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From The Blog Q&A with the directors of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun

On your mark, get set, go...

through the quiet beauty of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, following the tracks of friends and neighbors at your own pace—cheers and conversation your reward at the finish line. Every week year-round, no fees, no winners, no losers. Just community and the great outdoors.

Want to know more? In this special Q&A, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun co-directors Geraldine Fowler and Dominic Lord weigh in on what sets this race apart. Read on...

the pogue parkrun spring
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
parkrunners traveling around the Pogue

Q: Welcome Geraldine and Dominic! Can you kick things off by telling us a little bit about parkrun?

A: parkrun is a free, weekly, 5km timed run, jog, walk or volunteer opportunity that takes place around the world. parkrun (always spelled with a lowercase p) is open to everyone, free, welcoming, safe and easy to take part in! Participants simply register online, print off a bar code, turn up and run, jog or walk 5km at their own pace. Later that day, participants receive an official time and ranking by email.

 

The inaugural Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
The inaugural Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun

And all of this happens free of charge, largely sustained by the volunteers. Volunteers can be participants who occasionally help instead of taking part in the event or just folks who enjoy volunteering and getting out to meet new people and have a good time.

Although parkrun events are commonplace in countries like the UK, Australia, or South Africa, where over 250,000 take part every weekend, they are still relatively new in the US.

When Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun launched on June 1st, 2019, it was the 33rd weekly parkrun event in the US, and only the second in New England. parkrun USA now has 42 event locations around the country, and they are anticipating we will exceed 100 events by the end of the year!

But there is another economy here. An economy of helping people be the best they can be, to change their lives and to grow as individuals.

parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt

Q: What makes it different from other 5ks?

A: First and foremost, its free!  

There is easy access and it is not prohibitive. Once you've done the initial registration and printed your barcode that’s it - you can run in any parkrun in any country for free with no hassles!

  • Location: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun is located throughout the beautiful trails of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.
  • Recurring: The consistency of it being weekly is really great - although this winter we have had to cancel a few times due to ice or extremely cold temps.
  • Recognition: Milestones are celebrated! At the pre-event briefing people who have accomplished 25, 50, 100 and so on runs are celebrated. They also receive special t-shirts from parkrun. When someone has volunteered 25 times, they receive a special volunteer t-shirt as well.
  • Commitment: You don't have to register weekly or commit ahead of time. You can just wake up on Saturday and turn up (unless you’re a volunteer - then we hope you make it if you said you would). It’s more of a social event.
  • No Hierarchy: Everyone gets treated the same (no hierarchy) whether you’re an elite runner or a dog walker. There is also no winner or loser. We cheer each other on and encourage each other.
  • Not for profit or fundraising: It’s not done for profit in any way. It’s just people giving up their time to help others and people coming together. In the words of founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt, “But there is another economy here. An economy of helping people be the best they can be, to change their lives and to grow as individuals.”
  • Stats: You have a website dedicated to you where all your stats are kept. You can see what parkruns around the world you have done, what your time is for each event, you get notified when you have done a personal best, what category you fit into with other runners of your gender and age around the world. It’s very cool!
parkrun volunteers
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
parkrun is made possible by its volunteers!

I saw all my friends and family around the world gathering their kids and friends and heading each Saturday to parkrun. I saw them challenge each other, celebrate milestones, and each week gather in community over coffee or breakfast and I really wanted that for us here in Woodstock.

Geraldine Fowler

Q: What motivated you to bring parkrun to Woodstock?

Dominic: I saw it as an excellent way to combine three of my favorite things: meeting new people, staying fit, and giving something back to the community.

Geraldine: My passion and my work is committed to positive youth development and community building. On social media I saw all my friends and family around the world gathering their kids and friends and heading each Saturday to parkrun. I saw them challenge each other, celebrate milestones, and each week gather in community over coffee or breakfast and I really wanted that for us here in Woodstock. When my sister came to visit me in 2018, we went to Montreal and I participated in my first parkrun there and I just loved it. I am not a long-distance runner but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. There was such a huge sense of welcoming and non-judgement and then afterwards we all got coffee together and it was awesome. I just knew we had to bring it to Woodstock.

Q: This is your chance to set the record straight for those hesitating to join – what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about parkrun?

Dominic: That it’s a race, that you have to be a runner, it’s just for adults. It’s actually open to all ages families welcome, buggies etc.

Geraldine: Agreed. I hear people say, “oh but I am not a runner...” You don’t have to run. You can jog, you can walk, in the winter you can snow-shoe. It’s about getting out and enjoying time with each other, nature, and hopefully moving your body a little or a lot! There is a tail-walker who is always at the back making sure everyone is safe and no one is last!

Walking parkrun spring
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun

Q: This 5k is still new to our area, but as you mentioned, parkrun is about the people, and our local branch has already become an important community-building activity where participants can socialize and unwind. Can you share a little bit about the fun that happens on and off the course with the parkrun crew?

Geraldine: Oof, I can't think about this aspect without getting teary. It’s hard to articulate how special the community-building aspect of this has become. The community building is also layered. We have visitors that come from all over the world to participate in our parkrun (as they do for other parkruns as well). So each week we ask who everyone is and where they come from and we share stories about parkruns around the world, the visitors "home" parkrun and what is special about it for them, and then after the event, we share stories of the run or walk we have just done.

Usually we are commenting on the long 1.25-mile uphill to the Pogue, the beauty around the Pogue, and the thrill of the downhill! We share many other stories as well, and many of the visitors that have come to Woodstock become lifelong connections. We are now connected on social media and continue to cheer each other on from around the world.

