John Robson's 500th parkrun

John Robson has just become the 1st STAC to do 500 parkruns and only the 284th person ever to reach this milestone! John tells us about his absolutely epic parkrun journey.

How did it all start?

It was early-2008 when I saw a snippet in the Yorkshire Evening Post about a weekly 5k Time Trial at Hyde Park in Leeds. It sounded interesting so I registered but didn’t actually turn up for a good few weeks. I didn’t really ‘get it’ (I was young and stupid) and only returned every now and again over the next couple of years. During that period the Hyde Park Time Trial (HPTT) was rebranded as Leeds parkrun and was, at that time, the only event outside London in the whole world. It’s Woodhouse Moor parkrun now after another name change and they’ve clocked up over 700 events. If only I knew then what I know now! It wasn’t until Roundhay parkrun started in April 2011 that I became addicted to a Saturday morning fix. It may have taken nearly 4 years to get my 50 t-shirt but I haven’t missed many since.

What keeps you doing it for all this time?

I’ve been motivated by different things over the years. At first it was the points competition (there’s a blast from the past, more about that later) at Roundhay but there was a really good vibe at that event in the early days and I just enjoyed the camaraderie. Then, in 2013, parkrun came to Temple Newsam and having lived in the area all my life, became my new home event. Having failed in my attempt to win the points competition at Roundhay I wasn’t going to miss out again at TN so ran there virtually every week that year. The atmosphere was even better and thankfully I managed to win the male competition with Gill Lambert (the real LS15 Legend) taking the female prize.

The official milestones have always kept me going too but as parkrun events started spreading so did the appetite to visit them; parkrun tourism was born and ‘let’s do all the Leeds ones’ soon turned into ‘let’s do all the Yorkshire ones’ and once Nick and I got chatting regularly things escalated quickly as anyone who has been on one of Nick’s and Robbo’s parkrun Tours will appreciate! I’d forgotten how many great tours we’ve done so there are a few of my fave photos from different adventures! More generally I just really enjoy having a 5k blast on a Saturday morning and seeing a few mates – it’s a great way to start the weekend.

How has parkrun changed over the years?

The growth of parkrun has been ridiculous! So many things have changed. Barcodes weren’t a thing at first, you were given a silver disc with a finish position on it and then went to give your name to somebody with a laptop. As mentioned earlier, there was an annual points competition in the early days where each participant earned points depending on their finish position. Points were totted up over the year and there were prizes awarded!

I remember when milestone t-shirts were presented during the run brief and there was a jacket as well as a t-shirt for 100. Those are real collectors’ items nowadays. How old do I sound? junior parkrun arriving on the scene was huge and opened the joys of parkrun to a new generation. More recently I think the Virtual Volunteer app is a brilliant innovation and makes everything much easier for all involved. Allowing barcodes to be scanned from phones/watches was a great change too.

What’s been your most memorable tourist destination?

There have been loads of great trips and if you’d asked about my top 5 or 10 we’d be here all day and it would probably be different by next week anyway. Bere Island, off the south-west coast of Ireland will take some beating as my number 1 of all-time. Nick arranged a trip in 2019 to coincide with my birthday with Leanne and Violet joining us. We left on Friday afternoon, drove to Stanstead, flew to Cork, hired a car and drove to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, then caught Murphy’s dedicated parkrun ferry early on Saturday morning. As well as the stunning coastal location (it’s a tiny island) we were treated like celebrities and the locals were in awe of the fact that it was also Nick’s 350th parkrun at his 200th different venue. The community spirit there was something special.

With all the destinations you go to has it ever not gone to plan?

I’ve been really lucky and only ever actually missed a parkrun once. What happened in Glasgow stays in Glasgow suffice to say that there’s always a Plan B but we’d have needed a Plan C, D, E, F, G… to get one in that day.

How far do you have to go for your ‘NENDY’ (‘Nearest Not Done Yet) these days?

Clitheroe Castle is an itch that’s needed scratching for ages.

Closer to home you’ve been involved in TN parkrun since the beginning, understand that ‘course b’ is your doing?

Yes, that’s true and I love it that most people hate it! We had to cancel the inaugural event at TN on the Friday night due to heavy snow and ice. That got me thinking about an alternative weather-proof course. It had to be easy to set-up and switch to at short notice as well as being 100% grass. With that Course B aka 4-laps of the top field was born. Any event is better than no event!

What next? Are you going to do another 500?

No, that’s it now. I’m retiring from parkrun events. It’s been emotional.

Not really. As long as I’m fit and healthy and enjoying it I’ll keep going. There’ll definitely be more regular appearances at TN and I’ve even promised Jess I might volunteer for the odd non-running role once in a while. It’ll be great to celebrate lots of other people achieving milestones over the next few years too.