The weather could only be described as dreich as hundreds of runners congregated at Figgate Park on a Saturday morning, but none of them let the inclement weather get in the way of their regular weekend morning run.
Runners, walkers and strollers of all ages limbered up or caught up before the 9.30am start of the recent Portobello parkrun – a free 5km route that encourages people of all ages and abilities to come together to enjoy some communal exercise.
Ciara Webb, one of the run organisers, has racked up 152 parkruns and has volunteered more than a hundred times at the event.
The senior social worker, 36, set up the Portobello arm of the run with a friend after regularly running the Edinburgh parkrun in Cramond. She loves the run, not only for its obvious health benefits, but for its social and community aspects. She said: “Aside from getting people out and about for a bit of exercise and socialising, we also litter pick every Saturday morning in the park.
“I also hear from people who run and volunteer with us that they have formed new friendships and that the run is the highlight of their week.”
Now around 300 people enjoy the Portobello parkrun every Saturday since it left the starter blocks with just 107 runners in April 2015.
With two junior runs in Edinburgh, at Inverleith Park and the Meadows, all ages are catered for. At Portobello, participants aged from four to in their 80s are registered to take part.
Since the first volunteer-led event launched in London in 2004, the parkrun is now a global phenomenon that has around 4.5 million runners registered to take part.
Founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, the parkrun organises free, weekly 2km and 5km runs in 20 countries around the world, including Australia, Russia and Swaziland.
The ethos behind the popular events is that they are free and open to everyone with a focus on inclusiveness and wellbeing. After registering online, runners are issued with their own barcode, which they print out before the run, and finishing times are recorded and logged.
Not only does doctor Gary O’Neill take part in the Figgate Park parkrun, he also prescribes participation to his patients.
A GP in Midlothian, Gary’s enthusiasm for the parkrun is evident. Since running in the first Portobello parkrun, he has roped in willing participants, including his parents, friends, his wife and their five-year-old, who both walk and run the whole course.
Pushing his 18-month-old in a buggy is a lighter load now that his older daughter can take on the parkrun and the family have retired the double buggy.
Gary said: “As a GP, I am a big advocate for activity for physical and mental wellbeing. The parkrun is an excellent way to achieve this as the distance is achievable for the vast majority of the population and speed is not important. I routinely recommend parkrun to patients looking to get more active.”
Gary has noticed an upswing in his own running performance and fitness since he started going regularly and finds that fellow runners, event organisers and volunteers are encouraging to all who attend. He said: “The parkrun is truly for everyone regardless of ability, even if people can’t manage the whole thing at the start the support is amazing. The main thing that keeps us coming back is the atmosphere. We feel very much a part of the parkrun family.”
For Claire Mathieson, 30, attending her first parkrun in Portobello in 2016 was “the best decision”.
She said: “I was nervous my first day, but my Saturdays have never been the same since and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
She is another runner who volunteers when she can, playing a part in making sure the run is safe, well organised and thriving. Claire added: “I love running in the park alongside friends and cheering others on. It’s great to give something back too, when I volunteer. It’s the best way to spend a Saturday morning. Long lies are overrated.”
Run director Ross Nicol has been a keen runner since he ran for the Penicuik Harriers as a boy, but the running is secondary for the coal merchant from West Linton. He said: “I love parkrun because I can bring my family along. We can all have a morning out, run at our own paces, and enjoy a coffee and cake at the end.
“When I signed up, it never crossed my mind that I would meet so many new friends. That’s what’s so special about our parkrun. A community was created which totally outweighs the run.”
Organiser Ciara is proud of what she and her army of helpers have achieved with the Portobello parkrun. She said: “Just knowing that the run means so much to people is something I enjoy. We are so lucky that parkrun exists and we are so lucky to have what we do at Porty.”