Why junior parkrun is not just for juniors . . .

Mary Jennings: Tell yourself it’s for the kids if that’s what will get you there but I guarantee you will get as much out of it as they will

As parents of young children, we can find our weekend schedules dictated by the busy sporting and social lives of these small people. From football pitch sidelines to playgrounds and parties, making time for our own health can seem like a luxury in the midst of all the logistics.

Despite being very active before having kids, many parents have resigned to putting their own fitness on the long finger for now. If my own work didn’t require me to be out moving and running outdoors with others, I would quite likely be in the same boat.

A change of focus

I understand how daunting it can be to get back into running (or moving in any way) when you have been out of the game for so long. Time is at a premium and it can become a habit to focus our energy purely on our children’s wellbeing. We want our kids to be social, active, confident and strong but, at the same time, many of us are losing those very attributes in our own identity. We know we should set a good example in our own behaviour but there is always something more urgent to do that steals our attention.

A family affair

So, I’m not going to tell you to just go out the door and get back running. If it were that easy, you would already be doing it. Instead, let’s lower all expectation on ourselves and make the goal to put on our activewear, round up the troops and make a different type of weekend commitment to our healthy future. Rather than search for a gap in the busy schedule to escape solo, let me encourage you instead to make it a family affair. It’s time to start something with family in tow and build a new routine that is valuable for everyone in the household, not just the kids.


Sunny Sundays

Over the past few months, I have noticed this exact change happening in my local community. A new Junior parkrun kicked off in our local park and has brought a whole new energy to those families who have joined in. Junior parkrun is a spin-off of the 5km parkrun which we all know and love. It is designed for kids, however, and, thankfully, it is every bit as good as its big brother. The focus is on participation and fun rather than competition in this 2km weekly Sunday morning event. The benefits for kids being active are well documented and as they progress, they also build confidence, resilience and a confident belief that they are a runner whatever their pace.

The hidden perks

While most of us joined initially to get our kids moving and instil a love of running in them, the added bonus has been the positive impact on the adults. If you are lucky enough to live near a junior parkrun venue, I encourage you to wander down next Sunday. You will see parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends cheering the kids along. Look even closer and you will see that many of the adults also run and walk alongside the smaller kids offering encouragement. Some weeks these adults don the yellow jacket of a volunteer and help to ensure the event runs along safely.

Everyone works as a community to make sure it goes off without a hitch. It is so easy to live in a community but not really feel a part of it. We can spend days dropping off kids and never meeting other adults. Finding others in our neighbourhood with similar values to us can be hard when we are all following different schedules midweek but having this weekend treat can really benefit the whole family.

The full package

You really do tick all the boxes by getting involved. As an adult, you can get your full hit of weekend wellness. You can run or walk 2km with your family and as your kids grow stronger, they will keep you on your toes. When it's no longer “cool” for you to run with them, you can give back and meet others with volunteering. You also reap the informal but valuable benefits of chats to strangers and neighbours while getting your dose of fresh air and fun. Your heart will burst with pride when you see the sprint finishes too.

I notice the real joy in the aftermath of the junior parkrun too. As we enjoy a post parkrun cuppa, everyone is in a better mood. We have all had fun, moved, escaped from the to-do lists at home and spent time in the company of like minded positive people.

I wish it was near me

The parkrun movement prides itself on being positive, welcoming and inclusive and offers a lot more than just a morning workout for kids. It does take commitment and a lot of effort from volunteers to happen. While there are 33 events all around the country at the moment, there might not be one near you yet. Could you be the one to get it off the ground in your community?

There is great support from parkrun Ireland if you were tempted but you could just start by creating something regular but informal between a few families locally to build a buzz and see how you enjoy it. Pick your route, commit to meeting at a set time each week. Watch your own fitness and sense of accomplishment grow along with the kids. Start by doing what you can to build accountability, routine, confidence and fun and see where it goes from there.

Create that Sunday feeling

There is no getting away from the fact the weekends can be a challenge with kids. As we move into the summer, however, we do have the choice to design a small routine that suits our own family and brings everyone a little more joy. Picture yourself having a picnic in your local park after a run around with the kids. You are up and out and you are feeling on top of the world.

Whether it’s a junior parkrun or a more informal arrangement with others, it is possible, if you make the commitment. Tell yourself it’s for the kids if that’s what will get you there but I guarantee you will get as much out of it as they will. Just good luck keeping up with them as the weeks go on – they are only going to get faster. The best pacemakers you can find!

  • Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Her summer classes, programmes and retreats are now open for booking.