Why Rocky's runners are racing to join the latest craze
RUNNING: It's the global running phenomenon that's taking Rockhampton by storm.
Every Saturday, competitors of all ages and abilities file into the city's Botanic Gardens to take part in the Rockhampton parkrun.
The atmosphere, like Rockhampton's summer, is warm and inviting. There are smiles and laughter, it's a wonderfully positive vibe.
It's a diverse mix but the colourful group is brought together by the common themes of community and participation.
They receive a cheery welcome from event director Craig McCormack before they set out on the 5km course that winds its way through the beautiful surrounds of the gardens.
The Rockhampton parkrun celebrates its first anniversary on March 18 but it achieved a major milestone a week ago when a record 303 runners took part.
The number of "finishers” sits just shy of 10,000. That translates to almost 50,000km which means collectively, they have run around Australia more than three times.
Craig is thrilled that the community has embraced parkrun. When he started planning the event he was anticipating fields of 120, optimistically 150.
To have well and truly exceeded that and to have now topped the 300 he says is "truly spectacular” but he can understand the event's growing popularity.
"It really is for everyone - it's just a matter of turning up and getting out of it what you want,” he said.
"There's a wide range of ages and fitness levels. People do run - we've got some who are doing the 5km in sub 20 minutes - but at the other end of the scale we've got people who walk and push prams and take about an hour.
"I think the appeal is very much a sense of belonging, a sense of safety, a sense of doing something personal but also being able to do it in a social atmosphere in a very attractive place.
"I always say that putting the sandshoes on is the hardest part because once you are there you just get swept away with the crowd and it's so rewarding.”
Craig says the majority of participants are females aged between 20 and 45, but in the juniors boys outnumber the girls.
He is keen to see the event grow and would like to see a steering committee formed to guide its future development but he is adamant the successful formula that exists now should not be changed.
"We'll always look for the opportunity to make it a little bit better but we also want to keep it simple.
"This is not meant to be an intimidating, difficult event. This is just about people doing something positive for themselves.
"What we've got right now is working very nicely and 300 is a spectacular number but the numbers aren't as important as the number of people who enjoy themselves.
"We're getting a 100% enjoyment strike rate and that's fantastic. That's exactly what we want and what this event is all about.”
For more information, visit the Rockhampton parkrun's Facebook page.
Figures from the Australia parkrun website
Number of events: 23,229
Number of runners: 295,108
Number of locations: 209
Total hours run: 176 years, 95 days, 17 hours, 9 minutes, 35 seconds
Total distance run: 14,681,085km