Everyone welcome as Bedford Park celebrates its 500th parkrun

Jenny Wilson and Paul Beard both took part in the first ever Bedford parkrun and have racked up 741 parkruns between them

This Saturday (16 July) sees Bedford parkrun notch up its 500th event – and everyone’s welcome to help them celebrate and collect donations for Bedford Foodbank.

The first parkrun in Bedford Park took place on 11 June 2011 and just over 100 runners turned up for a free, timed 5-kilometre run.

11 years and 500 events later, Bedford parkrun attracts between 300 and 400 participants every week – with pre-Covid peak reaching over 600 – and things have changed quite a lot over the years.

“We’ve become much more inclusive,” said Core Team member, Marianna Slivnitskaya.

“We welcome people walking the parkrun and as a result, our average finish time increased which we see as one of our great achievements.

“A group of Ukrainian refugees recently joined the event and we have a large number of teenagers as part of their Duke of Edinburgh programme.

“The last Saturday of every month we welcome a very special 5K Your Way group aiming to encourage those living with and beyond cancer to do the parkrun with us and each week we have regular parkrunners from age of four up to people in their 80s.”

Cheers, Bedford parkrun!

It’s not just about the running though.

The entire event relies on volunteers, from setting up the course to time-keeping to cheering on the runners. Many who help out are runners with debilitating health conditions, unable to run or walk the course. “Everyone feels welcome,” said Marianna.

(including a large group of teenagers who take part as part of their DofE programme), people from a number of community groups (for example, recently we had a group of Ukrainian refugees joining us), runners with debilitating health conditions, those who are unable to run or walk and taking part as volunteers, and everyone feels welcome.

The success of the Bedford parkrun has led to other events in the area including Bedford Junior, Great Denham, Millenium Country and Irchester parkruns.

This Saturday, organisers are encouraging runners to turn up in a blue top (in a nod to the colour of the ‘500 parkruns’ milestone t-shirt) and to bring a donation for Bedford Foodbank.

You can find a list of the most urgently required Foodbank products here.

We’re all covering the same distance

“Every Saturday, Bedford parkrun attracts a large number of ‘tourists’ looking for personal bests (PBs) on our beautiful and fast course,” said Marianna.

“Our male record is 14:49 and the female record is 16:59 but we know that those who walk the course and finish it in over an hour do exactly the same distance as those speedy runners.”

To mark the 500th event, two runners who took part in Bedford’s very first parkrun will be running on Saturday.

Paul Beard has racked up 471 parkruns and Jenny Wilson 270 parkruns.

“Jenny is a part of our loyal and very special Core Team who takes charge of the events and is there nearly every Saturday in any weather,” said Marianna.

Marianna’s story

Marianna Slivnitskaya after she’d completed the Bedford half marathon

Regular readers may recognise Marianna’s name. We wrote a story about her battle with Long Covid, which has been ongoing since March 2020.

Read: “I can’t remember what it feels like to feel fit,” says 42-year-old ‘long COVID’ sufferer

Marianna said: “Parkrun gave me the strength to carry on when Long Covid took away everything I enjoyed and loved.

“I’m still unable to run 28 months later and struggling with the debilitating health condition I love being a part of a Core Team and seeing how parkrun changes lives and improves the wellbeing and confidence of those who give it a try.

“I am honoured to be a Run Director for this very special event and to work with Bedford Foodbank to help those in our community who are now struggling with the cost of living.”