by Ebony Knox


AT 8am every Saturday in the towns of Inverloch, Koonwarra and Mirboo North, a congregation of people and some with loyal pooches would gather.

On the cooler mornings, these people would hide under their hoodies, huddle together, breathe warm air into their hands and rub their cold shoulders.

Through the warmer months, these people would bare their tanned shoulders and seek refuge under a shady tree. They were urged to stay hydrated, apply sunscreen and icy poles might have been offered.

This is what the global event of parkrun, a free, 5km, timed, walk, run or jog used to look like.

On March 18, parkrun Australia shared with us that the decision to suspend all parkrun events had been made and with immediate effect, not only for Australia but globally across the 20-plus other countries parkrun takes place.

So for the last six weeks, our local parkrun has taken on a new look.

As we adapt to being at home, teaching from home and working from home, we also adapt to parkrunning at home and with the absence of a physical coming together in these towns, the organisers of these parkuns are showing commitment to continuing the parkrun spirit.

Schools use Compass, businesses use Zoom, friends use House Party and parkrun uses Facebook.

At Koonwarra parkrun, event organisers post up a weekly challenge.

The first challenge was to describe Koonwarra parkrun using emojis. There was plenty of sweaty faces, smiley faces, running and walking emoji’s, high five hands, clapping hands, handshakes, love hearts, alarm clocks, coffee cups, children, trees, koalas, running shoes, ants, fairies, frogs and dogs.

Sharing photos of our Saturday morning equivalent was week two’s challenge. One user posted: “I did a 5km run at 8am in the pouring rain. It was fabulous.” Photos of home gym set-ups, cosy dogs on couches and pre-parkrun pancakes all received ‘likes’ – the new equivalent to an old parkrun cheer.

Week three and the memories came flooding back – literally. Run director Joel posted up photos of the morning parkrun had to be cancelled because the South Gippsland Highway underpass flooded.

People of parkrun made up many other memories, including our 90-year-old friend, who in a hurry to beat his previous parkrun record, fell and broke his thumb, couples celebrating milestones, family gatherings at parkrun, dress-up days, CPR workshops hosted by Ambulance Victoria, forgotten barcodes and one parkrunner remembering volunteering with “some bloke” who later became her partner!

New to the role of co-event directing with his wife Kelly, ‘sleepy’ Steve invited us to ‘visit’ another parkrun – virtually of course by visiting their Facebook page and making a comment that we have them in our thoughts. For some, this meant international travel, others it was continuing their drive to another nearby parkrun. And then there were the loyal, who didn’t stray too far from the finish line at Koonwarra.

In between the Saturday mornings, photos from Koonwarra residents ensure the course is not forgotten. The commencement of the Black Spur highway realignment is underway with earthworks and tree removals taking place, a new seat has been installed, there are fallen branches and wildlife are enjoying their quieter habitats.

At Inverloch parkrun, the lonely ‘stump’ was reacquainted with a familiar parkrun couple, Tony and his wife Jacqui. The live video might have sounded like an ordinary run brief except there were no volunteers to thank, no milestones to celebrate and thankfully no tourists to welcome.

While Inverloch parkrun was a no go, ‘Front Door parkruns’ became a thing, including Dalyston Bridge, Korumburra, Foster North, Wonthaggi and Grantville.

Over the Easter weekend, regulars and tourists alike were invited to share their favourite photos of their parkrun memories, with family playing a huge part.

Parkrun enthusiast Donna paid tribute to the famous ‘stump’ with a poem: “Hello tree stump, my old friend. We’ll come to run with you again. At the moment, we’re not allowed. To be here, in such a crowd.”

At Grand Ridge Rail Trail, Mirboo North, a confused three-year-old girl sits in a pram, and looks towards the empty track. Pippa is obviously disappointed. As is her mum Stacey, event director, and the driving force behind this parkrun.

Grand Ridge Rail Trail parkrun would have been looking forward to their first birthday celebrations. Instead they plan a different celebration. They share with their community, the profiles of volunteers who make this parkrun a welcoming place to be on a Saturday morning.

Included is Etsuko, who shares her time between the three local parkruns: Inverloch, Koonwarra and Grand Ridge Rail Trail. Etsuko was set to make her run directing debut at Grand Ridge Rail Trail parkrun.

We learn that community and exercise are the motivating factors for another parkrun volunteer, Darcey, and the clash between football umpiring and parkrun will be the only deterrent from his non-parkrun appearance.

A familiar story of being “dragged to parkrun” was how volunteer Elizabeth began her parkrun journey. Her journey then went on to participating at the Japan parkrun, Futakotamagawa, where she met up with other Gippsland parkrun friends.

Whether you’re a parkrunner, walker, or jogger or non-parkrunner, walker or jogger now, staying connected is more important than ever. Tony O’Connell’s message from the stump is “to say hi to people, spread the love and happiness, keep left when running, keep safe and we will return bigger and better than ever!”