In June last year the RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners) and parkrun officially joined forces. I have been recommending parkrun to some of my patients at Priory Medical Group for a while now as my surgery is only a mile or so away from Heslington parkrun but when I could officially sign my practice up to be a parkrun practice I was eager to get going with it!
But why would you bother?
Increasingly in general practice I am seeing patients with mental and physical symptoms that are fully or in part triggered by difficult social situations. This may be poor housing, no family support, unemployed or challenges getting benefits despite being eligible, relationship stresses or even varying types of abuse. Yes, I can support those patients and various medical treatments if appropriate but social prescribing can also be of huge benefit. Social prescribing as a term is relatively new and we have to be careful not to ‘medicalise’ wellbeing, exercise and social issues but we also have an opportunity to improve our patients general health with these measures.
Parkrun isn’t just a 5k run, it can be a social gathering, a reason to get out of bed on a Saturday morning and a way to help others. Every Saturday morning at various locations across the country, parkrunners get ready to walk, run or volunteer. There is no one too slow for parkrun, the official tailwalker comes last and encourages everyone on.
So why is all that so good for my patients?
It can be used as a part of a program for weight loss or when wanting to increase physical activity. Tracking your progress and seeing improvement can bring ‘all the feels’ and spur you on to keep going. Every week you get text or emailed your 5k time, maybe it was 57 minutes the first time and 10 parkruns in you’re at 55.35 minutes – go you! Milestones are a great thing in parkrun life, you get a shout out and a tee if you reach 50, 100, 250, 500… parkruns, this is great at encouraging parkrunners to get out week after week.
The social element of parkrun, for me, is key. Every week I see my parkrun pals before we set off, have a little chat and then afterwards we always have a coffee and a catch up. Before or during the run you might end up talking to people you’ve never met before, maybe someone will be running or walking along side you chatting away and spurring you on. I can often be found flagging at around 4km and often someone comes up along side me to get me through that last 1000 metres, we then often chat in the queue for barcode scanning. I remember feeling very nervous the night before my first parkrun back in May 2017, I turned up at 8.50am and saw 500 people on York knavesmire and nearly turned around and went back home again! I’m so glad I stayed and ran my first ever 5k, it wad the beginning of a new parkrun friendship.
Volunteering can be beneficial for all and parkrun gives so many ways in which you can give your time. Again, this is great for social interaction but also improves confidence and self esteem in some. There are so many roles you can help with and no experience required! After 25 times volunteering you even get a free purple parkrun tee! Some people simply come along to parkrun every week to cheer people on and meet new people, there is no pressure to participate in the 5k or a volunteering role.
On the big day
And now let me tell you about our practice takeover parkrun on 16th March this year. It was wet, very wet…some wind thrown in for luck too. I started to plan it some months ago, linking with Heslington parkrun officially in July last year. I have been in touch with one of their run directors since the NHS 70 themed parkrun and we were both really excited to hold a takeover. I chose March as I wanted to give people time enough to start couch to 5k after the new year. I, myself, started parkrunning after my New Years resolution of starting couch to 5k two years ago!
We locked in the date and then we had to advertise to event. I made a new parkrun noticeboard, regularly added details on our social media pages and mentioned it directly to a lot of my patients. Practice staff and friends of PMG helped me fill the volunteer roster with over 35 people helping to put on the event, roles included; pacing different times, tailwalking, marshalling, time keeping and scanning barcodes.
We had a great attendance on the day despite the weather, many were parkrun first timers and some were seasoned pros! It was amazing to run direct (be in charge!) on the day and see so many of our patients and staff participating. On the day there was support from other clinical teams across the vale of York; GPs from other practices, representatives of the CCG, staff from the local Integrated Care Team and primary care mental health team. It just showed that we are all on the same team and can set a great example for our local population by joining in with initiatives like this.
From a personal perspective I am so proud of what we have achieved. Yes, I was disappointed the rain put a dampener on things but it didn’t affect the mood on the day. I was nervous during the week leading up to the event that no one would attend or the weather would mean it was going to be cancelled. We had banners, flags, promotional t-shirts and plenty of baked goods and there was a real buzz on the start line ahead of the run. Our volunteers were pleased as punch to don some hi-vis and they all did such a great job despite most of them being complete parkrun novices. Wearing the run director vest and getting to start everyone off on their way at 9am was so special. I particularly enjoyed doing the pre-run briefing giving shout outs to first timers, tourists and milestoners. If you are a GP considering signing your practice up to be a #parkrunpractice then don’t think twice, get on it!
If you work in a GP practice and want to instigate a collaboration with your local parkrun here are some tips to get you going:
- Find your local parkrun using this handy map
- Approach your local parkrun and talk with one of the run directors about linking with them as a parkrun practice. You can contact them via social media messaging (most parkruns have facebook +/- twitter pages) or via email, you can find the address on their local page on the parkrun website.
- Head to this website and register your practice interest
- Proudly display your parkrun practice certificates in your practice and signpost patients to the benefits of parkrun. We have details about our three local parkruns on notice boards, website, TV info screens and our practice social media pages.
- Encourage clinical staff to mention the benefits of parkrun during consultations where appropriate.
- Contact your local social prescribing team and involve them in spreading the parkrun word
- Arrange a takeover and see the parkrun joy in action!