I expected a complicated process fraught with administrative hurdles, egos fighting for pole position and a steep learning curve in running terms and technology. But setting up Neckarau parkrun has been a smooth, fun and collaborative experience from start to finish.
The idea came to us whilst on the beach on vacation...
Parkrun was huge in the UK but it started just after we moved to Germany and there was nothing like it here. Running clubs felt a bit serious and commited. Running with mates was a bit too loose and easy to cancel.
So we got on touch with parkrun UK and asked if we could start one locally. Our timing was perfect. Germany was high priority and a small delegate from HQ including the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, soon after spent a week touring Germany to meeting prospective Event Directors and review course locations.
We all met for dinner at our propsed post-parkrun coffee spot. I suppose we were expecting to be interviewed to establish our credentials for setting up a parkrun, which would have been tough as we had only virtual experience of parkrun through friends and family in the UK. We assumed we would have to find a more experienced team to get approved.
But in fact they came to us gave us an enthusiastic and very personal presention about parkrun and all its benefits. Which is when we realised they were actually there to ‚sell it‘ to us, not the other way around!
We fessed up our inexperience and Global MD, Tom Williams said that was even more important... we hadn‘t experienced parkrun ourselves, yet we ‚got‘ the concept of it immediately. And that meant he knew we could convey it to others in Germany. We were in fact the idea candidates to launch one of the first parkruns in Germany. We were up and running!
The next morning we ran our proposed course together and in turn had quiet conversations along the route about what running outdoors, feeling a connection with nature and other people meant to us. A handful of parkrunners also turned up to join us on the run. Two were on vacation nearby and made an extra stop over to join us. Another two were parkrunners from the UK now living back near Mannheim, and have since become part of our core volunteer team.
That was the moment we knew this would work. People coming together on Saturday mornings, no matter what their ability, to walk, jog or run in a beautiful park and make connections.
The next steps were so smooth and seamless that its hard to now understand what we were so worried about.
David (our Event Director) was added to a slack group for German Event Directors to stay in communication with our country manager, Jakub Fedowicz. There is an entire process in place to start up a park run, which just needed to be adapted to a new country. So several members from all of the prospective new parkruns also helpes to create some of the core documentation in German too.
Building the Team
David‘s first job was to establish a core team of volunteers. From Run Directors (who take turns to be responsible for the weekly run) to marshalls, time keepers and barcode scanners. Jakub put us in touch with anyone who had been in touch with parkrun HQ expressing an interest in helping out and was local to us. News was already spreading that parkrun was coming to Germany via parkrun’s own weekly newsletter and social media, so there was some momentum gathering.
So this is probably the most important part - building the core team. parkrun stands on its volunteers and it cannot rely on just 1-2 people to put an event together week after week so HQ made sure we only started once we had enough people in place.
Building this team has been the most rewarding part - our team have quickly become good friends.
We’ve been lucky enough to have the Nidda (Frankfurt) crew as part of our team from the outset as they wanted to start their parkrun little later than us so that they could go through the start up process with us and we could all learn together. As a consequence we feel like we have a really close connection to our (currently) closest parkrun in Frankfurt and share a lot of resources. But of course we also lost some of our core volunteers once they started up - but luckily we have new ones joining regularly now.
We were also very fortunate to have a couple join us as run directors with a lot of parkrun experience. Martin and Svenja Beck had both been run directors at their local parkrun in Jells, Melbourne, Australia before moving back to Germany in October 2017. Their knowledge and enthusiasm was invaluable throughout the set up program. They took away our fear of the unknown and (also being native Germans) helped to reassure us about cultural elements that we were worried might need to be adapted to work here.
We all keep in touch throughout each week via our own slack channel which helps to reduce email traffic to zero.
We initially got together a list of 12 volunteers which was enough to get us the green light to get started! Check!
So then we needed to get approval from the city of Mannheim to use the park. We know from other event directors that this process does vary a bit from place to place, but it’s not quite as scary as it sounds.
After a couple of attempts to talk to the personal reponsible for sport and recreation, We were put in touch with the right person - the ranger who maintains the park.
He confirmed that as its an open public park, we could use it as long as we put up no permentant signs and it was a not-for-profit event. Check!
Next is a risk assessement to file with parkrun HQ. Identifying possible hazards along the course and potential reasons for cancellation of an event. In our case high winds causing falling trees or flooding from the Rhein and rain are the most likely hazards. Check!
A launch date was agreed between two other eds and the country manager.
Then the collateral needed to set up is ordered and sent up by HQ - volunteer vests, lanyards, signage, posts.
Website and Social Media
Our website and social media accounts (facebook and twitter) were launched and handed over to us for management about two weeks before launch. This is enough time to start promoting the first event and get used to the admin side of the website. We also added Instagram, Strava and MeetUp.com to our promotional channels and started pushing out posts and information on all.
We also spent time learning to use the parkrun system which manages the volunteer rotas and emails. It‘s a beautifully simple process and very easy to manage.
We aim to have our volunteers all sorted for the following Saturday by Tuesday and send out confirmation emails by Thursday.
We held a full tech test rehearsal three weeks before the launch. All of our volunteers came along and we recruited some friends and locals as runners.
We had a team dinner the night before to go over the final plans and calm nerves.
The test run started at 9am to simulate a real parkrun. The RD and FD set out the course signs around 7:30am and figured out quickly that they could have spent another 20mins in bed. Marshalls arrived at 8:15am ( since changed to 8:30) and were sent out to the positions we felt were most logical and then after the run briefing let our test runners loose on the course.
It was a really lovely event and went well. We got some useful feedback from the runners and made some notes to change a few signs for the inaugral event.
After the run we retired to our local cafe for breakfast and processed the results in the parkrun test system. It was really helpful to have Svenja and Martin’s experience when doing this for the first time, but it there is a good walk-through document to help.
And that was it! Dress rehearsal done! Check!
Build up to Launch
Once we had done the dress rehearsal we all felt so much more comfortable about the launch. So we really committed to spreading the word via social media, MeetUp.com and Strava.
We also wrote to some large local companies who shared the event with their employees, which was great.
We fielded lots of messages from parkrun tourists in the week before the launch so we knew we might have a few visitors.
Parkrun HQ sent over a team member to support our launch, which was brilliant. It was reassuring to have someone there to just hold our hand and answer any questions we had. I think mainly Jane just kept telling us we were going to be fine and that we had nothing to worry about.
We held a team dinner the night before launch to calm our nerves, and to toast our first event and celebrate our new friendships.
Throughout the entire pre-laumch Jakub was in constant touch with David to provide support, reassurance and answer any questions, no matter how small. We never felt alone.
There is little to say about the launch other than it was a storming success! We trusted the parkrun process wntirely and it really set us up to suceed.
We had lots of parkrun tourists come along which was so wonderful for our first event. The atmosphere in the cafe afterwards was pretty special.
Setting up Neckarau parkrun has been a really simple, fun and stress-free experience. If you are on the fence about starting a parkrun but have concerns about it being too difficult, too stressful and too much of a burden, then take it from us... it really isn‘t!
parkrun have a really great ‚turn key‘ system which will help get you up and running in no time. Everybody really does help each other out whenever needed so you never have to feel overwhelmed and on your own. We really have become a big extended family.
Just go for it - it will change your life and potentially hundred‘s of others too!