By Rebecca Black, PA
Runners of all abilities and ages have celebrated the return of the first parkrun events in the North since the start of the pandemic.
The popular series of 5k runs were permitted to return following the easing of coronavirus regulations to allow up to 500 people to gather for outdoor exercise.
Before the pandemic, around 30 parkrun events took place across Northern Ireland.
Everyone is just so pleased it is back, there is a real sense of community about the whole thing, people have really missed it
While most of the returning events began at 9.30am on Saturday, the Ormeau parkrun – one of the best attended in the region – did not take place due to concern it could attract more than the permitted 500 people.
Brendan Mulgrew is a run director with the Queen’s Parkrun in south Belfast.
He recalled the last event on March 14th, 2020 and speculation then that the break might just be for a few weeks or months.
“No-one thought for a second there wouldn’t be another one for 16 months,” he said.
“Everyone is just so pleased it is back, there is a real sense of community about the whole thing, people have really missed it. We were getting messages on our social media channels from people saying they missed it and were so excited it was back.”
Mr Mulgrew said the return of the runs was planned safely with guidelines around social distancing, particularly stopping the start line from becoming congested and reducing physical contact when runners receive their time at the end.
He added: “One of the great things about parkrun is that everyone hangs around afterward and chats. But all of that is being discouraged at this stage, it’s turn up, run and go home again.
Good morning and welcome back to all parkrunners in Northern Ireland! 😍
We can't wait to see all of your pictures and read your stories over the next few days 🧡
🌳 #loveparkrun pic.twitter.com/66tlLlHRNn
— parkrun UK (@parkrunUK) June 26, 2021
“But if that’s the road to getting back to what we had, that is fine, it’s what we’ll do.
“Pre-Covid, we had about 160 runners every week at Queen’s, and I would say 90 per cent were regulars there every week, and we had people who turned up every week to volunteer, people got so much out of it. For some people, it is their weekly outing and the only time during the week they get out to chat to people. Physically, and mentally as well, it means a lot to people.
“It’s important to get it back, and it’s important to get it back safely.”
The parkrun series was started in London in 2004 and has spread around the world.
Mr Mulgrew said the first parkrun in the North was at the Waterworks in north Belfast, and the Queen’s one followed. He became involved in 2016.
“I enjoy when I go on holiday getting to check out the local parkrun, I have done parkruns in Florida, Italy, loads in the south of Ireland, loads across Northern Ireland,” he said.
“It’s always nice to try a new one, and when you’re feeling fit and want to get a good time you go to Victoria Park in Belfast because it is flat – it’s the fastest one in Belfast.”