AS a 60-something keen to get fitter, I joined my first parkrun at the beautiful Roberts Park, Saltaire, in April 2022, feeling somewhat nervous.

A close friend, Chris Kinsella, had joined a couple of months earlier, and was incredibly enthusiastic.

I’ll walk, I protested, I can’t run! Fine, she replied, I’ll walk with you. The course round the park and adjoining nature trail covered the 5k parkrun in two laps. I hadn’t bargained for the friendly, cheerful encouragement from volunteer marshals positioned at vital points all around the course. They all seemed to know Chris! And she knew them.

One of the marshals was the amazing Dave Belmont, who described how he had seen himself as a newbie: ‘I was first introduced to parkrun as a lazy, overweight slob whose trousers seemed to be perpetually Velcroed to the aptly named La-z-boy sofa!’ I’m sure that was never a true description - it certainly isn’t now!

On that first Saturday, I walked most of the course, occasionally breaking into a trot. But I finished it! To the sound of claps and cheers from more wonderful volunteers. I must have been lavish with enthusiasm when I reached home on that first Saturday, as my husband Alan also joined parkrun on the following Saturday, and has rarely missed one since!

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Liz Robinson and her husband AlanLiz Robinson and her husband Alan (Image: Liz Robinson)

A parkrunner who has become a great friend is the dryly humorous James Davies, who tells me he started coming two years ago after a battle with an illness. He has gone from ‘struggling to do the course to being able to do it in just under 35 minutes, with support and encouragement from volunteers and runners.’ A fabulous achievement!

The parkrun often includes 400-500 runners and walkers. At first, I was very much in awe of the numerous strong and skilled runners, who showed incredible stamina when they sped round the course. However, when I began to take on a volunteering role as a marshal, faces began to be recognisable and familiar. I was even more impressed then by their determination, and their friendliness - lots of ‘Thank you marshal!’

I began to realise the huge variety of levels and abilities welcomed at parkrun. As Dave Robertshaw, one of the fabulous volunteer organisers, says, you can ‘run a bit, walk a bit, come alone, bring your dog, or all the family! You don’t have to be Mo Farah to take part, and don’t need all the fancy gear.’ Friend Sue Hewitson has her own variation, as she finds she can, ‘jog a bit, walk a bit, and talk a bit!’

I would now like to mention an important part of my Roberts Park parkrun experience: the Half Moon Café. The incredible staff open the café before parkrun begins each Saturday morning, and make their loos available to all! After parkrun, many volunteers, walkers, runners, spectators, and family and friendship groups gather to compare experiences while sipping delicious coffees, and often enjoying some much needed cake! In addition, there are often celebrations which require us to bring cake! (Not that I’m addicted to cake).

The chance to meet an endlessly interesting variety of people, and for them to become friends, was something I hadn’t imagined would happen. Summed up by Chris Kinsella: ‘The camaraderie from volunteers and fellow joggers lifts my soul. I just love it. Parkrun people are ‘family’.’ And from another park runner/walker Andy Lee: ‘I honestly can’t believe how much you all mean to me!’

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There's a family atmosphere on the parkrunsThere's a family atmosphere on the parkruns (Image: Liz Robinson)

The wonderful organisers of our Roberts Park parkrun world spend much time each week planning volunteer roles, sorting equipment, and setting up the course each Saturday. They show such concern for everyone’s welfare and enjoyment. Over and above the work which has to be done each week, I love the way in which director Sam Swift and her team are keen to support special occasions, celebrations and charities that mean such a lot to all of us. I could give numerous examples, but just a few include: Easter Special, PRIDE, Yorkshire Day, Halloween, and our parkrun’s birthday! Personal celebrations include our 25th, 50th and 100th park runs. Ways of celebrating include fancy dress, wearing a special costume or colour, and of course eating cake.

So, how do you join parkrun? It’s easy! Follow a link to register then turn up at the Roberts Park bandstand at 8.50am on a Saturday morning! Roberts Park parkrun has a lively, informative Facebook page with detailed instructions.

An observation of how I, as an initially reluctant runner, found parkrun, might include the words: ‘a safe, yet challenging environment.’

I can’t resist including an observation from fabulous parkrun friend Nicky Best, who finds running ‘Horribly enjoyable!’

But the final words I leave to Dave Belmont:

‘From the oldest to the youngest,

From the fastest to the slowest,

With a pushchair,

With a dog,

A dog in a pushchair,

In fancy dress,

Even with a banjo!

Everyone is welcome

At Roberts Park parkrun!’