With 413 finishes under his belt, Darren Wood has completed more parkruns than anyone else in the world. To put this into perspective, Darren has notched up more runs than the 384,714 others who have taken part in the weekly, 5k event that first began nine years ago.
Just as these figures capture the full extent of Darren's achievement, it also lays bare the phenomenon that is parkrun. Founded by Paul Simon-Hewitt, Bushy parkrun - then known as Bushy Park Time Trial - attracted just 13 competitors on its first staging on 2 October, 2004.
Darren, somewhat surprisingly, didn't take part in the opening event in Bushy, fearing that it would be an event solely for 'fast guys'. His first outing occurred the following week, in which he finished ninth out of the 14 runners who took part.
Fast forward nine years and the name Time Trial is firmly old news, dropped for the more user-friendly parkrun (lower case sensitive); a name change that underpins the egalitarian, inclusive and non-competitive ethos of the weekly 5k. Bushy, now 476 events in, regularly attracts 1000 runners, while parkrun has now spread to 290 locations across the world.
For Darren, whose local event is now Frimley Lodge in Surrey, parkrun's progress has been an intriguing spectacle to behold: "I feel privileged in a way to see the way it has developed over the past nine years. Not just the popularity it now has, but the fact it has motivated so many people to become involved in running."
Just as it is essential to encourage more people to become active, Darren feels parkrun also serves as an important vehicle for social inclusion: "When you think about parkrun as an entity it's remarkable; a free, well-organised, weekly run that brings the whole community together. When you go to any event, it is all about encouraging each other, whether it is your first run or you're chasing a PB."
This community-led focus has been reflected in parkrun's Join In initiative, a project that has aimed to promote and recognise the contribution volunteers make to their local community. The campaign is currently in the third week and parkrun has set a different volunteering challenge for every runner until 9 September. This coming weekend, parkrun organisers have invited female runners to lend a helping hand.
To ensure parkrun remains a self-sustainable model that is free of charge, Darren feels it is essential that runners make a contribution to their local event. Each week, Darren precedes his run at Frimley Park by setting out the kilometre markers before taking them down and acting as 'sweeper' to the remaining runners in the field.
To maintain such a remarkable attendance record, we suggest that even as a committed runner, Darren must have had to make some sacrifices to notch up 413 runs: "When I first moved to Hampshire there wasn't an event nearby, so I made the 25-mile trip to Bushy every weekend. Looking back, I missed about 6-8 weeks due to a foot injury, missed one because I overslept and took a week off for a honeymoon, which I suppose is allowed."
In recognition of making 50, 100 or 250 appearances at the events, parkrunners are awarded a special t-shirt. As the first runner to hit 250, Darren was presented his by current London marathon race director Hugh Brasher. As it stands, no T-shirt has been allocated for runners joining the 500 club. With less than 100 runs to go, you get the feeling that Darren might be the first to reach that landmark.
The top picture in this article is courtesy of David Rowe Photography.