A POPULAR running event is set to return to Basingstoke this weekend, after more than a year of cancellation due to the pandemic.

Parkrun is a free, weekly 5k running event held in more than 2,000 locations in 22 countries across the world.

The Basingstoke event is held at War Memorial Park every Saturday at 9am, but due to gathering restrictions it has been unable to go ahead since March 14 2020.

But the wait is over, as the event will return to the town on Saturday, July 24, along with many parkruns in England which have been given the go-ahead to restart in line with government easing of restrictions.

Speaking to the Gazette, event director Avi Govind said: “It’s been a long wait and there’s been some false starts. There’s pent-up demand so we should get a good turnout."

However, he added: “The flip-side of that is there will be some nervousness from people.”

Avi said that the parkrun is very much about being a community.

He said: “It’s not just about the running. It’s about people meeting people they might not see otherwise, about people volunteering and giving back to their community, people getting into running as well as the faster runners.

“My mum walks every week pretty much! People from all ages take part, from four years old, to people in their 80s.”

Talking about what it's been like for the Basingstoke team of seven core volunteers through the pandemic, he continued: “To start with it was a lot to do with the uncertainty. As we moved into further lockdowns, people accepted that parkrun wasn't going to be back for a while. We were encouraging people to not go to the park at 9am on a Saturday.

“Over the past few months there has been a wave of keenness and positivity and the overwhelming feeling of wanting to be back together as one community.”

Avi says he expects a real mix of abilities as the event begins again.

“Another challenge has been keeping people engaged,” he said.

“A lot of people have taken up running or fitness activities during lockdown which is great, but a lot have also lapsed because they haven’t had that feeling of community that they would otherwise have. So it’s that balance. What we have tried to do is keep posting community articles and we have people starting their own, virtual parkruns.

“I think as we come back as well it will be about respecting everybody’s wants and needs. There will be some people who want to hug everybody, and some people who are not keen to be around lots of people.”

To ensure optimum safety, the team has made some modifications to the course, including having shorter briefings, a narrower starting line, and an app-based timing system.

Avi said: “There are some modifications to ensure people hopefully feel safe. The core team is representative of a wide cross section of abilities and attitudes towards running. We can’t please everyone all of the time, but we try to take everybody’s views on board and put on an event that is as safe as possible.”

Pre-pandemic, the event could see up to 600 people, but Avi says it’s difficult to tell what numbers to expect in the coming weeks, as some there will be both increase in demand due to the long wait and other events not being on, but also some people won’t be ready to return, as well as cadence due to holiday season.

However, based on Junior Parkrun, which was able to restart earlier this year, Avi says they are expecting there to be high but not record numbers.

He added: “We have had a lot of support from the council and their events team. We have seen stories of some councils and land-owners not giving that same support, but they have been excellent with communicating and ultimately giving us the permission we need. ”

If you have any questions, and to access information and updates on the event, visit: https://www.facebook.com/basingstokeparkrun/ or www.parkrun.org.uk/basingstoke