Simon Doyle: How I was bitten by the parkrun bug
IN summer 2013, I went to Belfast Victoria parkrun for the first time.
I was told about it by someone I bumped into while walking my dog.
I was overweight and needed some exercise. Well, more exercise. Walking the dog wasn't enough to combat the amount of junk food being put away.
It was the "you can run with your dog, and it's timed" bit that swung it. I always liked the idea of times, beating times and beating them again.
Sure enough, that morning there were runners with dogs, parents with buggies and families lining up alongside serious looking short shorts-wearing athletes.
Gerry Ward was the first person I ever spoke to at parkrun. In his late seventies, Gerry is a permanent fixture at Victoria Park having volunteered more than 200 times. He gave me a quick explanation.
You register online, just once, and receive a personal barcode, which is your passport to any parkrun around the world - Ireland, Denmark, Russia, New Zealand, wherever they happen to be.
You only need this barcode at the end of each run. As you cross the line, the timer clicks the stopwatch, you are handed a position token, you get this and your own barcode scanned, everything is uploaded onto a computer and a few hours later you get your time emailed.
After a few weeks, I discovered other elements such as milestone t-shirts for those who complete 50,100 or 250 runs and the annual points table, with prizes at the end of the each year.
Eyebrows were raised when I said I planned to get up early one Saturday and drive to Tymon in Dublin, close to where I once lived.
Upon arrival I saw familiar faces from Belfast and was told about parkrun tourism. I have since been to places in Ireland I probably would never have visited - Bere Island in west Cork, Vicarstown in Laois, Killaloe in Co Clare.
Today I mix running with volunteering, mainly as part of the core team at Stormont. On Jan 1, we welcomed more than 500 runners to Stormont, a Northern Ireland record.
There was a fantastic atmosphere that morning, with runners in good spirits. Then again, it's like that every week.
:: For more information visit www.parkrun.org.uk or www.parkrun.ie.