Eagan Parkrun: Free Weekly 5Ks with a Bonus of Community
While running is known as a low-cost sport, we all know it’s easy for the costs to rack up with race fees, running plans, new gear and travel expenses. However, the goal of Eagan parkrun is to keep running free, in the form of a free weekly timed 5k every Saturday morning. The weekly parkrun 5K is part race, part running community and fully welcoming.
What is Parkrun?
The international parkrun organization was founded in 2004 in the United Kingdom, offering a free weekly timed 5K run to any and all interested runners and walkers. The well-received concept quickly spread, and today runners can participate in parkrun in more than 15 countries and 1110 cities. Since launching in the United States in Michigan in 2012, parkrun has expanded to 8 additional cities, including their new Twin Cities location in 2017.
Meet Eagan Parkrun
After participating in parkrun in Europe while working and traveling abroad, Nate Damro knew he had to bring the concept back to Eagan. After months of planning, searching for a site and making sure the chapter had the proper parkrun gear to measure and time the race, Eagan celebrated their inaugural parkrun on Saturday, April 22nd, 2017 with 47 runners.
In late August, I attended their 18th parkrun to meet Nate and get a feel for the weekly event and parkrun community. An impressive 72 runners and 11 volunteers showed up on a beautiful summer morning, eager to run the 5k course through Eagan’s Thomas Lake Park.
The parkrun community is friendly and welcoming, and as soon as I arrived at the adjacent Thomas Lake Elementary School parking lot, other runners and volunteers came up to introduce themselves, ask if I had any questions and (probably) learn why I was wearing jeans instead of running attire. I could tell immediately that this community was inclusive, genuinely interested in meeting new runners and making sure that all newcomers and regular attendees felt like valued members of parkrun. Nate and his wife Melissa both went out of their way to mingle with the crowd, introduce runners to each other and make sure the volunteers were organized.
Each week there’s a meeting at the start line for first-time attendees at 8:50 am, ten minutes before the 5k begins, when participants are briefed on the course and the rules. (Kids under 11 must be with an adult at all times, for example.) The course loops twice through a scenic paved trail at Thomas Lake Park, with a taste of rolling hills lined by prairie, wildflowers, and water, with plenty of signs and volunteers to help runners navigate the route. Whether you’ll be head-down and focused on the smooth pavement ahead or taking in the landscape on a relaxing run, it’s a great location to soak in a morning run.
Following the new attendee meeting, there’s a group meeting for all runners with reminders, a monthly award, and any other community updates. The race director will ask if there are any visitors and new attendees and welcome anyone who he may have met ahead of time.
At Parkrun #18, there were families with running strollers, kids running with parents, parents trying to keep up with their high school runners, competitive runners shooting for PRs and walkers enjoying the camaraderie and beautiful morning.
A few runners were from Australia, England, and South Africa, all of whom had participated in parkrun abroad and were glad to see the organization make roots in Minnesota.
Before the race, I met Amit, who was attending what he estimated to be his seventh parkrun and although he claimed he was “not a runner,” his summer sprint triathlons and dedication to parkrun proved otherwise. After the race, I met Josie and her sons George (9) and Jack (11), who are training for a half marathon this fall and enjoy coming to parkrun when schedules allow.
Twin Cities Track Club’s Ethan Gentemen was the overall winner in 18:31 as a first timer, while 11-year-old Daisy Islas claimed the female crown in an impressive 20:30. Whether kids or seniors, first place or last, running hard or enjoying an easy day, the Eagan parkrun community was enthusiastic about running together.
The Future of Eagan Parkrun
Nate said the goal of parkrun in Eagan is to raise awareness about health and fitness and bring the community together. It doesn’t aim to compete with local running clubs but to complement them by promoting the sport of running.
“I hope, and we have seen at other parkruns, that as people attend a parkrun, many will take interest in deeper involvement in running, possibly through a run club or other paid races,” he explained.
The City of Eagan plows the trail through the winter, and Nate promises as long as trail conditions are safe, parkrun will celebrate every Saturday at 9 am.
Attend the Next Parkrun
To participate in a parkrun, runners are encouraged to sign up online, a one-time step to get your name in the system and assign you a barcode, which you’ll print and bring each week so your results can be assigned and logged. For more information on the organization, course, and community, visit the Eagan parkrun website.