After a trial run last weekend, Pensacola’s new Parkrun holds its inaugural event Saturday morning.
The idea for a Parkrun in Pensacola, says organizer Robin Foley, attracted the attention of the Pensacola Runners Association, which provided a startup grant. Other supporters quickly came on board.
“Parkrun itself started in England about ten years ago,” said organizer Robin Foley. “Couple of guys got together every Saturday morning, they go for a run; they go for a cup of coffee and compare their times.”
Speaking at the end of the Parkrun trail on a cool, cloudy and foggy morning, Foley said things just mushroomed over there, although he admits it’s been slow to catch on across the pond.
“There are 500 park runs in England; there’s 100 in Ireland where I came across it on a visit,” said Foley, a native of Cork. “And I thought the concept was so simple, it should go in the States. But, people weren’t aware of it over here.”
The idea for a Parkrun in Pensacola attracted the attention of the Pensacola Runners Association, which provided a startup grant, and other supporters quickly came on board.
The question then became where to build the 5K course. After looking at downtown Pensacola and the Osceola Golf Club, the answer was: the University of West Florida. Foley was steered to Caleb Carmichael, UWF’s head cross country coach.
“Robin Foley reached out to me, seems like almost a year ago, about the prospects of bringing one to Pensacola,” said Carmichael. “[They] didn’t really have a suitable location, and that’s where I came in. He needed a place to find to be a runners’ park run, and I had a location in mind.”
“[Carmichael] said, ‘yeah, we have the trail [but] it needs to be worked on, we’ve neglected it,’” said Foley. “But it was pushing an open door to come up to the trail. Our Parkrun volunteers have worked alongside UWF Facilities and Grounds Maintenance staff here, who have been a tremendous help.”
When Parkrun is established, and the course a little more refined, it’s expected to be used by the Argonaut harriers and their opponents.
“One thing you have to do is to try to make it wide enough, in the least amount of turns at the start; that will be a process,” said Carmichael. “I’m hoping to upgrade [to] a land bridge, so people can easily cross that without having to go over a concrete bridge. And also, just the routes. When you’re running fast you don’t want to look down at your feet to wonder where you’re stepping. It just slows you down and it’s one more thing to think about.”
About 260 runners and walkers of all skill levels are expected for Saturday’s kickoff. Carmichael says they will be challenged.
“Our campus has several hills, and we found them on the course; I think it’s going to be different than what people are used to,” Carmichael said. “Because they show up at a race and expect it to be a race. This is an event; this is a run. You can make it what you like. If you want to run fast, you can run fast. If you’re going to walk, you can walk. And it’s going to be unique in that aspect.”
The local Parkrun is the 29th established in the United States, and the first on an American college campus. Saturday’s event – which is free – already has drawn more than 200 registrants. Foley says they are not athletic competitions, per se.
“Parkrun welcomes runners, and walkers, and crawlers, even; you come out and you run at your own pace,” Foley says. “We don’t have any shirts, hats, medals or any of that; it’s just you against your own time.”
And no participant will ever finish last – guaranteed.
“To further remove any inhibition, we have a volunteer whose job is to be our ‘tail walker,’ and that person finishes last,” said Foley. They also pick up anybody that falls asleep on the course on the way.”
Parkrun, says organizer Robin Foley, is about getting people moving and there’s also the social aspect. One will be held at the UWF course every Saturday that there are volunteers available. For the opener, volunteers are coming in from other park runs.
“Two people from Gainesville, where they started one in September; a Parkrun representative from New York,” Foley says. “And we will have a lady from Pensacola – graduated UWF and now working in [Washington] D.C. and is involved with Parkrun up there – she’s volunteering to be our first tail walker.”
The inaugural Pensacola Parkrun kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Saturday on the UWF campus, and once again, is free of charge, although registration is required. There will be a parkrun every Saturday morning there, except in cases of severe weather.