If you could bottle up and share the adrenalin rush you get as you cross the finish line at parkrun, the world would be a much happier place.
It’s that addictive, feel-good endorphin hit that has over three million people across the world swapping their cosy Saturday morning lie-in for an “invigorating” walk, jog or 5k run round the park.F
Initially started by a group of 13 runners in a south-west London park, the free event run by an incredible band of volunteers, now takes place in 756 locations across the globe.
With so many physical, mental and social benefits, it’s no surprise that the free weekly event has changed many lives across the north and north-east of Scotland.
Your Life spoke to four inspirational parkrunners and volunteers who say they can’t imagine their Saturday mornings without it.
Phil Masterson – Torvean parkrun
“A Saturday without the parkrun isn’t a proper Saturday as far as I’m concerned,” laughs Phil Masterson, who says the weekly event helped him through a battle with cancer.
Fit, healthy and a familiar face at the Torvean parkrun in Inverness, it came as a shock to the 76-year-old when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019.
Despite his diagnosis, Phil remained in high spirits throughout his chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment thanks to stellar support not only from his blood family but also his extended parkrun family.
“The people at parkrun were very supportive,” said Phil.
“At the time I was working towards completing my 250th parkrun as you get a milestone T-shirt, so it was great to have that as a target.
“So that kept me going through the treatment.
“parkrun wasn’t the only thing that got me through as I had family and friends and I’m optimistic by nature, but having parkrun there and the wonderfully supportive people very much helped.”
In remission since 2020, Phil loves parkrun now more than ever, often volunteering to be the tail walker who is last to finish.
“I love volunteering and having banter with the runners when they pass,” said Phil.
“Sometimes people are struggling so I enjoy being the tail walker and keeping them going.
“To see the achievement on their faces when they finish is great.”
Describing it as “life changing”, Phil believes parkrun should be prescribed on the NHS for its mental, physical and social benefits.
“Parkrun has definitely changed my life as whether I would still be running at this incredibly young age of 76 I don’t know,” laughed Phil.
“It keeps me motivated with my running during the week as I just want to get better at parkrun.
“It’s very much like a community/family from the run directors down to the volunteers.
“They do such a fantastic job as they have to turn up before the thing starts and they’re still there when it’s finished.”
Phil can’t stress enough the positive impact parkrun has also had on his mental health.
“Running is good for your head and parkrun even more so,” said Phil.
“In mid-winter you’re stood there in the rain or snow before the run starts and you see people coming from all directions, greeting each other and you just think ‘boy this is special’.
Phil hopes his story will encourage others to give it a go.
“parkrun has so much to offer everybody, from age nine to 90,” said Phil.
“Hopefully I’ll still be doing it when I’m 90.
“The great thing about parkrun is that you can walk if you want to.
“The tail walker is always there so you’ll never be last.”
And it’s not only the Inverness parkrun where Phil has made firm friends.
“parkrun tourism is really good fun, there’s so many different courses across the country,” said Phil.
“I’ve been to 25 different parkruns.”
Louise Anderson – Bressay parkrun
When Louise Anderson started the UK’s most northern parkrun four years ago she weighed nearly 18 stone and crossed the finish line in 54 minutes.
Fast forward to today and Louise has not only shaved 20 minutes off her time but has also shed five stone.
“Parkrun has definitely helped me to lose weight,” said Louise.
“Running is something I never thought I could do so I’m quite proud of myself for doing it and enjoying it too.
“It’s absolutely changed my life as it’s something I never thought I’d be able to do.”
The 53-year-old mum started walking the parkrun in Bressay – a tiny island off Shetland home to under 400 people – as a way to feel fitter and healthier.
“I started off walking the route as I never thought, especially at my age, that I’d be able to start running,” said Louise.
“Then eventually I started running it which was amazing, so if I can do it anybody can do it.”
Louise says the feel-good feeling she gets when crossing the finish line is something which can last for days.
“When you finish you think ‘I’m glad I did that’, it makes you feel so good in yourself.
“You feel really good after it.
“Getting out definitely helps with your mental health.”
With Bressay being the UK’s most northern parkrun, it’s no surprise that it attracts runners from far and wide who take the seven-minute ferry from Lerwick over to the island.
“It’s a pretty good route as you start up by the ferry and then you run 3k and come back the same way,” said Louise.
“You finish at the school where there’s a café serving up coffee and rolls.
“You get people coming for the day to do the parkrun because they want to complete all the parkruns across Britain.
“Some people just come up for the day and then go back on the boat that night.”
A few months ago, Louise actually completed a parkrun in Sweden.
“When I was in Stockholm I ran that parkrun, it was brilliant,” said Louise.
Socially, Louise says parkrun has also been a godsend.
