Director, Ally Pally parkrun
Catherine Edeam is the event director of what has come to be one of Alexandra Park’s most popular weekly activities, the Ally Pally parkrun. It is part of the umbrella organisation, parkrun, which organises free weekly timed runs open to all throughout the world. The Ally Pally version, which began just over three years ago, is a free weekly 5km event for runners of all abilities and takes place every Saturday at 9:00am. The statistics to date are impressive: there have been well over 1,900 runs, with an average of about 57 runners taking part every week and a record attendance (so far, by January 2015) of 145.
Friends of Alexandra Park: How did you first get involved?
I went to a session held to recruit volunteers run by the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, and a representative from Haringey Council, who were liaising with the Alexandra Park authorities to put something together in the Park because there was funding to encourage community activities. We discussed the type of support the Ally Pally parkrun would need to get going and I was keen to get involved in giving something back to the community.
FoAP: Are you a keen runner?
Absolutely. I do long-distance running with a focus mainly on marathons, which I’ve been doing for ten years. I live locally so I was already very familiar with the Park, both from training but also attending lots of events in the Palace. It seemed to make sense to get involved in something I really loved to do.
FoAP: When did it start?
The inaugural run took place on the 3rd of December, 2011, although we had had to do a lot of preparatory work in the run-up to the event. The biggest challenge when setting it up was to get the core team in place to oversee it weekly. For a parkrun to get underway you need at least three to four people, including one event director and two to three run directors, along with volunteers from the community to help out with things like registration, marshalling, timekeeping and so on.
FoAP: What was the very first run like?
It was extremely exciting! I hadn’t expected it to be so well-attended. We had 49 people take part, both local people and runners from other parkruns who love being able to say they were at the first run whenever there is a new one. The whole event has got a great family feeling.
There was also really good support from the Council and the Park officials, particularly since it was going to be a way to encourage local people to come to the Park on a regular basis.
FoAP: And you have just passed your third anniversary?
Yes, in early December and we had 96 runners despite it being the middle of winter! This January alone we have had 144 running one week followed by 142. Our record is 145. The only time the weather affects us is if there is ice because that could be dangerous. The health and safety of the parkrunners and volunteers always comes first so we inspect the course on the morning or the day before the event so we can tell runners as soon as possible if we have to cancel. We’ve had to do this on just a few occasions.
FoAP: Who takes part?
The run is for people of all ability and all ages. Its ethos is non-competitive to bring the community together. The youngest that people can register is four years old, with no upper age limit and you can run, walk or go around with a buggy if you like! The only stipulation is that if children are under 11 they must be accompanied by an adult throughout the run.
Once you register online you receive a barcode which you bring with you on the day. And after the run we grab a post parkrun coffee in Alexandra Palace Garden Centre. I am there most weeks unless I have a race because I really enjoy being part of it and interacting with other people who love the sport.
At the moment we currently have 89 volunteers, having started off with just a handful of us. Without volunteers parkrun would simply not be possible as they offer their time to help support the event and we have an amazing bunch here at Ally Pally. We ask parkrunners to volunteer as least three times a year to help spread the load as many volunteers are parkrunners themselves and also look forward to participating in the run.
We have a core team of volunteers who deal with the organisation and administration of the event, like the overseeing of the event day itself, processing the results, writing run reports so people can find out what happen at each event and read about parkrunners and volunteers achievements and much more.
One of the big things in parkrun are the clubs for various milestones, such as juniors who have done 10 runs, or those who have done 50, 100, 250 and so on. When you reach a milestone you receive a t-shirt, so people come regularly to build up their numbers. It’s seen as quite an achievement.
FoAP: What have been some of the key moments of the past three years?
Breaking attendance records. In the first year it was 49, then it hit 92 and last year it reached 145 so it seems every year we reach a milestone in terms of the numbers. And I think that’s because of strong word-of-mouth. People talk about it and get their families and friends to come along.
Another key moment was having to develop two alternative courses which we can use if we are unable to use our original route. For example, during the winter months the lower half of our course which runs along the playing fields gets extremely waterlogged, making it unsafe for parkrunners. So we do three laps of the upper half of our course which covers the same distance. This has been extremely beneficial as it has allowed us to continue running our event every week.
FoAP: Do you have a favourite bit of the Park?
I love the Park as a whole, with the Palace as the focal point. But there is a point during the run when you get to the top of the tarmac slope and see that amazing view of London which is really special. You almost forget you are running!
FoAP: How would you like it to evolve?
We want it to continue to grow organically, maintaining the ethos of parkrun that it is a free, weekly, timed run open and inclusive to all so they can share their experience with other like-minded people. Yes, getting bigger does present a challenge but we are a great team and are always coming up with new ideas. Each parkrun is different and ours definitely has an Ally Pally flavour.