You might have noticed a significant number of runners at Kennington Reservoir of a Saturday morning.
Is it a coincidence? We think not.
Kennington Reservoir is the home of Bendigo parkrun – a free, weekly five-kilometre run.
The volunteer-run initiative takes place for about an hour from 8am on Saturdays.
Bendigo’s parkrun is one of almost 220,000 events worldwide.
Globally, almost 3 million runners participate in parkruns at just under 1500 parks.
The Bendigo event is subject of today’s Weekender feature.
BENDIGO resident Michael Gibbons can usually be found running with his two children and a pram.
Last Saturday, he set the pace for the city’s 154th parkrun.
Mr Gibbons completed the five kilometre course through Kennington Reservoir in 19 minutes and 20 seconds, setting a new personal best time in the process.
“It’s good fun. It’s a good activity put together by a bunch of volunteers, so it’s good to support it,” he said.
The free, weekly running event celebrates its third anniversary in Bendigo in July.
Parkrun started in England in 2004 and has since spread to 16 countries.
Australia’s first parkrun was on the Gold Coast, in 2011.
No matter where in the world events are staged, certain features are the same.
The course is five kilometres – a distance deemed appropriate for a broad range of participants.
People of all ages and abilities are welcome to partake in the timed runs – and they don’t necessarily have to run to be involved.
Regional event ambassador Lou Bray said there were regulars who walked the five kilometre course each week.
Other participants aimed to achieve a new personal best.
“It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go,” Mrs Bray said.
“A lot of people who come do one lap and go home.”
Though it’s timed, parkrun is not a race – and that’s part of its appeal.
“It’s a really good social sort of gathering, as well as a run,” Saturday’s run director, Andrea Smith, said.
“When I’m not volunteering I’m just a regular park runner that comes each week to basically join in and come see my friends.”
More than 140 people turned out for last week’s run, on a sunny morning.
The record for attendance was 211 participants, at the time of writing.
“Since Christmas we’ve been averaging closer to 200 people, but we expect those numbers to drop off as the weather gets a bit cooler and as the soccer and football season start to ramp up,” Ms Smith said.
A total of 2820 runners are registered in Bendigo.
The story of parkrun in Bendigo is tied to the city’s growing population.
Mrs Bray said quite a few of the founding run group directors were new to Bendigo.
She heard about parkrun while living in Western Australia.
“As a runner in Perth, there was a lot of talk about it,” Mrs Bray said.
“Every time someone started going they said, ‘You must go’.”
Luke Brophy said he was one of a number of Bendigo run directors introduced to parkrun while living in Melbourne.
“The very first Victorian parkrun was at Albert Park,” he said.
“I went to run number one there with a couple of other people.
“When we moved to Bendigo, obviously we missed it a bit and that’s part of the reason why we got involved with the group to get it up and running.”
Social media is helping propel the initiative’s popularity, according to Mrs Bray.
Photographs of the event are uploaded to the Bendigo parkrun Facebook page each week.
Ms Bray said people would see the photographs and become curious about what it was all about.
“The more they [people] find out about it, the more they want to do it,” she said.
“More communities want it.”
Castlemaine, Cohuna and Echuca are all home to their own parkrun events.
“Castlemaine started just before us,” Mrs Bray said.
“Mansfield is looking at starting one up, Euroa started last weekend… there’s scope for one in Kyneton.
“It’s got to come from the community, though.”
Mrs Bray said Horsham Rural City Council was funding a parkrun in spring.
“Medibank, one of our national partners, contributed to funding 40 new events in the last eight to 12 months,” she said.
“We’ve grown massively in the last six to eight months.”
Consistency also seemed to be a factor in the parkrun’s popularity.
“It's the same all over Victoria - wherever there's a park run it starts at the same time,” Mr Brophy said.
“You’re running against yourself more than the clock or other people.”
The event is largely the same every week, according to Ms Smith.
“They [participants] see the regular faces each week… it’s a friendly, supportive environment.”
Mrs Bray said participants appreciated the event’s reliability.
“Its a routine. Its a place to be. Somewhere where people know you,” she said.
Participation is casual, in that people choose how often they would like to turn up to a run.
Both Mrs Bray and participant Andrew Snell celebrated milestone 100th runs last Saturday.
Mr Gibbons said he’d been doing parkrun in Bendigo, on and off, since it started.
He’d been running before he became involved in the initiative, but said he enjoyed the social atmosphere.
“It does help push you along – it gives you a bit more motivation and it’s nice to meet a few people as well,” he said.
A group of about 10 volunteers is responsible for staging the event every week.
In addition to a run director, Mrs Bray said volunteers took on the roles of marshalling, time keeping, barcode scanning, and distributing finish tokens.
There is also a tail walker, whose responsibility is to ensure every participant makes it to the end of the course safely.
Mrs Bray said the time commitment required of the regional event ambassador role was ‘not too onerous’.
“It’s a joy to do anyway,” she said.
She recommended anyone new to parkrun and considering getting involved register online, then ‘come down and have a look’.
For more information or to register, visit www.parkrun.com.au/bendigo/
Tomorrow marks the end of National Volunteer Week.
The theme of this year’s event was give a little, change a lot - a theme intended to represent the profound impact of volunteering.
Celebrations were staged throughout the week in recognition of the region’s volunteers.
Host organisations included the City of Greater Bendigo, the Bendigo Volunteer Resource Centre, Vision Australia, and the Bendigo Visitor Centre.