefing confused runners to keep the show on the road.

Graham: and the last word to Mike, who loves his statistics…

Mike: Altogether we’ve had 9,849 people run at Harrow parkrun on 74,760 occasions setting 12,128 personal bests. We have collectively run 373,800 KMs so we shall soon have reached the moon! Incredibly, 697 different clubs have been represented at Harrow, as people travel the country ticking off the different parkruns they have completed. Recently we had two brothers visiting, each having run at 500 different venues.

We have quite a number of our regular runners who have earned the right to wear the special parkrun milestone T shirts: red for 50 runs; black for 100; for 250 it’s green; whilst 500 runs get you a blue shirt. 

Here’s to our 10th birthday next year! Why not make a walk, jog or run with us part of your healthy routine - we’re in Harrow Rec Park every Saturday morning ready to start at 9am, rain or shine and its completely free!

crowd of runners coming towards the camera
race marshall standing in large puddle
crowd of runners at the start line
runner in finish funnel passing timekeeper
runners flash past the camera
a line of volunteers waiting to scan finish tokens

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