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Parkrun arrives in North Devon

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 10, 2013

PARK LIFE: Dan Mapp takes part in the first Barnstaple parkrun. See a gallery of photos from the run at www.thisisnorthdevon.co.uk Pictures: Mike Southon. To order this photograph call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNMS20130105A-013_C

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"I CALL it co-ompetition," said Geoff Keogh after helping with the smooth running of the first Barnstaple parkrun.

He may have invented a new word but it is one that sums up the ethos of a growing worldwide event.

On Saturday, at Rock Park, a new free weekly run took place for the first time.

Thanks to the efforts of a small group of volunteers, led by event director Sonya Webb, parkrun has arrived in North Devon.

"It's such a simple concept," said Geoff. "It's every week. It's 5k. It's free to enter. And it's inclusive, so attracts fast club runners and complete beginners.

"Co-ompetition? It's competition and cooperation.

"It's not meant to be a race in the traditional sense. You're really competing against yourself. I would describe it as friendly competition."

Fifty-seven people, of all ages and abilities, turned out to enjoy the "co-ompetition" on the first Saturday of the new year.

And judging by their reaction, they will be back in the months and years to come.

Since the first parkrun was established in London in 2004, they have been popping up all over the world.

Runners register once online, print off a barcode and are free to take part in any event.

Within three hours of finishing, they receive a text or e-mail with their official time.

Geoff is the event director for the Ashton Court parkrun in Bristol, which started in 2011. He travelled to Barnstaple to help out on the opening day.

"I had seen people talking and blogging about parkrun and what a fantastic event it was," he said. "It becomes addictive.

"We had people at Ashton Court who were absolute beginners, really nervous, turning up to run in a group for the first time, and some of them have gone on to run the Bristol Half Marathon."

Maybe those taking part in Barnstaple will be similarly inspired.

Pam Lang, from Braunton, said: "I'm 61 now and it's the first time I have run for years. I thought I would give it a go.

"It was brilliant. I like the way it is all-inclusive. It's good for North Devon."

And Jo Cox, also of Braunton, enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

"The marshals say 'well done' to everyone and not just the ones running fast," she said. "I met two ladies who had not got anyone to run with before and now they will be back every week. That's what parkrun is all about."

As a member of North Devon Triathletes, Gary Spencer is used to tough competition but he likes the simplicity of this event.

Gary first took part in a parkrun in Bromley, Kent, where parents with prams and veteran runners are par for the course.

"There's one woman who is 90," he said. "And people run past with buggies.

"I was speaking to people ages ago about doing a parkrun down here.

"It's just so easy. You just bowl up and run. There's no pressure."

As Michelle Williams proved, parkruns are even suitable for four-legged friends. Rosie, her dog, proved just as enthusiastic as any two-legged runner in Rock Park.

"She's been as good as gold all the way round but she's used to running with my other half who does run a lot," said Michelle. "I'm pleased I finished. I thought I might fall on my bum a couple of times but that was from her pulling me."

Among the finishers was Michael Gilmore, from Bideford AAC, who has now completed eight parkrun courses.

That record did not quite match Peter Samuelson, who had travelled down from Yorkshire to take part in his 25th inaugural parkrun.

For Dan Mapp, of Bideford, fastest on the opening day with a time of 17mins 29secs, the run was a useful warm-up for a 10k race in Reading next week.

Whatever their reasons for running, the group relished their first of many opportunities to take part in North Devon.

"It went really well and I'm sure it's going to grow really quickly," said Geoff. "The team here are fantastic.

"I think this is a really nice venue and it's going to become a nice social event."

Barnstaple parkrun takes place every Saturday in Rock Park from 9am. To find out more about running or volunteering, go to www.parkrun.org.uk/barnstaple

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