The Eramosa River Trail Parkrun might become a New Year’s Day tradition sometime in the future.
It won’t be early on the first day of 2022, though, as it has fallen victim to the Omicron strain of COVID-19.
The local Parkrun uses the five kilometres of the trail in York Road Park – they need to do an extra small loop to achieve that – for the free event that is held every Saturday at 9 a.m. with the start being right by the walking bridge that crosses the Speed River. They’ll also hold their special New Year’s Day Parkrun when it’s safe to do so which will be on New Year’s Day 2023 at the earliest.
The only time they have held a New Year’s Day event was 2020 and it had 130 finishers, their most ever.
“That year it wasn't on a Saturday so we considered it a special event,” said Teresa Adams, a co-event director. “We had a lot of momentum going because we'd launched in the summer. It was building. It was growing word of mouth.”
“It was a good weather day, too,” said Natalie Intven, a volunteer who looks after communications. “It was like a classic, beautiful (day) – there was snow on the ground, but it was sunny that day.”
“We had a good turnout of families, as well,” said Brad Morley, also a co-event director. “I think one of the things that happens on New Year's Day is certain people, a lot of them, like to plan a particular activity to mark both the end of the year and the beginning of the new year. We probably had a few resolutionaries involved. I think there was potentially a wide variety of factors, all of them positive.”
That New Year’s Day run was the 28th since the local Parkrun started in the summer of 2019. Weekly events continued until the end of February of 2020 before the pandemic put it on hold for 19 months.
Safety’s always the thing with Parkrun as there were a few events cancelled due to poor weather, really cold temperatures or high winds that could send branches tumbling down on the participants.
The local Parkrun restarted at the end of September from the COVID pause and got 12 events in until COVID struck again. The last one was another special event, the Festive Fun Parkrun that saw many participants dressed up in Christmas costumes. There were 44 finishers that day, a snowy day, leaving the average since the restart at around 50.
“We must admit that we were very pleasantly surprised because with both the weather call and Premier Ford's announcement, we thought the numbers would be notably lower,” Morley said. “That was great.”
The provincial government put caps on the size of outdoor gatherings the day before the Festive Fun event.
“It was lower than our average has been and even from pre-COVID and post-COVID, but again the situation being what it was, I think it was a good turnout,” Adams said.
Parkrun prides itself in attracting a wide variety of participants as it just wants to see people get out and be active.
“We seem to draw a really good, robust crowd of people who return every week and also newcomers every week pretty much,” Intven said. “We always have someone who is doing it for the first time.”
“The type of crowd that we get has quite a bit of variety and diversity in it as well,” Kurt Hundeck said. He’s a volunteer who runs when he can. “We saw a lot of families with chariots and kids, old, young, tall, short. It's kind of amazing. I like that about our group -- repeat and variety.”
“Don't forget fast and slow,” Adams said.
That high-water mark in terms of participation is a good number for Canadian Parkruns – third overall of 46 in the country -- but is well off the number seen at events in Europe as Parkrun holds weekly events in 23 countries around the world. A Christmas Day Parkrun in 2019 at Bushy Park in Teddington, UK, had 2,545 participants, the most ever. Bushy Park Parkrun is the original one as it all started there in October of 2004.
Jacob Smith holds the Eramosa River Trail Parkrun course record at 16 minutes and 11 seconds, shaving 17 seconds off of the previous mark held by two-time Olympian Taylor Milne. The female course record is 17:33 and was set in the very first local Parkrun by triathlete Dominika Jamnicky.
However, Parkrun stresses that the events are not races. They’re as competitive as you want to make them and walkers and joggers are encouraged to participate.
“The one thing that has changed since our first iteration a year and a half, two years ago is that we are getting fewer walkers now,” Morley said. “Walkers are more than welcome. It's not meant to be a competition, although you can certainly compete if you want. You can race against the clock or against yourself or the person who is beside you. But the main idea is that it is a participation event that is open to everyone who can run, jog or walk. We do get at least a couple of walkers every week.”
As with all the participants, the volunteers who run the show all became involved for different reasons.
“I've been a runner for 50-some years and I've always liked to be involved in running events,” Morley said. “In 2016, I was visiting family in England and I read about this phenomenon called Parkrun and it just so happened where we were staying there was one quite close by so I thought I'd check this out. I wanted to go for a run anyway. I went to it and it was a blast. Everybody was very positive and once again it was a non-competitive atmosphere. For me anyway, it was just another positive way to experience a love that I had already developed.”
“My first Parkrun was in Ireland because I happened to be in Ireland about a month before we launched,” Adams said. “That was very interesting to see one because I had not even gone to the one in Kitchener, which I probably should have, but I hadn't. It was positive. It was enthusiastic. Everybody was welcoming. I got a call-out and when I said something about us launching our Parkrun, I got an extra announcement.”
“I first got involved when I heard a call for volunteers to get involved with the organization committee,” Intven said. “I was fairly newish to Guelph in that I moved from Toronto a couple of years before. I was looking for a community. I was already a runner and I was looking to expand my community here in Guelph and I thought running in that kind of atmosphere -- the whole spirit of it is community. I found not only community in the volunteer group that we work closely with every week, but also the big group of folks who come out, especially the repeats, the weekly runners there. You get to know their names and you get to recognize them whether they're having a great day or pushing a bit that day. It's really cool to have that weekly check-in with the same people and also see new people each week.”
“For me, it's outlet and community because the outlet for me is positivity,” said Hundeck, who wore a Santa Claus suit in the Festive Fun event, his 24th Parkrun. “I feel like I have a lot of positivity to just let it out and going to Parkrun is a great way to do that. The outlet, too, for physicality, just being able to run fast or run slow or walk. I love that aspect. You don't have to be hard on yourself, or you can be. It’s whatever you want. It's very dynamic. The community aspect -- seeing the same people repeatedly, seeing their progressions and their struggles and the ups and downs. The essence of community is connection and that's what Parkrun is for me.”
That community connection will return as soon as Parkrun gets the OK to resume the events and when they do get the OK, they’ll post it on their website.