Parkruns are one of the fastest growing forms of exercise in South Africa, with more than 1 million registered participants after only seven years in existence.
Not only does the country proudly boast the largest parkrun in the world, it is also home to the parkrun with the highest number of registrations worldwide.
Parkrun South Africa chief executive Bruce Fordyce, a legendary long-distance runner, founded the South African version of the event in November 2011.
“At the moment we [South Africa] have 180 parkruns nationwide and we open about two [new parkruns] every weekend. Currently, we have 60 000 people who run, walk and jog, every single Saturday. Durban North Beach is the largest parkrun in the world with 2 500 people taking part every Saturday, while the Botanical Gardens parkrun in Pretoria has 52 000 registered participants – the largest worldwide,” he said.
Fordyce told City Press that an invitation to take part in a marathon in Britain was what led to the creation of parkrun South Africa.
“Paul Sinton-Hewitt, who was the original founder of parkrun worldwide, invited me to run a marathon in Britain. He subsequently asked me to join them for a parkrun and said that if I enjoyed it I should start one in South Africa. Through word-of-mouth people were invited and 26 people showed up on that Saturday,” he said.
Fordyce explained that the fun-filled event, which was a 5km run or walk, was free to all who wanted to stay fit while enjoying the company of others with the same goal.
“The 5km is perfect because anyone can do it. From the well-trained athlete to a beginner. There is no pressure on anyone and people can choose whether they want to walk or run. No one gets left behind,” he said.
Fordyce said that the number of participants was on the rise.
“More and more people between the ages of 30 and 50 are participating in parkruns. We are also seeing more women taking part and we are delighted with this, because in every other sport there are more men than women,” he said.
According to Fordyce, parkruns in South Africa comprise 51% women and 49% men.
Mamokete Makhubo (41) is one such participant and is a member of the Golden Harvest parkrun near Northgate.
Makhubo said that one of the main reasons she joined was because she accumulated points on a reward system offered by her medical aid.
Makhubo, who subsequently got two of her friends to join her, said that she realised there was more to it than just gaining points towards the rewards programme.
“My fitness levels increased immensely. I can finish a 5km run in just over 30 minutes and best of all it is free, out in nature and everyone is involved,” she said.
Mzuvumile Tati, a former parkrunner, said that these events were best suited for individuals who could not afford gym costs.
“I appreciated the parkruns because of the scenery and affordability until I had to stop in 2015 because of a knee injury. I am going through physiotherapy and I am hoping to get back out there,” he said.
Parkrun South Africa ambassador Helen Holyoake said that she did not believe the high number of people joining parkruns would affect the number of people who went to the gym.
“Parkruns take place once a week and generally people exercise more than once a week. But once people do start on the parkrun trail, it motivates them because they get to see some improvement,” she said.