Abracadabra coffee treats
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
Post-parkrun treats

There is also the local community building. We see many regulars attending and getting to know each other. People who are new to the area who find out about parkrun come out and get to meet other locals, and we share stories and resources. Once everyone has completed their parkrun, we pack up and those who want to can head out to grab a cup of coffee together.

Lately we have been hitting up Abracadabra Coffee in Woodstock. In the spring, summer, and fall the spot is great for adults and children as they have the park right next door, in the winter we can often take up the whole inside area with parkrunners/walkers and volunteers. We share stories and get to know each other very well. We recently celebrated the engagement of one of our regulars and cheer on other members who are celebrating milestones or training for marathons or opening new businesses.

When it is freezing cold outside and I put a call out for volunteers, I get a great response from folks who just want to help! We also have a Facebook page and we post pictures and stories and it’s a great way to stay connected throughout the week.

Q: You referenced some globetrotting trail-runners. What’s the furthest someone’s traveled to visit Woodstock and take part in this 5k?

Geraldine: Oh man - we get people from all over the world, but probably the furthest someone has traveled is from Australia. The first Australian came all the way to join us for our inaugural event on June 1st. But since then, we have had folks from Wales, England, Australia, Scotland, Switzerland. We also have many people come to the Woodstock area from around the USA.

People will tell us that they plan their vacations with parkrun locations in mind, coming to the Woodstock area because we have a parkrun event, which is just so super exciting to hear!  We are perfectly located between parkruns in Boston and Montreal.

Many visitors have said they will be back to check out our trail throughout the different seasons and we have also been featured on special Facebook parkrun pages such as "Australian parkrun tourists" as a destination that must be visited!

snowy parkrun winter

Q: The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun is a four-season experience. What does that mean for participants and the courses through the national park?

A: Ah yes... the four seasons of Vermont living has kept us on our toes. Our regular course starts at the Pony Shed and climbs to the Pogue and around and back down. It is an absolutely beautiful course. We have been told by "parkrun tourists" that our parkrun might just be one of the most beautiful parkruns in the country, if not world! It is also one with one of the hardest uphill climbs, but we don't need to focus on that!

Spring, summer, and fall around the course is spectacular! Working through winter has been challenging, especially since we are dealing with trails on a historic park. This winter, the Woodstock Inn Nordic Team (Nick Mahood) helped us create a course specifically for winter that the Woodstock Inn & Resort grooms and maintains for us, for which we are extremely grateful. We do still encounter ice, so we encourage folks to wear spikes of some kind, or bring snowshoes for safety.

Winter parkrunning is also so incredibly beautiful. The fresh snow, the crunch of the ice over the groomed trail, the silence in the forest. No matter the season... it is gorgeous.

Q: On your MBR parkrun Facebook page, runners and walkers have documented moose and monarch sightings. What other creatures can participants expect to encounter on the trail?

Dominic: I've seen deer, lots of birds of prey.

Geraldine: I have seen moose prints but never an actual moose - but I do hope to find one someday!

Monarch butterfly

Q: Rumor is, furry friends are welcome to join at the starting line, too. Can you confirm this is a dog-friendly event?

A: Yes this is true, dogs must be kept on a leash and 1 dog per walker/runner. We love our BARKrunners!

Girls on the run at parkrun
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun
Girls on the Run and parkrun come together

Q: Next up, what’s the most memorable moment from the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller parkrun so far?

Dominic: Most memorable for me would probably be either watching my kids come sprinting into the finish line or the first week, seeing the hard work pay off and having such a great turnout (+60).

Geraldine: End of fall, early winter, we had a group of middle-school Girls on the Run from Hartford join us for their culminating 5km run. It was so much fun. The girls and the coaches brought such a wonderful energy and it was just so wonderful to see the girls as they crossed the finish line, just knowing what a journey they have been on to get there! It was a powerful moment for me.

One other memorable event is one day that nothing special happened, but it was the group of people... It was the end of December or early January and it was so cold. We had a lady and her husband who had traveled from England to come and run her 50th different parkrun venue and her 175th overall parkrun! It was a super cold day and it was icy, and we probably would have canceled but the volunteers rallied hard, we held the event, and it was just so incredible!

Q: Let’s shift to the big picture. What are your goals for the future of parkrun in Woodstock and its impact on our community?

Dominic: I would like to see this event grow in terms of both participants and volunteers. It would be wonderful to have +50 participants each week.

Geraldine: Yes, would love to just see it grow in both visitors to the area and local participation. We would love to grow the MBR parkrun leadership team. I would love the elementary, middle and high school athletic departments to see the benefit of this offering and encourage the participation of children and families. It is a great way to keep fit off-season as well as for team building and personal accountability. I would also love for local establishments to embrace parkrun and see the benefit it can have to our whole community and business aspect.

I think if local inns and B&Bs advertised "parkrun specials" and let their clientele know that we have a parkrun in our community every Saturday morning, that this would be a draw to visit! I look forward to offering parkrun events - I would love to hold regular get togethers for runners, walkers, and volunteers to perhaps have speakers come in to talk about running/walking tips, do's and don'ts. Perhaps have local business put together a parkrun special: the bookstore offering discounts on books about running, exercise or volunteering, clothing stores offering discounts for athletic wear and sports stores offering discounts for running shoes.

We haven't thought this out completely yet, but ideally we can come together as a community and celebrate that we are lucky enough to have something special like parkrun in our little town that is not only awesome for the locals but also brings visitors to our area.

Dominic and I would like to thank the EDC for funding the startup costs. Big thanks also to the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, Billings Farm & Museum, North Chapel's Strengthening Families, Building Community Initiative and the Woodstock Inn & Resort - Nordic Team.

 

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