The Parkrun Essential Guide + Expert Tips To Improve Your 5k Time

Depending on where you live in the world and your involvement in the local running scene, you might be well acquainted with parkruns (lowercase P in there), or it may be a totally foreign concept.

Parkruns are free, weekly, community running or walking events that take place in 23 different countries around the world. 

Your local parkrun is a fantastic way to get involved in the running community in your area, either as a participant or volunteer. They can also be a great way to challenge yourself to run faster and hit a new PR or PB.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about parkruns and provide you with actionable tips to improve your 5k time.

We will look at: 

  • What Is parkrun?
  • Where Do parkruns Take Place?
  • How Do You Participate? 
  • What Is the Average parkrun Finish Time?
  • Expert Tips To Improve Your parkrun 5k Time

Let’s get started!

A group of people partaking in a parkrun.

What Is parkrun?

Parkrun – or rather, parkrun – is a free, weekly event that involves a 5k run or walking event every Saturday morning and a 2k event for children ages 4-14 on Sunday mornings. Every event is put on entirely by volunteers, and anyone is welcome to join in as a participant, volunteer, or spectator. 

There are no pace requirements or fees to join, making parkruns among the most inclusive fitness events worldwide. You can walk, jog, run, chase a PR or PB, or assist as a volunteer in one of many different roles. The atmosphere at any one of these given events is positive, upbeat, supportive, and welcoming.

According to the parkrun website, the very first one was held in 2004 in Bushy Park, Teddington, UK. Although just 13 runners took part in the inaugural event, there are now over 3 million parkrunners worldwide.

Because parkrun has its roots in the United Kingdom, the UK continues to be an epicenter or leader in terms of these weekly events and participants.

To date, there have been nearly 195,000 all-time parkrun events in the UK alone, with close to 2.6 million different finishers and 40 million event finishes.

Two men running in a park.

Where Do Parkruns Take Place?

Parkruns take place in local community parks in 23 countries worldwide. There are approximately 1,700 parkruns around the world. 

For example, Elliott Line reports that during the weekend of May 7-8, 2022, there were 1,736 parkruns plus 166 junior parkruns worldwide with a global sum of 214,487 parkrunners and 29,559 volunteers. 

Of the hundreds of thousands of parkrunners, 9,194 were participating in their first parkrun, which goes to show that the event is constantly growing and welcoming new members to the international community of parkrunners.

Interested runners, walkers, and volunteers can find their nearest parkrun using the event map for their home country. 

A family running in a park.

How Do You Participate In Parkrun?

The only thing you need to do to join in your first parkrun is register. Registration is free and only needs to be done once, after which, you just show up and participate however often you’d like, walking, jogging, running, or volunteering.

If it’s your first one, complete the registration form and print your barcode, and then you are all set to enjoy any parkrun event. 

What Is the Average Parkrun Finish Time?

One of the best things about parkrun is its inclusivity, regardless of how long you’ve been running, the pace you run, and even whether you run at all—as walkers are equally celebrated and embraced.

The culture and climate have become increasingly more supportive, reducing barriers to participation and encouraging inclusion to everyone along the continuum of their fitness journey.

The parkrun website reports that in 2005, the global average finish time for completing a parkrun was 22:17. However, in 2020, the average parkrun 5k time had jumped to 32:30, indicating this very point. The current average time in the UK is 28:58.

A group of people partaking in a parkrun.

9 Expert Tips To Improve Your Parkrun 5k Time

Just because parkrun is an inclusive event and encourages anyone to participate does not mean that it doesn’t draw some serious runners looking to compete. You can certainly use them to help you run faster and get a 5k PR or PB.

One nice thing about these events is that they occur weekly, giving you endless opportunities to improve your 5k time.

You can even use this weekly event as a built-in speed workout in your training schedule, taking advantage of the competitive atmosphere to help you run faster and nail specific running paces in the company of others rather than alone during the week.

Here are some expert tips to help improve your parkrun 5k time:

#1: Know the Course

Although the courses should be well marked and there are usually plenty of volunteers to direct runners and walkers during the race to know where to go, if you really want to get a personal best, it helps to be familiar with the route.

By knowing the course, you can shut your brain off during the race and use your mental energy to focus on pacing and running itself, not wondering when the next turn is coming. 

You’ll also be familiar with the hills and challenging sections to adequately budget your energy and take advantage of downhills and parts of the course that play to your strengths as a runner.

You can jog the course during training or as part of your warmup if it’s your first one to familiarize yourself with the route.

A group of people partaking in a parkrun.

#2: Warmup Before the 5k

Runners often want to “conserve” their energy for the race, but even if you’re a beginner, warming up before can help reduce the risk of injuries and improve your performance.

If you are adequately warmed up, you can head off the starting line right at race pace, rather than using the first few minutes to get your muscles warmed up and your legs up to speed.

#3: Find Someone to Push You

Recruit a running buddy or someone to help push and pace you. One of the nice things about these events is that they are social and community-driven. 

Runners and walkers are friendly and like to commune before the event in the starting area. You can find someone who has a similar time goal as you do and try to work together during the race to chase that goal.

Three people running and smiling.

#4: Set Realistic, Incremental Goals

You can use the consistent nature of these weekly events to help you gradually chip away at your 5k PB. Try shaving 5-15 seconds off your finish time per week. This will add up over time.

#5: Train Properly

To get a 5k PR or PB, you should follow a well-rounded 5k training program with interval workouts, hills, distance runs, cross-training, and strength training. The specifics of your training plan will depend on your fitness level and goals.

Consider a 5k training plan to run 5k in 30 minutes, 25 minutes, 20 minutes, or 18 minutes.

#6: Fuel and Hydrate Well

Many runners only focus on their nutrition the night before the race and the pre-race snack or breakfast. While these meals are significant in terms of needing to be foods that digest quickly and provide sustained energy while you run, your overall diet should also be healthy and supportive of your training.

Three people running and smiling.

Focus on eating a well-balanced diet with whole, natural, minimally processed, and varied foods. Vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats should form the basis of your diet.

Your pre-race meal should be rich in carbohydrates but low in fat and fiber to prevent digestive distress. Because these runs are only 5k, you shouldn’t need to load up on carbohydrates the night before, and a small snack should suffice before the event if your stomach tends to be sensitive.

Drink plenty of water until your urine is pale yellow. Electrolyte replacement drinks are typically not necessary during these short events unless you are a heavy sweater or it’s scorching out. 

However, if you feel depleted during or after the event, definitely aim to rehydrate with electrolytes.

People partaking in a parkrun.

#7: Do Strides Before the Start

After your warmup, run 4-6 strides before the race to get your neuromuscular system firing and your legs ready to run fast. Accelerate for 50-75 meters, reaching sprint paces towards the end.

#8: Have Fun

It may sound cliche, but enjoying yourself can help you run faster. Parkruns are positive, supportive, fun community events. Embrace the atmosphere, meet fellow runners and walkers, encourage the people around you, thank the volunteers, and soak up the experience. 

Gratitude and happiness are contagious and will help you feel your best during the race.

#9: Cool Down

Whether the race goes well or not, get in a good cool down to accelerate the recovery process. Even if it wasn’t your best time, cooling down will be the first step towards a better attempt next week.

Are you looking for a 5k training plan to get started or the improve your personal record? Take a look at our 5k training resources to help you on your way!

People partaking in a parkrun.
Amber Sayer

Amber Sayer

Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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