Anna Hayes

Source: Enniscorthy Guardian

Sarah and Ken Larkin with their children Conor, Oisin and Aaron

Sarah and Ken Larkin with their children Conor, Oisin and Aaron

It’s a concept that has taken the county by storm and now the parkrun phenomenon is reaching out to younger members.

Junior parkrun started in the Irish National Heritage Park on September 9 last year, welcoming around 120 runners and walkers on the first day. Since then, the Sunday morning event has kept its numbers to around 70 but hopes to grow that figure this year.

Stuart van der Bliake is the parkrun ambassador for the south-east and he explained that the new venture was a collaboration between them, Sports Active and the Heritage Park who, he said, had welcomed them with open arms.

The weekly event challenges kids, from age four up to 14, to take on a 2km trek around the Stone Age section of the park, which equates to two-and-a-half laps of that area. The beauty of the event, Mr van der Bliake says, is that children can go at their own pace and there is no pressure on them.

‘This event was set up to let people come along and challenge themselves. It gives kids a great confidence boost. The overall aim is to promote exercise as a way of addressing concerns about fitness, stress, mental awareness; it’s about ‘I can’, rather than ‘I can’t’.’

The world of parkrun is already an inclusive one, particularly in Wexford where club members have undertaken training to aid those with visual impairments while the junior run is also a big hit with the Cottage Autism Network.

Incorporated into the Sunday morning run is a new Operation Transformation programme that encouraged parents and grandparents to come along and do the walk with the children.

‘We hope to get more people involved,’ said Mr van der Bliake, pointing out that even in the area of volunteering they had a number of Gaisce students who were helping out for a number of weeks as part of that programme.

Central to the plans to grow the numbers is the wristband system that the organisers have set up.

Eleven runs will earn the child a half marathon wristband; 21 will secure a full marathon band; and 50 will see the runner presented with an ultra marathon band.

‘That’s been a huge success and we’ve had parents saying the kids can’t wait to go because they want to get the wristbands.’

There are 17 Junior parkrun events in Ireland but the Heritage Park hosts the only south-eastern one. The Wexford one took about five months to get up and running but Mr van der Bliake says they have a fantastic team that is doing a great job.

‘We are examining all sorts of options for developing the event in the future.’

The Junior parkrun takes place every Sunday, starting at 9.30 a.m. Runners can register on parkrun.ie beforehand to get their one-off barcode that gives them access to any parkrun event in the world.

Enniscorthy Guardian