'Tis the season to join a parkrun

A growing number of Aussies are starting their Christmas and New Years Day differently – connecting with their community at special parkrun events and helping to stamp (or walk, run or volunteer!) out loneliness.

Written by Kerry McCarthy

Visit parkrun to find out about your local parkrun’s plans for this festive season. Events will be added throughout December, so if your local parkrun isn’t listed don’t forget to check back.

When Janet Reid and her husband Geoff emigrated from South Africa in 2014 to live closer to their two grown up children, they suddenly found themselves without friends. “The first year was fine. We were busy settling in, our first grandchild was born, and we were just busy,” says Janet from her home in Adelaide. “But after a while, contact with friends back in South Africa dropped off and I realised I needed more people, more contact in my life.”

Unlike in their younger years when friends were made easily through work or school, as retirees Janet admits it wasn’t as easy.

“Back in South Africa we had a large group of friends. Many from university or through our children who all grew up together. In Australia we had no one.”

One Saturday morning Janet and Geoff decided to head to the launch of a new parkrun, just 15 minutes from their home. Operational in around 500 communities across Australia, parkrun is a free 5km event held every Saturday where you can walk or run, help out as a volunteer or simply spectate and socialize. “We stood at the back of the crowd, and I just looked around. There were a few people chatting and we introduced ourselves. We went back the next week, and I made a beeline for the same people.”

Fast-forward eight years and Janet and Geoff are now active participants at the same parkrun with a huge group of friends. Like many parkruns around Australia, their local parkrun holds special events on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and that’s where they will be starting their morning this year. “parkrun is home, it’s family, it’s community,” says Janet. “It’s just fabulous.” 

Building community one Saturday at a time

Medibank research from 2021 shows that one in three Australians felt high levels of loneliness, but many of us still find it difficult to recognise loneliness in both ourselves and in others. Concerningly, research suggests loneliness is associated with higher rates of some cancers, stroke, coronary heart disease and mental illness, including depression. 

Providing an antidote to loneliness, parkrun welcomes people of all ages and fitness levels to gather and connect with their community each Saturday. And the good news is, running is optional! 

“I don’t run,” laughs Janet. “You’ll find me at the back having a chat and walking. At least 100 of the people who come to our local parkrun are there just to walk and talk and connect.”

As well as providing a sense of connection, parkrun is a triple threat in that it also encourages exercise and is out in nature – combining the known benefits of exercise, social connection and nature. 

“From a mental health perspective, parkrun ticks all the boxes,” says Janet who encourages people to volunteer as well as walking and running. “Our volunteer group feels valued and appreciated and it provides a sense of purpose. Plus, volunteering is heaps of fun.”

Holiday cheer at parkrun

Many parkruns around Australia choose to host events on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day each year – and Janet and her parkrun pals will be there with bells on.

“We normally get higher than normal numbers on Christmas Day because people love to come and see what's going on,” says Janet. “There’s a fun vibe, we all dress up and my husband goes as Father Christmas. It gets more elaborate every year – he usually has a blown up reindeer and elves. Each year we try and come up with more creative ways for him to arrive.”

Along with all the fun and frivolity, there’s a serious reason it’s so important to hold the event on these milestone days, says Janet.

“Some people choose not to make a big deal of Christmas. Perhaps it’s a sad time for them and they associate the day with something negative. At parkrun there is a sense of community, family and having people close to you, which can help make the holidays a little easier.”

One week later, for a special January 1st event, many parkruns will bring the community together again on New Years Day 2024. “After parkrun a large group of us will go to the nearby golf club and write our resolutions on whiteboards. We’re simply a big group of friends, sitting around and reminiscing about the past 12 months. It’s a wonderful way to start the new year.”

Visit parkrun to find out about your local parkrun’s plans for this festive season. Events will be added throughout December, so if your local parkrun isn’t listed don’t forget to check back.


Don't let hip and knee pain hold you back

From preventing injury to understanding your knee replacement options, find information, programs and services to help prevent or minimise joint pain.

Written by Kerry McCarthy

Kerry McCarthy runs her own virtual content agency and has been writing and editing for over 20 years. Currently studying a Masters in Counselling and Psychotherapy she is a licensed Mental Health First Aid teacher and is passionate about using content and storytelling to improve wellbeing goals for corporate business. 

Previous article

Good sports

Next article

Exercise for low back pain

Related articles