Every Saturday morning, a group of dedicated runners, joggers, and walkers take to Breakwater Park for a friendly five-kilometre jog. The weekly event first launched in late 2019 as part of parkrun, a worldwide organization of community running events. Currently, Breakwater parkrun is one of thousands of parkruns in existence, with other events taking place across North America, Europe, and Asia.
The Breakwater parkrun was first envisioned, in part, by Thomas Collier, who thought Kingston would be a perfect location for the events he was familiar with back home in the United Kingdom (UK). After contacting representatives at parkrun, Collier was put in touch with Megan Clemens and John Sadler, who were looking at starting an event in Kingston, and together, the three launched Kingston’s Breakwater parkrun. “There’s about 600 [parkruns] in the UK, and somewhere between 50 to 100 of them in Canada. So we set up our event in Kingston in August 2019,” he said.
“I moved here from England in 2018 and thought Kingston would be a great place for parkrun. So, I contacted parkrun headquarters and suggested that this might be a good spot [for it].”
Having connected with some other runners who were trying to launch a parkrun event in Kingston, Collier and his team completed a risk assessment and secured permission from the City of Kingston to start a weekly event at Breakwater Park. After launching the weekly parkrun in 2019, the group faced an unfortunate setback several months into their journey, when the global COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of organized public gatherings. Following a brief 18-month “intermission” during the early stages of the pandemic, parkrun returned to Breakwater Park in early 2021 and has gone relatively uninterrupted ever since.
As a community-oriented event, Collier said, parkruns are free and meant to be accessible to runners of all ages and abilities. “It’s completely for the community… All abilities are welcome. We have people who are super quick… and people who come just to walk,” he said, noting that participants are supportive of one another, with faster runners staying behind after finishing to encourage those still on the course.
According to the organizer, the events attract a wide range of participants: “Most of the people who come are obviously locals; we have a real core group of regulars… We’re seeing growth, we’re seeing families come out, and some older people come out. [We see people] from all genders and backgrounds, so we’re really, really happy about that.”
All someone needs to do to take part in one of the parkrun events is pre-register for free online. Once registered, runners receive a unique barcode, which acts as their key to the event. Along with the barcode comes access to the run’s official timing, which allows participants to track their progress from week to week.
“The volunteers at each event will time each run and then scan the barcode when each participant finishes. That’s how they get their time recorded. And it’s [also] published online every week, so that [parkrun] can record it,” said Collier.
Since starting out in 2019, Collier said the Saturday event has grown significantly: “This year, we’ve been growing consistently for about 12 months, which is the first full year we’ve been able to do so without any COVID interruptions. We’ve got a lot of momentum now: we’re seeing between 30 to 40 people coming out every single week to run or jog or walk.”
With parkruns taking place in countries throughout the world, Collier said some will use their barcode to track their progress across various courses around the globe.
“[Runners] can use the same barcode at any other parkrun in the world… We have [people] we call ‘parkrun tourists,’ who might go on holiday in England, for example, and seek out a parkrun close to where they are staying,” the organizer explained.
“Every week, we try to shout out anybody who might be a tourist, anybody who might be a first-timer, anybody who’s reached a milestone [such as] 25 runs or 50 runs.”
For those who aren’t interested in running or walking the course, parkruns rely on volunteers to make the events run smoothly, with various opportunities available every Saturday.
“The volunteer roles are very, very easy and require no training; any age can do them. We have a timekeeper, a barcode scanner, and a person who hands out the finisher tokens,” Collier said, adding that the most important volunteer position is what’s known as the “tail walker,” who completes the course and crosses the finish line once all other participants have finished their runs or walks.
“We always say that nobody finishes last at parkrun unless they want to. Our tail walker role is another way of making sure the event is accessible to all abilities.”
As well as the various volunteer roles, Collier credited Breakwater parkrun’s four run directors (Megan Clemens, Bob Minor, Kate Minor, and John Sadler), without whom the events would not be possible. “[Their] roles can involve delivering [instructions] before every single event, just to make sure people know the course,” he said.
This Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023, marks the 100th event for parkrun at Breakwater Park. According to Collier, organizers are expecting a record turnout for this weekend’s run.
“It’s our 100th event, and we’re trying to make it a record-breaking attendance, as well. We broke our record about a month ago when we got 45 people, but we’ve been constantly getting upwards of 35 people in the last few weeks. So we’re confident that we can [break the attendance record] this weekend.”
Registration and volunteer information is available on the Breakwater parkrun website. This Saturday’s event takes place at Breakwater Park (start/finish is near the intersection of King Street and Lower University Avenue) beginning at 9 a.m.