PARKRUN returned to War Memorial Park this morning, much to the delight of more than 300 participants and 40 volunteers.

The free, weekly, timed 5K event has seen some changes to allow it to begin again after more than a year of cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But runners were in high spirits at the starting line, after waiting months to rejoin the community.

Friends Jonny Dean, 26, from Sherborne St John and Fin Thompson, 32 from Kempshott were glad to be back to improve fitness.

“Not feeling too fresh!” joked Fin, adding: “But I’ve got to bolster some fitness because I play football and things.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Jonny Dean and Fin ThompsonJonny Dean and Fin Thompson

Tina Larcombe, 49, said she had been “immensely” looking forward to the return.

She has been doing the non-park run substitute during lockdown and said: “That’s really kept me going, I don’t think I would have gone out running otherwise.”

Carol Harris, 70, added: “I have got a treadmill at home and try and do a mile a day, but it’s not the same when you’re looking at a wall!

“Everybody is very friendly and I meet people I didn’t know before.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Carol Harris and Tina LarcombeCarol Harris and Tina Larcombe

Meanwhile , Alison Jones, 57, said: “I’m really excited, my stomach is turning with the anticipation!”

Paul Humphreys, 34, of Up & Running shop on Winchester Street said he always used to come on Saturdays when he wasn’t working at the shop, and added: “This is a social one, it’s fun!”

Basingstoke Gazette: Alison Jones and Paul HumphreysAlison Jones and Paul Humphreys

Spotted among the crowd was the High Sheriff of Hampshire, Phillip Sykes.

He said he was “hugely” looking forward to the run, adding: “I’ve been really looking forward to it. It’s a real community and it’s the fact that you do not have to be that fit to join in.”

Basingstoke Gazette: High Sheriff Phillip SykesHigh Sheriff Phillip Sykes

The grand restart was attended by the Mayor of Basingstoke, Cllr Onnalee Cubitt.

“It’s so important that we are able to restart, it’s so brilliant to see so many people turning up,” she said.

The Mayor added: “In view of the fact Basingstoke in particular has a big problem with obesity, with one of the worst rates in Hampshire, anything which encourages fitness and health is very important.

Cllr Cubitt was particularly pleased to spot one runner, Carol Wadeson, who is part of the community nursing team at Basingstoke hospital who supported her daughter through cancer treatment.

“It’s so good to be back,” said Carol. “I woke up this morning really excited.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Mayor of Basingstoke Cllr Cubitt with Carol WadesonMayor of Basingstoke Cllr Cubitt with Carol Wadeson

Finishing in first place, on his 100th parkrun, was 17-year-old Cameron Coveney, who recently finished studying at Queen Mary’s College (QMC).

He ran an impressive time of 16 minutes and 28 seconds on the course which is, for now, a slightly longer 5.2km distance.

“It’s just great to be back with all these people,” he said. “Over lockdown it was really hard to get out the front door.”

As the runners made their way around the park, one volunteer, Barbara West from Alton, said: “It’s just a great atmosphere. It’s all so friendly. When I first started marshalling it almost reduced me to tears because the runners thanked the marshalls!”

Basingstoke Gazette: Parkrun will return next Saturday at 9am.Parkrun will return next Saturday at 9am.

As the run began to draw to a close, event director Avi Govind said: “It’s good to be back in the park again. You see the spirit of everybody, there’s the relief and happiness.

“We still have work to do with the results, and then it’s straight on to getting ready for next week!”