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More than just a running event as Armagh Parkrun celebrates 10 years

"You go with your friends, or family, and afterwards people stand about and have a chat...The exercise is good but making friends and that social interaction is more important."

Armagh Parkrun Mark and Rory
Mark Lundy and Rory Campbell (right). Photo by Liam McArdle

For 10 years the Armagh Parkrun has been much more than just a running event.

In fact, one of its core volunteers, Rory Campbell – who has been an ever-present almost from the beginning – says it’s not an event for runners.

“It’s a social thing,” said Rory, as he spoke to Armagh I just days after the Armagh Parkrun celebrated its 10 year anniversary.

Rory came on board as a volunteer in February 2014 and has been there ever since – rain, hail or shine. He’s the man behind the Friday evening social media callouts for volunteers.

While it sounds like an exhausting, and perhaps, thankless task at times, he is a man who thoroughly enjoys it. Alongside Mark Lundy, the Run Director, the pair oversee the 5km event every Saturday morning within the grounds of the Palace Demesne.

“Parkrun is for people who want to improve their mental health, get some exercise, and meet people,” said Rory.

“You’ll find kids and mummies and daddies all come together and it’s a social event. The ethos is, by 10.30 on a Saturday morning you’ve 3.2mile / 5k done and you go home to the rest of your day.”

Parkrun has proven the catalyst for many to go and enjoy the pastime of running, and maybe taking on more difficult challenges in the shape of 10Ks, half-marathons and even marathons.

As for Parkrun, it’s free.

In Armagh, the event is very much centred on the social aspect. There are no winners’ medals, no podiums and no finish line tape.

Said Rory: “You go with your friends, or family, and afterwards people stand about and have a chat. When the Moody Boar was there, it was great because they were socialising for coffee, but you’ll find now that people go for coffees after it.

“It’s just a chat; how are you? How is work? How are the children? The exercise is good but making friends and that social interaction is more important.”

Rory thought Covid would have ended the Parkrun back in 2020; there were fears that the early Saturday morning ritual would be lost for good.

In fact, it was almost the opposite.

“We held our first one back and up to 70 people turned up,” said Rory. “I thought, ‘there’s still an appetite for this; maybe people do want this’.”

And it helps that there are those volunteers like Rory who help make it happen each and every Saturday morning. While Rory and Mark are ever present there is a team of good people who help out regularly when they can.

“We’re basically volunteers and we go up on a Saturday morning. I walk and mark the course; Mark does all the results. We set up, people run and they go home happy. We have people from Keady, Portadown, Richhill, Loughgall, Markethill, Ballyhegan; people will travel.

“There’s no medals, no podiums, no banners for winning. You basically run against yourself. It’s about community spirit.

“The hardest thing of doing a Parkrun is setting your alarm to get up out of bed on a Saturday morning. The next hardest thing trying to do is trying to eat something, get dressed and get out, but the easiest thing is move your feet on Parkrun; you can move them as slow or as fast as you like.

“A lot of people make it their routine. There are people who have done it 250 times. There were two people there on Saturday who came to the very first one. They’re still running – Parkrun started them.”

Parkrun at 10

Last Saturday saw 103 runners turn up to celebrate 10 years – Rory wasn’t sure whether it was the sense of the occasion, or the cake on offer!

Rory is keen to continue with that momentum and has been delighted to see young families come out to enjoy it.

“We all really enjoy doing it. For me, it’s the joy you see in people’s faces when they get involved. We have a lot of kids coming now; 11, 12, 13 year olds. We’d always encourage families to come along and get involved.”

Check out the Armagh Parkrun page here.

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