All parkrun courses are designed to be as simple, accessible, and as accurate as possible. Each course is measured, by local volunteers, ideally using a surveyors’ measuring wheel.
We have two distances at parkrun events, both of which welcome walkers, joggers, runners, and volunteers from the age of four upwards.
Five Kilometres | Taking place on Saturday mornings, this is a perfect distance to have a relaxed walk and chat to your friends or attempt to set a new PB and everything in between.
Two Kilometres | These are junior parkrun events, which take place Sunday mornings in the UK, Ireland and Australia for children aged between 4 and 14. Families are welcome to participate together. Currently, those aged 4 to 10 will receive a time in places where 5k events have not returned, and those aged 4 to 14 will receive a time where 5k events have returned.
Designing the right course is essential to the success of each parkrun event. We want everybody to be welcome at parkrun, therefore a properly designed and located course will allow for a wider diversity of participants and safe participation growth.
Routes will always depend on local conditions, however, course design principles such as location and accessibility, start and finish area including amenities, simplicity, direction, number of laps, safety and proximity to a cafe need to be considered.
It pays to keep the route as simple as possible and event teams should be able to explain the course to participants in a sentence or two.
When considering a new, changed, or alternative course design the safety of parkrunners and non-parkrunners should always take priority. You should also look to design a course that is simple to manage and avoids complicated processes for volunteers on the day. For example, a two-lap course is easier to set out and requires less equipment, and a finish line in the same place as a start line means teams don’t need to carry anything between them.
Ultimately we aim to keep the rules of course design as simple and practical as possible, and we look to remove barriers to event delivery as much as to remove barriers to event participation. However, as previously stated, participant safety is paramount. When designing or changing a course, a parkrun volunteer Ambassador will support the volunteers closely and help them to write and approve their specific risk assessment. We also apply the following guidelines:
- parkrun events should not cross, or be situated close to public roads.
- Car parks should be avoided unless very carefully managed and included in the risk assessment.
- Downhill starts or finishes should be avoided wherever possible as these are congested parts of the course where it is helpful to slow participants down.
- Courses should not go down steps, and any upward stepped sections must be risk assessed carefully.
- Hazards such as water or big drops alongside the path should be managed such that the participants are not likely to fall in or off, and must be risk assessed carefully.
- Volunteer safety should be considered, as they may be out on the course for an hour or more.
- Impact on and engagement with wildlife must always be considered, for example, courses may go through sensitive conservation areas or in places where dangerous animals are present.
Event teams are required to complete a course risk assessment during the activation process, and then must be kept under constant review, and if necessary modified to take account of new circumstances. The entire course, including start and finish areas and parking arrangements, should be considered. Historical incidents logged at each event should also be considered when carrying out the reviews.
Areas we look at include course surface, proximity to open water and public using that space, permanent obstacles such as gates or stiles, bridges, sharp turns and narrow paths, weather resulting in slippery surfaces, mobile phone signal in the park.
The seriousness of each risk is graded according to two main factors - its likelihood and its potential impact, and we grade both these factors on a three-point scale: High, Medium and Low.
All risk assessments are held centrally and made available online via the parkrun Wiki.
Ideally, events will have the same course all year round, however, some events will require an alternative, for example, because they regularly have other events using their location or because their preferred course struggles to cope with adverse weather conditions.
We do encourage teams, as a general principle, to cancel rather than use an alternative course. From time to time events need to completely change or move their course, which should be done in collaboration with the Event Ambassador and Event Support.
Whenever changing a course, the following points should be observed:
Only one alternative course is allowed.
Standard course design principles should be followed (see above)
We must have landowner permission.
An alternative course should be slower than regular courses (in most cases this means they should be longer so that participants don’t achieve PBs that they can never attain when they move back to the main course).
An alternate course must always be risk assessed and approved by Event Support before the course is used.
The alternate course must be submitted at least 1 week prior to being required to allow time for Event Support to approve it.
We do not allow reverse or alternate courses as a one-off and/or for a special event.
If a team need to make a small change/diversion to a course due to an unexpected risk on the day, and it is safe to do the change, they can do an active risk assessment of the change on the day but must log it as an incident - what the change was and why they had to make the change.
As a general rule, due to the time and effort required, changing courses is discouraged. However, there are two common reasons why it may be important to do so:
The landowner may decide that they want event teams to change the course for a particular reason, we should respect their views.
It might be that after running the course for a few months, event teams realise that a change is required in order to improve the safety of the course.
One of Paul Sinton-Hewitt’s founding principles was that parkrun events should take place every week, at the same location, and at the same time. For example, the original Bushy parkrun takes place every Saturday at 9 am all year round. As we have grown around the world, however, local conditions have required that we become a little more flexible. As such, the start times of our events do vary between locations and, in some territories, events may also adapt to seasonal climatic variations with winter and summer start times.
Each event’s start time can be found on their specific homepage.
All parkrunners should set off at the same time, starting after the Run Director says go and before the Tail Walker, regardless of whether they walk, jog, run and/or have a dog or buggy with them.