Emotions running high as parkrun organiser reaches finish line
by Andy Tong | 22nd May 2019
THE Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun celebrated its 250th edition on Saturday [May 18], covering 218,820km since it was set up by Joe Watts in 2014.
Joe has now decided to stand down as event director of the weekly 5km run in Dunorlan Park.
Now 35, he was inspired to take up running after the London Olympics in 2012. He took part in Orpington’s parkrun to start with, then turned up for the inaugural event in Tonbridge.
He joined Tonbridge Athletic Club to work on his distances, then volunteered to get the RTW version up and running – the first was on April 26, 2014.
“My main aim in setting up the event was to ins-pire others to get involved in running, the same way in which I was inspired by London 2012,” he said.
Although parkrun is non-competitive, it’s a timed run with participants trying to achieve personal bests. Joe’s PB for the RTW parkrun was 18min 35sec in July 2017 – though his all-time best was 18.06 in Hastings.
Exactly 100 athletes set new marks in his last race on March 30, when a record 331 runners gathered to thank him for his services.
The social aspect is an important part of parkrun, and Joe explained: “The greatest satisfaction is getting to meet and volunteer with other individuals from a variety of different backgrounds who, without parkrun, I would never have had the pleasure of engaging with.”
The role has also had knock-on benefits in his professional life. He said: “I have learned a lot from my time as event director, and feel that the role has allowed me to grow as a person and apply my knowledge, experience and leadership skills to my employed role.”
Joe works as a VAT consultant for Berthold & Bauer in Edenbridge – and has now qualified as a personal trainer, too.
‘The location is great, it’s so tranquil. You wouldn’t think there is a busy, bustling town centre less than a mile away’
Having seen how many people want to take up running, he has also started his own group in Southborough called RTW Runners rtwrunners.co.uk
With organisations of all types struggling to rec-ruit volunteers, parkrun has been a remarkable success story both locally and across the country.
An average of 175 runners take part each weekend, with up to 30 people giving up their Saturday mornings to act as marshals and perform other roles.
“I think it’s been so successful because it is so accessible to all ages and abilities,” said Joe. “The fact that anyone from any background can participate and volunteer in the event at no cost is a huge positive.
“I’m sure this is one of the main reasons why park-run has grown so quickly over its short tenure.”
Dunorlan is an iconic venue for parkrun with its stunning backdrop, while still being close to the town centre.
“I like how it changes through the seasons, and how no two consecutive weeks are ever the same in terms of weather conditions and how the park looks,” said Joe.
“Also, the location of the park is great – it’s near the middle of Tunbridge Wells but is so tranquil – you wouldn’t think that there is a busy, bustling town centre less than a mile away.”
Joe has competed in parkruns all over the UK, but lists his favourite as Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall – ‘it’s one of the hilliest available but it’s set in such a beautiful location’.
Internationally, he enjoyed Crissy Field in San Francisco, ‘which has the Golden Gate bridge for a backdrop on the way out and Alcatraz in the distance on the return leg’. He adds: “It’s also one of the flattest courses that I have run!”
Joe has decided to step down because of extra commitments he has taken on. He said: “I feel that now is the right time for someone else to take on the role to breathe new life into the event and continue to take it forward.”
Running totals: Royal Tunbridge Wells parkrun reaches 250
Total number of runners: 6,878
Number of runs: 44,076
Number of first finishers: 215
Number of clubs: 467
Number of personal bests: 7,535
Average number of runners per week: 176.3
Average number of runs per runner: 6.4
Biggest attendance: 387
Average run time: 29min 17sec
Total time run: 2 years 166 days 18hrs 43min 14sec
Total distance run: 220,380km
Female record-holder: Nicole Taylor 17min 48sec July 21 2018
Male record-holder: William Levett 16min 12sec April 8 2017
Age graded record-holder: Cath Wheeler 86.98% 21min 23sec, Sept 15 2018)
Age grading takes your time and uses the world record time for your gender and age to produce a percentage score.
This allows runners to compare their personal performance against other people of a different age and gender.