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From the UK to Flaxmere: parkrun is here

A new parkrun course in Flaxmere is about to become the 29th in New Zealand and the 1870th in the world – and the new parkrunners will join a family of just over 5 million people who turn out on Saturday mornings for a run, jog or walk.

But the Flaxmere Park five-kilometre course will be unique in a couple of ways, including that it is a first for Hastings and is believed to be the first in the world to be officially opened with a blessing by first peoples, in our case mana whenua.

The passionate team running the free weekly event is keen for all-comers to turn up to the park on Saturdays, saying that as well as being good for fitness, parkrun is fun and builds new friendships within the community. They have form, having successfully started a parkrun in Napier in 2016 which now attracts more than 100 people each week.

The international phenomenon was started by volunteers in Bushy Park in London in 2004. For founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, it was about sport and community, with both equally important. Newly fired from his job, the keen runner had a vision to see a parkrun in every community; a ‘family’ of like-minded people who might not want to be tied to a club.

Little did he know that it would spread like wildfire across the world . . . to Flaxmere.

At one of those very early runs was Nneka Okonta. Now living in Hastings, Ms Okonta tried it out while living near Bushy Park.

In New Zealand for a short-term work project in 2014, she fell in love with the country and now lives in Havelock North. She has run or volunteered at the Anderson Park runs and is pretty excited to have a run nearer to home.

Not that distance stops her. She has become a real inspiration, having completed at least one parkrun in 19 out of the 21 countries where they have been set up. Still to cross off the list are Namibia and eSwatini (Swaziland) – hopefully within the next couple of years.

Of course, there are new countries coming along all the time. A couple of weeks ago she was in Japan for the inaugural Japanese parkrun.

Everyone completes the course at their own pace, says organiser Philip Shambrook. “You can go at a pace that is comfortable for you”.

Participants range from those keen to keep improving their personal best times, to those wanting a regular walk around the park with their youngsters (some in push chairs), the dog (on a lead), or their friends.

The results are emailed to all participants after each event, with information including a participant’s number of runs, time on the day, and personal best. The parkrunners take anything from 17 minutes to just over an hour to complete the five-kilometre course.

Volunteers are crucial for the success of parkrun, says Mr Shambrook. “Without them parkrun does not happen. Each week people step up to be a ‘Hi-vis Hero’ for the day. All volunteers are recognised at the beginning of each event and receive individual thank you emails afterwards.”

Philip and wife Louise live in Havelock North and had been looking for a suitable Hastings site for a while since setting up the Napier parkrun. Connections to Flaxmere through co-organisers Eileen and Richard Mills (Eileen teaches in the suburb and Richard played football on the park until the games were moved to Hastings) led the team to look there.

“Part of the ethos of parkrun is for it to be in your local area, so that you go easy on the planet by not travelling too far to it. We’re so spread out though, that unless you live in Flaxmere or Greenmeadows, that is not practical,” said Mrs Shambrook. “But if you’re in Flaxmere, now you’ll be able to walk or bike on down; that’s your warm-up before we head around the park.”

Flaxmere Park has been chosen because it is large enough for the course (three times around equals five kilometres), its beauty, and because Flaxmere is well known for a commitment to improving the health and fitness of the suburb’s residents.

The first parkrun will start at 8m on June 15 after a short official opening ceremony.


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