Visit any public park in Doncaster and you can’t fail to notice the droves of runners pounding the pavement.
The town could well be in the middle of a running boom as more and more of us take to the streets to lose weight, keep fit or to simply feel better about ourselves.
One project that is helping to spark this running revolution is the Doncaster parkrun movement.
The scheme sees dozens of runners donning their trainers for an organised 5k run around Sandall Park every Saturday morning. The run attracts people of all ages and levels of fitness. The ethos is to get fit in a friendly environment rather than to compete, but each person gains something every week for taking part.
Volunteer organiser Heather Marsh said the sessions have remained popular ever since the first one in September 2013.
The 49-year-old health service manager, of Old Thorne Road, Hatfield, said: “We have elite runners training for races to people who are doing their very first run to lose weight and boost their fitness.
“The youngest runners we have are lads and girls aged six to about nine or ten, and the oldest is a lady who is in her 70s.
“We have also had a whole family - mum, dad and their children - coming for a jog every week. Some people also run around with their dogs, and we’ve even had new mums and dads running and walking around with their buggys.
“We have a wide range of runners and everyone gets something different out of it. It really is for anyone and everyone.”
Run director and father-of-two Mark Hudson, 44, a sales director from Cusworth, added: “A group of us started it simply because we wanted to have something that was accessible for everyone, and parkrun certainly fits the bill.
“It became really popular, really quickly. At our first one we had about 160 people here and on our first year anniversary everyone brought some cake, which we had to donate to a local food bank because there was so much of it.
“There is a great sense of community.”
Parkrun is part of a network of hundreds of runs worldwide, organised by parkrun UK.
It was formed by volunteers who organised weekly runs in a park in London in 2004 and there are now estimated to be more than 70, 000 park runners at about 400 events in across the UK, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Africa and the United States. Each run always starts at the same time and on the same day - 9am every Saturday. Mrs Marsh, a member of Danum Harriers, said: “It gives you a real boost to know that there are people from your town running with, and thousands of people across the world on the start line at the same time.
“We get what we call ‘parkrun tourists’ - people travel around the country taking part in different parkruns - coming up from London and other areas to take part. It is just a great way to keep fit and to boost your physical and mental well-being.”
An average of 100 runners attend the Doncaster event each week. There have been more than 1, 200 people take part in more than 60 runs since its inception. The project was recently nominated in the ‘community group of the year’ category at the Doncaster CVS Awards.
It is free to sign up, and each runner is given a special barcode which records their race time and is uploaded onto the parkrun website shortly after the run.
Mrs Marsh said: “There is a leader board which is updated every week so people can see where they are.
For those who want to compete, it is a nice way for them to keep track of their progress. But the main aim of the run is simply for people to boost fitness and make new friends.”
For more information about joining the Doncaster parkrun group, visit http://www.parkrun.org.uk/doncaster/
It was a cold, frosty December morning - but that didn’t put the park runners off.
About 50 people still turned out to pound the pathways, and they were queueing up at the finish line to tell the Free Press about the benefits of the parkrun.
Retired maths teacher Rosemary Armstrong, 72, a grandmother-of-three from Armthorpe, has been a keen runner for 30 years and has this year completed marathons in New York, London and Tokyo.
The sprightly pensioner even runs three miles home after the parkrun as part of her training regime.
She said: “I see a lot of people my age struggling to get up the stairs and to get out and about, but I have no such trouble. Running has kept me young and active. The parkrun is not too long and is perfect for older people.”
The Phillips family of Wheatley Hills run it every week and said it is a great way to bond as a family.
Dad Martin, 41, a house builder, said: “For us its a great way to spend time together, to be active and it really sets you up for the weekend. We love it.”
Mum Helen, 48, said: “There are health benefits, but also social benefits. You see people who you recognise who you didn’t realise did the parkrun.”
Their sons Edward, 10, Joe, 13 and George, 15, also attend regularly.
Joe said: “It keeps me fit and is a good way to make new friends. I look forward to see my results every week to see what position I am in.”
Edward added: “I really enjoy it, I have fun every week.”
Retired police officer Don Crabtree, 58, of Edenthorpe, a member of the Friends of Sandall Park group, said: “This is the best thing to have ever happened to the park. We want as many people to use the park as possible. We have runners, walkers, people playing football down here every Saturday, it’s great to see.”