Rachel Murray: A penny for your thoughts on parkrun

The parkruns in Portobello and Cramond are thriving community events. Picture: John DevlinThe parkruns in Portobello and Cramond are thriving community events. Picture: John Devlin
The parkruns in Portobello and Cramond are thriving community events. Picture: John Devlin
I'd like to respond to the bad press parkrun in Edinburgh has had over the last few months. For those not familiar with it, parkrun offers free timed 5k runs across the world.

In Edinburgh, both parkruns (at Cramond and Figgate Park, Portobello) take place at 9.30am every Saturday. At Portobello, there has been controversy with runners peeing in and around the park and an Evening News store criticised those caught short. This will be the penultimate word on Peegate. But for now, can we talk about the positives?

For people already in the habit of running, a recent study found that parkrun makes them happier – and for those who aren’t, parkrun offers a free, accessible and supportive route into running.

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It is a thriving community event that welcomes everyone regardless of age, level of fitness or disposable income. On an average week in Edinburgh, there are 700-1000 runners, ranging from pre-schoolers to octogenarians. Additionally, there’s an impressive volunteer team who make the events possible.

As well as the well-documented physical health benefits of exercise, exercising in green space has been shown to improve mental health. Is it any wonder that health professionals are prescribing parkrun to patients?

Of course, peeing in our public parks is problematic and organisers at Portobello have understandably taken it seriously, stating that it is unacceptable and reminding runners to use the toilet before leaving home. But I think we need to put things in perspective rather than lambasting those who feel they have no other option because of a lack of facilities.

I took up Portobello parkrun after my son was born and I am getting close to having completed my 50th run.

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Truthfully, without the kindness of local businesses letting me use their toilets before the start, I would be restricted to a slow jog rather than try to get anywhere close to my personal best, for fear that my pelvic floor wouldn’t hold out.

And yes, this is me remembering to use the loo before I leave home, not to mention mid-route in my local supermarket.

From speaking to other mums who run, I know the issues I suffer from are not uncommon. And it’s not just mums who struggle with these woes, weak pelvic floor muscles can impact quality of life for men and women of all ages, especially older people.

If we are to sustain our local parkruns and all the benefits they bring our community, we need to invest in them.

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Once upon a time there were toilets within Figgate Park, but these, along with many other public toilets across the city, have since closed. Currently, the closest public toilet to Portobello parkrun is a one mile round-trip on Bath Street and it doesn’t open until after parkrun starts.

Parkrun is stepping in to bring about local health and wellbeing improvements without the council spending a penny.

So let’s think about solutions to our current lack of public facilities instead of blaming and shaming vulnerable groups.

Rachel Murray is a dedicated parkrun participant