By Colin Phillips
A year and a half ago, Joan Oberholtzer was exercising on her own, mostly at home, but was itching to be more active. Her sister, Ellen, was already involved with College Park parkrun, the free 5K run/walk that’s held on the Paint Branch Trail every Saturday. Ellen would sometimes volunteer as a tailwalker, the person who brings up the rear, ensuring that no one is left behind. Ellen invited Joan to join her as a tailwalker. That first week, they walked the 5K in a little under an hour and a half, together with Joan’s dog, Murphy.
Joan caught the bug and kept coming, returning almost every week. “I had been trying to exercise on my own, at home,” she said. “But it was walking the parkrun in College Park that gave me the confidence and encouragement to make walking longer distances a regular part of my routine.”
Many of us make resolutions when the new year rolls around. Many of those promises we make involve our health and wellbeing — getting more exercise, losing weight, eating better, improving our mental health, spending less money, spending time with friends and family. But many of us struggle to keep the resolutions we make. We let our new gym memberships go unused. Those unhealthy snacks we said we’d swear off prove too tantalizing to resist. Life gets in the way. Winter weather makes it harder to get outside.
Fortunately, College Park’s natural environment offers great resources to support a healthy, active lifestyle. We have a fabulous trail network and a bike infrastructure that’s improving, along with more public transportation on the way. Nowadays we have more places to buy healthy food, too.
For many of us, doing things with other people can be the key ingredient for maintaining resolutions. When getting more active includes enjoyable social connections, we’re more likely to stick with it. This is where College Park parkrun/parkwalk can help. It’s simple, predictable and free. Saturday morning at 9 a.m., all year round. No need to plan ahead.
The parkrun is community-led, and it’s social. It’s not a race with prizes and swag. Some people come out to test their fitness. Others simply enjoy the chance to run or walk with friends. And it’s a friendly, welcoming crowd: After you come a few times, there’s a good chance that somebody will remember your name and will be cheering for you along the trail. Participants range in age from under five to over 80. Many people come with kids in strollers and have a dog along. It’s a chance to be outdoors, getting some exercise and having fun.
At first, the weekly events catered mostly to runners. “Nowadays more and more walkers and run-walkers take part. So the name parkwalk is increasingly used alongside parkrun. That helps everyone to feel like they belong.”
Parkrun is a UK-based non-profit that provides the backend IT and insurance, and there are now about 100 parkrun events in the U. S. and Canada. (A number of cities also host similar events, such as New York City’s Open Runs.) But the largest of them all is right here in College Park — indeed, our weekly run/walk is the largest event of its kind in North America.
Around 150 people show up on a typical Saturday morning for the College Park run/walk. Since 2016, more than 30,000 finishers have participated in the nearly 300 events we’ve held here. Five hundred people have served as volunteers.
Joan Oberholtzer recently completed her 50th 5K with us. And she volunteers, too. And she has invited along friends who now participate regularly, as well.
“Nowadays, we both sometimes jog portions of the course,” she said. “But what keeps us coming back is the knowledge that we can always go our own speed – which is often a walk – and we will still be celebrated when we finish.”
We encourage you to register online before coming to your first parkrun; you’ll get a downloadable barcode that you can bring along anytime you participate that you can scan to track your time. For more information about parkrun and to register, go to parkrun.us/collegepark.