“I’ve made a lot of friends, which is lovely as you see them in the town and end up chatting away,” said Louise.
Catriona Pirie – Stonehaven parkrun
Crossing the finish line at the end of her first ever parkrun, Catriona Pirie felt like she was on “cloud nine”.
Sporting a post-parkrun “afterglow” – rosy cheeks and glistening skin (not sweaty) – the 37-year-old’s first outing at Stonehaven parkrun in 2018 gave her an endorphin buzz that she’s been chasing every week since.
“At my first parkrun I literally just donned a pair of trainers and went along, not having a clue what to expect,” said Catriona, who has a grown-up son.
“So I ran, walked and hobbled most of my way around the 5k.
“When I crossed the finish line, I was on cloud nine that day.
“The next day I couldn’t walk and for a week but I went back every week and I’ve now done over 100 parkruns.”
Feeling stronger every week, Catriona has shaved off an incredible 20 minutes from her first ever 5k clocking a personal best time of 37 minutes and 40 seconds.
And as someone who suffers from exercise induced asthma, Catriona says the parkrun has made a big difference to her health.
“I don’t tend to notice my asthma when doing normal day-to-day stuff but the minute I start running I sound like I smoke about 50 cigarettes a day.
“But I just take a couple of puffs of my inhaler and keep going.
“Since starting parkrun I feel like my asthma is getting better, so the more I run, it’s helping.”
It’s not only her physical health that has improved but also her mental health, as Catriona says that before parkrun she found herself a bit socially isolated.
“Prior to joining parkrun I’d become disconnected from all of my friends, so through parkrun I’ve made a whole bunch of new friends and they look out for you – parkrun has been an absolute godsend,” said Catriona.
Based within Mineralwell Park, the Stonehaven parkrun is scenic route.
“The Stonehaven parkrun starts off in quite a wide open area, almost football pitch type area, it’s a circuit route and you do three circuits round,” said Catriona.
“You go along towards the basketball court, passing trees and then you go up a small hill and you get into a wooded area which is lovely as they’ve just planted a whole bunch of trees there.”
Part of the course is infamous with the regulars.
“You go up a really big hill which is entirely closed in trees and it’s beautiful.
“It’s well worth a visit regardless of that hill.
“The hill is famous, everybody knows about the hill.”
Reflecting on the incredible journey that parkrun has taken her on, Catriona is now planning to run her first marathon.
“I’m certainly interested in running one marathon and I have my heart set on the St Magnus Marathon on Orkney,” said Catriona.
Catriona is now so into running that she has become a jog leader at Jog Scotland.
Alice Bailey – Aviemore parkrun
As her voice breaks with emotion, it’s clear that parkrun holds a special place in Alice Bailey’s heart.
Describing the last few years as a “long haul”, the 55-year-old has not only battled an excruciating ligament injury but also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
But through these tough times, there was light at the end of the tunnel in the form of the Aviemore parkrun.
Unable to run it due to her injury, Alice instead gave up her Saturdays to support her fellow parkrunners, which was something that kept her sporting spirits up.
“Volunteering at the parkrun while I was injured gave me the incentive to get back running,” said Alice.
“It’s a shame that more people who are injured don’t go and volunteer because it really gives you that motivation to go running again.”
Fighting back tears, Alice says it has been a long road to recovery.
“It was while taking a dish out of the dishwasher when I tore the ligaments just above my hip,” said Alice.
“I couldn’t walk, stand or sit for six months.
“So the minute I could stand long enough I went back to volunteering at the Aviemore parkrun as you miss the atmosphere and the craic.”
Thanks to stellar support from her fellow parkrun volunteers, Alice completed her first post-recovery parkrun on New Year’s Day.
“I was so happy as it’s been such a long haul to get back running again,” said Alice.
Something which always puts a smile on Alice’s face at the parkrun is a music maestro marshal called Bill who blasts out motivational tunes from a speaker hanging from a tree branch.
“Bill is there every single week with his music, which is brilliant.” said Alice.
Quite literally breathtaking, the course enjoys some spectacular scenery.
It’s so beautiful in fact that it attracts people from across the world.
“One week we had a group of Americans that came along and handed out gifts to everyone,” said Alice.
“It was really bizarre but lovely – you don’t know what to expect at each one.”
One of Alice’s most precious parkrun memories is completing it with her dad.
“My family all came up for my dad’s 80th and quite a lot of us did the parkrun including my dad,” said Alice.
“One of the best pictures I have is of my dad crossing the finish line with my brother and his grandson, it was perfect to see three generations doing the parkrun.”
Alice, who is originally from Southend-on-Sea before relocating to Aviemore 30 years ago, is keen to encourage others to volunteer or take part in parkrun.
“I want to say to people that you’re never going to be last at parkrun because there will always be a tail walker,” said Alice.