Newcastle parkrun creates ‘region of runners’ through fitness and community spirit

It doesn’t matter where you finish or if you run or walk, it’s about getting active and meeting new people.

That’s the attitude at parkrun in Newcastle, an event which organizers say has created a “region of runners”.

While living abroad, Newcastle local Dave Robertson took part in a parkrun in the United Kingdom and instantly knew he needed one in his home town.

And he was right.

Dave Robertson helped get parkrun started in Newcastle 10 years ago.(ABC News: Carly Cook)

The first Newy parkrun on June 8, in 2012, had 77 participants.

Ten years on the five-kilometre weekly event attracts on average more than 400 people, making it one of the most popular in Australia.

Mr Robertson said elite runners or established runners would always find a way to run, so parkrun was about getting everyone else to have a go.

“The nature of the event is that there’s so few barriers to participation,” he said.

The parkrun movement has spread across the Hunter Valley, earning the area the nickname the “region of runners”.

Mr Robertson said there were almost 30 McDonalds fast-food outlets across the region — he is keeping tally and hopes one day the parkruns will outnumber them.

“We’ve launched a total of 17 different parkruns in the Hunter region … we’re still a little bit behind but there’s still scope for growth,” he said.

“We’re seeing new events popping up and it’s great to see communities around the Hunter embracing parkrun.”

Love blossoms at parkrun

A man and woman standing side by side.
Courtney Barnes and Alex O’Loughlin met at Newy Parkrun and are now married.(ABC News: Carly Cook)

Alex O’Loughlin and Courtney Barnes met at parkrun five years ago.

“We were both volunteering as time keepers. That’s where we met and it kind of just went from there,” Ms Barnes said.

Mr O’Loughlin said parkrun was the reason he got into running, but meeting his partner was a bonus.

“Courtney was more into running than I was so I guess I had to get into it after that,” he said.

“I think 5 kilometers was the furthest I’d ever run when I came to parkrun, and Courtney had already done a few marathons, so I had to start upping the distance and I’ve done my first marathon now.”

The couple got married in January.

Parkrun community ‘invaluable’ during cancer treatment

A lady wearing a hat standing in front of a creek.
Suzie McGregor says the support from parkrun friends lifted her spirits while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.(ABC News: Carly Cook)

When Suzie McGregor started doing parkrun each Saturday it helped motivate her to get out and run at least 5 kilometers each week.

But after being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing six months of treatment, the friendship and support from other parkrun attendees has been just as important.

A lady sitting in a chair having chemo treatment
Ms McGregor was gifted a photo blanket from her friends at parkrun to use during chemotherapy.(supplies)

“The support has been amazing … messages and even a dear friend who does parkrun made a beautiful blanket for me full of parkrun photos that I can take to chemo,” she said.

“She knew that it would be cold at chemo, so I used that blanket every time.”

When COVID-19 restrictions eased and parkrun could start up again it was still too dangerous for Ms McGregor to join her friends on the weekly course.

Instead she walked on a stretch of grass nearby.

“People could see me and people would wave, and say ‘Hey Suzie, how are you?'” she said.

While she’s not running the course again just yet, she’s happy to be back walking it alongside friends.

“I’ve finished chemo, I’ve finished radiation, I’m back at work full-time, besides feeling tired I’m quite well and very pleased that I’ve got so much in front of me.”

Parkrun creates ‘vital community connection’

Man running on path along creek.
Avid runner Alan McCloskey says Newy parkrun is a great environment, with beautiful scenery and friendly people. (ABC News: Carly Cook)

Alan McCloskey, 70, has been running for 50 years and has completed 340 park runs.

He said very few people were running when he started, but parkrun has given many a platform to get active.

“It’s not an elitist event by any means. People run for the sheer enjoyment and pleasure and connection to community,” he said

Jordi Bates has been taking part in Newy parkrun for almost 10 years and likes the regular routine every Saturday morning.

“If I’m not here I’ll be at one of the other parkruns around Newcastle,” he said.

Man, from torso up, standing in front of creek.
Jordi Bates says parkrun is a great place to catch up with friends.(ABC News: Carly Cook)

“It’s just really nice if you have a hard week or an easy week to just rock up and do your thing.”

A friendly face is also easy to find.

“You can run with a friend that you haven’t seen for a while and at the end you can mill around, have a chat or go off and have a coffee, which is nice,” Mr Bates said.

Woman running around orange cone on footpath.
Priscilla Colman enjoys the motivation she gets from running with others.(supplies)

Jason Daniel and his daughter Priscilla Colman like to do the course together.

“It was a good excuse to do a little bit of father-daughter bonding,” he said.

He also wants to “live a bit longer” so likes the weekly exercise and has now completed 350 parkruns.

Running with others also provides that extra motivation.

“You find you run yourself and you just plod along and here it gives you that bit of extra push,” Ms Colman said.

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