‘Parkrun’ Weekly 5K Comes to Northwest

Photo by Brian Kapur/The Current
Henry Wigglesworth jogs on the C&O Canal’s towpath near his Palisades home — part of the route for an upcoming weekly 5K race.
Henry Wigglesworth jogs on the C&O Canal’s towpath near his Palisades home — part of the route for an upcoming weekly 5K race.

By Mark Lieberman
Current Staff Writer

Palisades resident Henry Wigglesworth stumbled upon a “Parkrun” during a family vacation in Nottingham, England, last summer and decided to enter the free race at the last minute. During the event, one of the three runners who ultimately beat Wigglesworth paused alongside the American to say hello and wish him well.

“I thought, well, that’s really unusual. In all of the runs and races I’ve done in the United States, I’ve never been cheered on by a competitor,” Wigglesworth said. “That really just captured the friendly spirit of these runs.”

From then on, Wigglesworth was hooked. Now he’s bringing the Parkrun experience to D.C., officially beginning this Saturday at 9 a.m. with a loop along the C&O Canal towpath starting and ending at Fletcher’s Cove, 4940 Canal Road NW.

The volunteer-based initiative started in Teddington, England, in 2004 and gradually expanded worldwide, with more than 500 races held in England and more in 10 other countries so far.

Thanks to the efforts of Wigglesworth and several fellow Parkrun enthusiasts, the tradition of free non-competitive weekly 5K races powered by community support has now reached D.C.

A few weeks after he returned from vacation, Wigglesworth had coffee with local runner Peter Blank, who loved the idea of a Parkrun and knew another District resident with the same idea. Blank connected Wigglesworth with Darrell Stanaford, a D.C. transplant from Moscow who first encountered Parkruns in Russia and wanted to bring them to the U.S.

“It seemed like Darrell was a sign from the heavens that this was a good thing to pursue,” said Wigglesworth.

Parkruns, so named because they typically take place in or near public parks, became part of Stanaford’s routine in Moscow, where he spent 20 years. He said that when he came to D.C., he and his wife had “gotten spoiled by having these free 5K runs every Saturday morning. We knew right away that we wanted to get one going in Washington.”

Wigglesworth and Stanaford emailed Parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who connected the pair with several other D.C. residents who had approached him with the same idea. Among the new recruits was Andres Falconer, who works at the World Bank and previously lived in London, where he participated in approximately 50 Parkruns in Wimbledon Commons. In addition to the opportunity to regularly stretch his legs, the variety of people who showed up kept him interested.

“On one end, you’ll have very fast runners of all ages,” said Falconer. “On the other hand you’ll have parents pushing babies, dog walkers, elderly people, families with kids. It’s a no-pressure environment.”

Falconer is handling the social media and funding for D.C. Parkrun, while Stanaford is in charge of organizing volunteers.

One of the requirements for starting a race is an initial investment of $4,000, mainly for equipment to keep track of running times. Wigglesworth and his team acquired $2,100 from the Palisades Community Fund, and the donations rolled in from there. They’ll help keep the experience free and easy for interested runners.

“You get a professionally run, professionally managed, professionally staged 5K run that is timed, and the times are recorded and posted on a website,” Wigglesworth said. “All that is free. And yet it is done at very high quality.”

Three test races in November and December proved more successful than expected, Wigglesworth said. With little publicity, the first race attracted 20 runners and the second and third races attracted 30 each. One of the participants in the final trial was Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who told The Washington Post that she hopes to see more Parkruns crop up across the city after this one launches.

One of the challenges for starting a Parkrun movement nationwide, Falconer said, is that it’s hard to drum up interest in races that are currently scattered across the country — one in California, another in Florida and so on.

“They think that having an active presence in the East Coast can really start building the momentum,” Falconer said.

Sinton-Hewitt will attend Saturday’s Parkrun launch in Georgetown, as will Parkrun’s global CEO Nick Pearson. Falconer said their presence is notable because they’re not known to attend every new race.

Once the race starts and becomes a community tradition, Wigglesworth will focus on recruiting new people interested in donating their time to behind-the-scenes efforts, he said.

“The biggest challenge is finding volunteers — like-minded people who are willing to donate the time to do this,” he said. “It has been pretty time-consuming. It can’t be done by yourself.”

Wigglesworth hopes to see broad involvement in terms of runners and organizers. He points out that as a longtime runner and part-time coach, he has no trouble finding opportunities to run. He wants Parkrun to serve the community, aimed at people who want to run in a relaxed environment but don’t want to pay prohibitive fees or worry about underperforming.

“We don’t need a Parkrun in order for us to satisfy our urge to run,” he said. “It was really more the desire to create this thing that we knew worked really well in England and we think can work really well here.”

Runners interested in attending Saturday’s run are encouraged to register online at tinyurl.com/parkrunregister, though they can sign up at the event as well. This brief registration is the only one that’s required to participate in all subsequent races, including the weekly Saturday runs at Fletcher’s Cove.

This article appears in the Jan. 6 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.

7 Comments For This Article

Chris Smith

I live for parkrun each Saturday. We have an average of 350 to 400 participants every Saturday rain hail or shine at Newy parkrun in Newcastle Australia.
Local businesses love it because parkrunners go looking for a coffee and breakfast afterwards.
And all types of participants from runners to walkers make up the field.
And the best part it costs nothing.
Cheers from Downunder

Ray Coward

Once you get rolling I hope that your community will find that volunteering can be as rewarding as running. At Bushy parkrun ( home of the first ever parkrun ) we regularly get 30 to 40 people volunteering each Saturday. Have a great day on Saturday.

Henry Wigglesworth

Thanks for your support from halfway across the world!

Nicky Best

parkrun is the most important all inclusive sporting event on the planet. Believe me, I do not particularly like running but parkrun is so, so much more. Good luck to all at Fletcher's Cove this Saturday from everyone at Oakwell Hall parkrun in West Yorkshire, England.

David Priddy

Good luck, you won't regret getting involved. My own event reaches run number 344 this Saturday, most of which I've been involved with, and it's a positive experience every time. It's not a race though, it's a time trial, so it's just you against the stopwatch and not you against other runners. That's part of what makes it so welcoming to runners of all abilities - you can come and push yourself for a personal best time, or you can jog round with your friends.
I feel a trip to DC coming on :)

Richard

Can I just point out to the author that these are not races, just organised group runs. Races implies pressure, to finish fastest and for parkrun this is certainly not the case. You run against yourself with the biggest challenge being getting to the start for a 9am start. After that point you run at your own pace. There's no one winner, everyone who makes that start is a winner. Sure after a few weeks you recognise familiar faces and you will work out who finishes close to you and these will become your nemesis, but at the same time you will probably chat to them after the finish hopefully over coffee. This is where parkrun excels, a community of like minded individuals who don't want racing, but a social run and chat together.

WG

Nice article, if I may politely point out , parkrun is always with a little 'p' ( yup I know it doesn't seem right, but it is) it's always a run not a race.

Well done on getting parkrun going on the East Coast, it's an awesome initiative and a tremendous way of building communities, making friends, getting fit, drinking coffee and eating cakes ( but not every week). Hope you all get as much out of parkrun as I have.