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Monday, 5 December 2011

parkrun is...only 5km

There are so many running events out there that are available to the general public. These range from the really short to the ridiculously long but, of them all, parkrun must have the best distance to balance being long enough for serious runners, short enough to entice those starting out and just about perfect for everyone in between.

I think we are all well aware of the 3 most common distances for major organised runs. Those being the 10km, half and full marathons. We all see plenty of these advertised all over the country and beyond. These are intriguing, enticing and the mainstay for serious runners, or those going out on a limb for the sake of a challenge. But are these distances really the way to attract new people into running? After all none of them are exactly easy to achieve if you have never run before. They all require significant periods of training, or at least they do if you follow proper advice. Perhaps that is the attraction and maybe that is why they are so popular. But I do often wonder how many people do these for the first time and are put off for life. Or how many people only do these events once a year and don't really get into running in between, because they find that this kind of serious running just isn't for them. That would hardly be surprising with this type of "in at the deep-end" approach. They are just a little too far for many.

There are of course longer organised runs. I'm talking about ultra-marathons. These events are just incredible and certainly not for the beginner. I often read John Kynaston's Ultra Running Diary blog. I once read about him "hitting the wall" at something like 63 miles, only to somehow recover to complete the last 31 miles of a 94 mile run. Incredible, but as I say, certainly not for most of us.

Over the last few years we have also seen events such as the Sport Relief mile take off. Obviously this is a charity event and is concentrating heavily on raising money rather than the distance, but it is also a well chosen distance for younger kids. However, the mile isn't really long enough to be a regular run for most people. You hardly feel like you have started before its over. Its not really quite a distance run.

So we come to the perfectly placed 5km distance of parkrun. Its nowhere near as daunting as a 10km or half marathon, where we are all normally tempted to start our timed distance running. It can be walked in well under an hour if jogging becomes too tough. For the average parkrunner it tends to take somewhere around 25 minutes, with many more finishing between 25 and 40 minutes. For most people 5km is an achievable distance. It is only 3.1 miles after all. Its also important to say that it doesn't matter what time you do it in, there is no cut off time (other than for politeness to the organisers if you are likely to take over an hour say).

You don't even need to train to run a 5km. Of course you can train, but you don't need to. If anything, parkrun (can  and probably will) become your training. Most likely, parkrun will make you want to run and to train, if nothing else, just to improve your parkrun PB.

These days there are even iPhone apps to encourage us to run. One of these, the very popular couch to 5km running plan concentrates on getting non-runners up to running the 5km parkrun distance. 5km is clearly a target that people in the know believe is the right distance to aim for to get non-runners running.

The fact that parkrun courses tend to be circular (or similar), and often cover multiple laps, it is normally pretty easy to drop out where you started without completing the course if you find it to be too far. You can always try again the next week.

The parkrun 5km is also challenging enough to attract numerous club runners each week and many of the really decent club runners at that. All over the country we see many, many sub 17 minute runs (and frequently far quicker than that) every week. These are not times to be sniffed at. You can't just turn up and run sub 17 minutes, you have to be a fast runner to do those times. This only goes to show that the parkrun 5km distance is attractive to really decent runners as well as to the rest of us.

Thank you parkrun for choosing 5km, its perfect!

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