Simon Doyle: No bar to participation at prison parkrun

Irish News journalist Simon Doyle joins staff and prisoners on the run. Picture by Lorcan Doherty

ON my parkrun travels over the last four years I have witnessed some stunning scenery around Ireland.

Among them, the breathtaking views of the Atlantic from Bere island in west Cork, the beautiful east strand in Portrush and the woodland trails at Stormont estate.

Magilligan prison, the north's newest parkrun event, has more concrete, barbed wire and prefab huts than any other course - but it nevertheless feels like a typical parkrun.

For an hour or so on Saturday it captured the parkrun ethos of community perfectly - inmates and staff running side by side, smiling, encouraging, and with a bit of friendly competition too.

Event director Colin Rice and governor Gary Milling are enthusiastic, delighted to have got it up and running but already looking at how to improve it.

The first 5k test event involved 19 laps around a football pitch. The `live' event on Saturday was six laps of an area at the heart of the prison - lined by Nissen huts dating back to internment. Visitors must go through three massive security gates to reach the course which is surrounded by at least two massive walls.

As the event grows, Mr Milling says he would like to develop an area in the open part of the prison, adding a trail path, to make give this unusual parkrun a more park feel.

Like any parkrun there is a social side, and all those involved, runners and volunteers chat and share a coffee afterwards. Some prisoners were already looking forward to next Saturday frustrated that they "could have gone faster".

A group from Hydebank Wood College travelled in the morning to take part. Chatting to some on the way around the course, and afterwards, it was clear they were enjoying the run - some more than others - but all eager to give it another go. It was generally the same attitude among those at Magilligan.

Exercise in the fresh air and the chance to experience the global parkrun phenomenon.

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