What inspires more than 260 people to exercise in Callendar Park on a freezing day in January?
The weekly 5km Falkirk park run.
The race, held every Saturday morning at Callendar Park, saw its biggest ever turnout earlier this month with 264 runners crossing the finishing line – despite freezing temperatures.
Event co-ordinator Graeme Lawson said there is a surge in participants every January, as people try to stick to their resolutions to get fitter.
Graeme (47), who works in IT with The Royal Bank of Scotland, said: “We have seen a rise in the number of runners at the start of each year, but I’m surprised by the numbers we’ve experienced this time.
“When we started parkrun, we wondered if there would even be enough interest to justify running the event - but it’s been more successful than we ever thought possible.”
The first parkrun was held 10 years ago in London and quickly snowballed. Now there are 237 events each week all over the UK, with 12 held in Scotland every Saturday and over 400,000 registered runners.
It’s free to take part – participants just need to register and print off a barcode from the website before running – and is organised by volunteers.
The first Falkirk parkrun was held in July 2011 after Graeme and Karen Kilpatrick, who were both regulars at the Edinburgh event, decided to bring the event closer to home.
Starting in front of Callendar House, the route heads around the lake, into Callendar Woods and ends back at the house.
It includes ‘Cardiac Hill’ – a sharp incline at the side of the golf course which tests runners’ endurance while the course has been measured by professionals to ensure accurate timings.
Karen (45) from Armadale said: “We were running in Edinburgh and volunteering at the event as well but it was quite a drive.
“We started looking at bringing it closer and, after about a year, we were given the go ahead at Callendar Park.
“It is a fabulous location, the route takes in lovely views which change with the seasons.”
Kenny Gray (38), from Falkirk took part in the first parkrun at Callendar Park and has been a regular ever since.
Going from a fun runner with a time of 28 minutes, Kenny has got his time down to 19:56 and picked up a coveted Club 100 t-shirt - given to members who complete 100 parkruns.
Kenny, who works in financial services, said: “I’ve run parkruns all over the country, but Falkirk is by far my favourite route.
“The scenery is beautiful and the runners and volunteers are really welcoming.
“My fitness has greatly improved since first coming along. I used to have to walk up cardiac hill and found just completing the 5km a struggle but now I’ve broken the 20-minute barrier.
“I’d recommend coming along to anyone. You don’t need to be a serious runner and everyone is welcome – there is a real family atmosphere with kids and dogs taking part too.”
As the event is free and run by volunteers, all regular runners are expected to give some time back to help keep parkrun going.
Marshalls are stationed throughout the course to provide help and encouragement and, at the finish line, volunteers check times and the barcode scanner.
Graeme said: “We’ve been really lucky in that it’s not been a problem to fill the volunteer spaces.
“Everyone tends to muck in and those who are injured will opt to volunteer since they can’t run.”
Home care manager Lesley McGuire from Denny is one of Falkirk parkrun’s top volunteers.
The 53-year-old started running after beating bowel cancer in 2009 and has completed marathons as well as 85 parkruns.
Lesley said: “I think parkrun is wonderful, it’s for absolutely everyone - from a serious runner trying to get a personal best time to someone just starting to run.
“I was injured for quite a while so I volunteered most of those weeks so I could still be involved.
“I absolutely love Falkirk parkrun. It’s free, can help improve your fitness and you don’t need to worry about being last to finish - the tail runner’s job is to finish last and make sure everyone has got round safely.
“There is a lovely atmosphere, with lots of families taking part and spectating. The last runner to cross the finish line gets just as big a cheer as the first.”
The Mitchell family – Blair (39), Laura (31), St Patrick’s Primary pupil Olivia (8), Thomas (2) and three-month-old Isabella – from Reddingmuirhead take part in the parkrun most weeks.
Blair got into running last year and following the birth of the youngest Mitchell, the whole family got involved.
Now Blair pushes the double buggy with Isabella and Thomas inside while Olivia and Laura run alongside.
Blair said: “I started running last year and, when I heard about parkrun, I decided to get the whole family involved. It’s a great thing to do as a family, and pushing the pram up hill gives me a good workout too.”
Speedy Olivia zips around the route in 30 minutes and now runs cross country with her school while super mum Laura started running when Isabella was just eight weeks old.
Laura said: “I thought it would be a good way to get fit after having a baby and, since coming to parkrun, I’ve got six minutes off my time.
“We really enjoy getting outdoors and doing something together.
“It’s a nice way to get the kids into sport and they love coming to Callendar Park and taking part.”