The free 5km run, which normally takes place every Saturday at hundreds of locations across the UK, had been suspended since the start of the pandemic.
People of all ages, genders and ability are able to attend the event, and can choose to run, jog or walk alongside others in their community.
Runners at the Parkrun in Southwark, southeast London, on Saturday stayed behind to cheer on 63-year-old Paul Williams, who has learning disabilities and a bad leg.
Mr Williams, who also has diabetes, took 1 hour and 16 minutes to finish his 78th Parkrun and was happy to be out exercising again after a long time indoors.
“I have been stuck indoors for about a year because I have got diabetes and I wasn’t allowed to go out. There was no exercise. I have been meeting everyone again and seeing everybody. It gives me exercise, helps me lose weight. I like to keep myself fit and to talk to people,” he said.
Around 293 people attended the first run back in Southwark. Among them was 32-year-old Lawyer KC Lloyd, who ran with her 11-month-old daughter Edie Cameron in a buggy.
She said her daughter was overwhelmed because, having been born during the pandemic, she hasn’t seen so many people before.
“It was a lovely experience. Everyone was waving to her which was just lovely and there were lots of smiles. It has just been so lovely to be with all of our friends again and seeing everybody. It has been part of our Saturday and our community that has been missing for the past 16 months. It is so nice to be back,” she said.
PhD student Cameron Dockerill, 24, was the first to complete the Parkrun, taking 16 minutes. He had been training solo during the pandemic, which he said had been a “lonely time” and celebrated the Parkrun for its benefits on people’s mental health as well as their physical health.
“It is good to have people cheering you on again. I think this [Parkrun] makes a difference not only to someone’s physical health but also to their mental health as well,” he said. “It has been quite a lonely time and to come here is quite uplifting.”
Volunteers and organisers have taken extra precautions to allow for social distancing, adding some 22 volunteers, a wider starting point, longer finishing area and an app to record people’s times.
NHS wellbeing adviser and volunteer Augustine Moemere, 38 said that organisers looked at how they could support people who might have anxiety about being in a crowd for the first time in a long while
He said: “I know people who have struggled to come out. I have had friends that go on long runs at the weekends who during Covid-19 have been anxious about it. I tell them to wait until they can build up confidence.”
Over at the Wendover Woods Parkrun in Buckinghamshire, public affairs director Wes Ball, 42, who had held virtual Parkruns on Facebook during lockdown, said that the Parkrun is “one of the most uplifting things you can do”.
He added: “It’s never a race, it’s always a chance to go running with friends.”
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, of the Local Government Association, said: “These popular events are incredibly valuable for many people in supporting both their physical and mental health and wellbeing.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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