When Sport England announced the This Girl Can partnership with parkrun for International Women’s Day 2020, one person in the Yorkshire Sport Foundation office was particularly excited.
In just over 12 months as Programmes and Events Manager for YSF, Emma Binnersley has been at the forefront of organising everything from PE conferences and company away days, to Colour Smash events and School Games festivals for hundreds of school children.
But her first foray into events management came almost four years ago in her previous role for the Forestry Commission at Dalby Forest.
“I knew of a partnership between the forestry commission and North Yorkshire Sport called Active Forests, to encourage people to get active in the forest,” Emma told us, taking on the story.
“It was mentioned in the office that a parkrun might be coming to Dalby Forest so I thought I’d go and see what it was like in York where I live, and I just loved it.
“I went with my mum and neither of us had ever done a parkrun before. I’ve always been sporty but I was really, really nervous in the pit of my stomach. I went with an expectation that everybody would be lycra-clad and that I’d be really intimidated.
“But I got there and there were people of all shapes and sizes. It was really welcoming and not an intimidating atmosphere, but you still got a time, so I had a way to measure myself.
“The buzz that everyone got out of the run, and even the buzz at the start was amazing to be part of.
“It was also really nice to see what my mum got out of it. I’ve always been into sport so it was kind of my natural environment but for my mum, she was just getting into running. She just got the endorphins after the run, and I’ve never seen my mum have that.
“On her way to work she used to see a man running between a couple of the villages where we lived. She saw him at parkrun and mentioned that she’d seen him every day. When he’d finished his run, he came back and found my mum and ran the rest of the course with her until she got to the finish.
“The week after I went to the Forestry Commission and said, ‘We need one here.’
That first parkrun experience for Emma came in September 2015. Despite a lack of experience she put herself forward as Event Director – essentially the person responsible for voluntarily being in charge of any of the hundreds of parkrun events around the world.
As part of getting the Dalby Forest parkrun set up, Emma visited others to see what it involved, and with support from friends and colleagues Martin, Dean and Paddy, they prepared to host their first.
That took place in March 2016 with almost 300 people completing the 5k route in picturesque surroundings. The event will celebrate its fourth anniversary the week after the International Women’s Day event, with an average of 200 people attending weekly and a one-off record of 399 runners.
Emma admits she still gets nervous despite having been run director more than 60 times, but says the friendships she has built in that time are more than worth the worry.
“I’ve known some of these people’s journeys over four years and I’m good friends with a lot of them now. I know what’s happening in their personal lives and what they’re going through. I see them there on a Saturday and it’s their time, it’s their escape.
“One of the ladies has three kids and has the hectic life that comes with it. But for that half-hour every Saturday she’s there doing it for herself and no-one else, which is really nice.
“I also have a friend there who lost her husband almost a year ago. It was understandably hard for her initially, but she comes regularly now. Her husband used to volunteer at the event, and it must be bittersweet to be there sometimes.
“It’s just really nice to see how she can do that event and it be her way to remember him.”
As something of a parkrun veteran, Emma is well placed to give advice to any women considering taking part in their first event this weekend.
“It doesn’t matter if you run a 20-minute 5k, or an hour-and-a-half 5k, everyone is nervous about their first parkrun,” she says.
“Whether that’s a tiny bit nervous eating your breakfast or not being able to sleep the night before. It’s totally normal.
“It’s easy to say, but don’t overthink it. Get through those doubts. If you’re so nervous that you’re avoiding doing it, just go and watch. Go down and walk around the park at 9am and see what it is all about. All you have to do is see a parkrun to know that it’s not scary.
“If you’re a chatty person then just start talking to people, because people will talk back and make you feel so much less nervous about it.
“All parkruns are active on Facebook as well so message them and there are no silly questions. If you don’t know what the process is or even what shoes to wear, get in touch and they’ll help you out.”
And the best thing about parkrun?
“The people,” says Emma without a seconds hesitation.
“Through parkrun I’ve realised that age just doesn’t matter. You just start connecting with so many people that you probably wouldn’t if you just went about your normal life. If it’s this weekend or a weekend in the future, just go for it. I promise you that you won’t regret it.”
To find your local parkrun, go to https://www.parkrun.org.uk/iwdparkrun/