With so many countries now hosting parkrun events each Saturday, many people are choosing their holiday destinations based on the availability of their favourite weekly activity. At the very end of February 2020 another country was added to the list: The Netherlands. With its reputation as a flat country, it is bound to have a lot of fast courses for PB chasers, but I decided to take a visit to Stadspark parkrun in Groningen for a different reason.

When I finished my introductory C25K running programme in November 2013, I was looking for something to keep me interested in running. I discovered an event called parkrun ran quite close to home, it was free to join, and happened every week. Not wishing to look foolish when I went along, I read every piece of advice and information on the parkrun website very carefully. One of the things I read was that people would go for coffee at the nearby leisure centre afterwards, so I made a point of going along even though I wasn't sure I'd fit in. As one of the first to arrive for coffee, I wondered if I might be all alone, but a met a very friendly dutch couple who invited me to join them at their table.

Over the next few years I would meet Aleid and Adrian at parkrun whenever they were in the UK and even got a chance to run with them in Groningen when I went there on a business trip. However, they could only parkrun in the UK as there were no events back home. So, when I saw that parkrun were looking to start events in the Netherlands, I forwarded the article (although I suspect they may have heard already) and a few months later I received some photos of the core team meeting and trying out proposed courses in Stadspark, Groningen.

In the UK, it is discouraged to attend inaugural parkruns as it can swell the numbers too much and overwhelm the new volunteer team on day one. However, it is less likely to happen in new countries, so I cheekily invited myself over to run event number 1 at Stadspark. The city of Groningen is a couple of hours away from Amsterdam by train, so was not the obvious choice for parkrun tourists looking to bag their first parkrun in a new country, so most of the runners lived locally. However, there was still an international feel to the event as the university is popular with foreign students, many of whom were on the core team of volunteers.

Aleid wondered if I would be the first finisher, but I was pipped to the post by local runner Mike Hogerhuis, who told me afterwards that he is more of a long-distance trail runner and wasn't sure what pace to go for on a 5K. I suspect he was using me as a pacer for the first two laps, before pushing ahead as I started to flag (as usual) after about 4 km. Still, I managed to get the highest age-grade position, though this accolade was short-lived as someone exceeded it at event number two. Still, when Aleid gets a chance to run the course, she will almost certainly take the age-grade crown as she is an excellent runner, especially for her age category.

But for now it's all stop. The Corona virus pandemic has meant that events in the Netherlands over 100 people are cancelled. Stadspark had not exceeded 100, but some of the other new parkruns had. The team at parkrun HQ know that cancelling one parkrun swells the numbers at other nearby events, so they took the decision to cancel all parkrun NL events while the restriction is in place. One blessing for Stadspark parkrunnners is that the course should be a bit drier when the get to run, jog or walk it next time.

About Matt

Not known for sport at school, I took up running in my mid-forties. Very soon I caught the running bug and progressed from the Couch to 5K programme, via parkrun, various 10k races and the Great North Run to running marathons and beyond in the UK and overseas. Now in my fifties, I still run fast enough to impress my friends and family, but not fast enough to think I've missed a vocation as an Olympian!

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