One of the world’s biggest free, weekly fitness events is launching in the Netherlands

parkrun. No, this is not a spelling mistake, that is how you write it, no capital. This name with no capital letter befits the casual and warm nature of this movement. And a fun movement it certainly is: with over six million registrations, parkrun is the biggest, weekly, free fitness event of its kind. The best news is, on Saturday, 29th of February, at 09.00, the Netherlands becomes the 22nd parkrun country!

But I digress. So what is parkrun? It is a free, weekly, timed, five kilometre event completed at your own pace. It happens every Saturday, in over 2000 locations, across 21 countries, and is open to anyone, whether you sprint, run, jog, walk or volunteer. (As a side note, all parkrun teams always welcome more volunteers, so please put your hand up to help.)

parkrun is a social event to get people moving but also to connect with others in their community regardless of age, race, religion, language, gender identity and fitness. Even in our volunteer group of Haarlem parkrun we have a mix of Dutchies and internationals, which is, as an added benefit, is a brilliant way to improve my Dutch language skills!

Picture this, but with less hills. Image: parkrun/supplied

When and where will parkrun be?

The first official events will kick-off in Rotterdam (Kralingsebos), Eindhoven (Karpendonkse Plas), Nijmegen (Goffertpark), Groningen (Stadspark), Maastricht (Tapijn), and Utrecht (Máximapark). Do I hear a collective hooray from fellow parkrunners?  

Amsterdamse Bos and Leiden (Kagerzoom) parkruns will launch on 7th of March, and we here in Haarlem, plan the inaugural Schoterbos event to towards the end of March. Enthusiastic teams in Amsterdam, Den Haag and Arnhem proposed more parkruns to follow. Keep an eye on parkrun Nederland’s social media channels for updates.

Do I have to be super-fit?

Absolutely not! In our volunteer group in Haarlem for instance, we recently did a test run, and some of our runners did it sub-20 minutes, (I know, right?!) whereas others took up to 30 minutes. I was not running this time around as I was photographing the runners, (that is my story, and I am sticking to it!) but if I were running, it would’ve taken me anything between 35 and 40 minutes. Yes, I am a novice and a slower runner. And that brings me back to the ethos, parkrun is for everyone! 

Being a bit of an on/off runner myself, I joined the group for motivation to run a few times during the week, so that I can go full tilt on parkrun day. On the flip side, even when I make excuses all week, I still feel comfortable to join in on a Saturday, as I can just as easily walk it. Apart from the exercise, I love the inclusive and fun atmosphere. Most locations are accessible so that wheelchair users and visually impaired runners with guide runners can join in. Parents often find their way back to fitness, either walking and running with buggies. 

parkrun is for everyone. Image: parkrun/supplied

A worldwide movement with a British base

So what exactly is it about parkrun that keeps people coming back for more? It started back in 2004, in Bushy Park, London, when founder Paul Sinton-Hewit and a few mates, 13 runners and five volunteers to be exact, decided to share their joy of running. Paul once said in a BBC interview, We go out of our way to make sure people can join this party to be part of the community and to find the things that have been missing in our society for a very long time.”  

It’s more than a race; it is a community event, run by local volunteers for their peers living in their community. Its popularity seems to grow organically, and it can be addictive! Many regular parkrunners get a bit cranky if they do not get their weekly fix. One of the better vices to have, wouldn’t you agree?

And that’s the beauty of it. You only register once for free, and then you can run at your local parkrun, or any other parkrun in the world. Just show up with your barcode. You probably will be allowed to run even if you forgot your barcode because after all, you made an effort to drag yourself out of bed and parkrunners are a forgiving bunch. Still, as that is guaranteed to be your fastest run ever, you never, ever want to forget your barcode. No barcode, no results!

I am rather fond of the official line, “parkrun is all about participation and inclusion. It does not matter how fast the participants are. They are encouraged to run, jog, walk or volunteer accompanied by friends, families, children or even dogs.”.  

Good vibes and good times. Image: parkrun/supplied

How do I take part?

#1 Register online

It takes all of 30 seconds. You’ll receive an email with your unique barcode, but you can also click on the link on your profile to download the barcode. You receive six copies, but you need only one at the event. At the time of writing, you can register at six locations across the Netherlands. If your home event is not live, you can register at another site and change it later.

#2 Print out your barcode

A green tip on printing the barcodes. At this moment, we cannot scan a screenshot of the barcode on your phone. So, if you don’t want to print out barcodes continually, you can also laminate it, put it in one of those conference badge holders or order a nifty tag or a wristband from parkrun, which you can use every week.

Your barcode gives you access to any parkrun, anywhere. Image: parkrun/supplied

#3 Choose a location, any location

Always keep an eye on your chosen parkrun’s social media channels to ensure it is going ahead and for any important updates.

#4 Show up

Arrive on time, barcode in hand, and the volunteers will guide you through the process and to the start.

#5 And go

…as fast or as slow as you want!

#6 Finish up

Remember to scan your barcode at the end, so that your results can be processed.

#7 And enjoy the social benefits!

Feel free to meet up for a coffee or tea afterwards. Have I mentioned parkrunners are social butterflies?

How do I volunteer?

Got a hankering to help out? The best way to get involved is to join your local parkrun and have a chat to the volunteers on the day or send them a message via their event pages or social media channels.

When setting up a new event from scratch, you collaborate with the team at parkrun headquarters. I’m always amazed by how quickly they answer our questions, no matter how silly some of these seem.

parkrun is entirely run by volunteers. Image: parkrun/supplied

Behind the scenes of parkrun planning

To start up a new event, you need a core team, which is led by an event director and is dependent on a volunteer coordinator to recruit more running feet. It is invaluable if one volunteer takes ownership of using social media as a PR tool long before the event launches.

Finding the best course which ticks all the required boxes can be tricky. Our Haarlem team took weeks of testing various locations, drawing up routes, and retesting these. Many animated discussions followed, primarily via WhatsApp, generating enough energy to power a small country before we got sign-off on a location. Don’t forget to gain permission from your municipality! After confirming a site, more official paperwork and test runs follow to ensure the inaugural parkrun runs smoothly. Pun intended!

During an event, there are many roles to choose from, and the volunteer coordinator schedules these beforehand. The event director oversees everything, and the run director ensures a specific event runs smoothly and safely. Other roles are timekeeper, pacer, finish token, funnel manager, results processor, barcode scanner, lead bike, marshalls, tail walker and photographer. What a team!

Will parkrun be a resolution to tick off your 2020 list? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: parkrun/supplied

Magdalena Laas
Magdalena Laas
Magdalena is a psychology and education graduate, toying with the idea to eventually obtain her PhD. For now, she's having fun telling stories, be it with words, stills or moving pictures. Born in South Africa, adopted by New Zealand, and welcomed by the United Kingdom, she's currently learning to cycle with an umbrella, in the Netherlands; with her husband, son and well-travelled cat, Juno.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related posts

Latest posts

Here’s how to find a babysitter in the Netherlands the easy way 

Parenting is extremely rewarding (sometimes 😉), but let's face it — it comes with its fair share of challenges. One of them is finding...

Dutch house prices could reach an all-time high in 2024: here’s why

Houses in the Netherlands are known for being so tall and narrow they can look like they're stretching up towards the sky. Now, their...

Three Dutch cities to halt all public transport on Saturday in protest against worker abuse

After a train conductor from Dutch railway company NS was violently assaulted, three major cities have decided to suspend all public transport for a...

It's happening

Upcoming events

The latest Dutch news.
In your inbox.