ENGLAND (Reuters Life!) - When a lone member of a northern English running club recently suggested a boycott of the burgeoning parkrun movement because of its negative impact on clubs it sparked an astonishing backlash.
The letters pages and forums of running and athletics magazines and websites were swamped with comments from people of every ability praising parkrun.
"It was amazing the number of people who spoke out saying it was absolute nonsense and that they understood we were supporting running clubs," parkrun founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt told Reuters in an interview.
"We were getting club secretaries saying many of their runners were at our events and that they were attracting new people to the club who ran for the first time in a parkrun and would previously never have thought of joining a club.
"Once people experience it and understand that it is a community event run by volunteers for people who have never run before and for people who have run thousands of races they realize it is a positive thing for clubs and the whole sport."
It is all a long way from when Sinton-Hewitt set up a small-scale regular 5km run with some friends at Bushy Park in southwest London in 2004.
A second run opened in nearby Wimbledon in 2007 and now there are almost 40 events around Britain and two in Denmark.
In the last few weeks important tie-ins with UK Athletics and the London Marathon have given the movement another shot in the arm as Sinton-Hewitt and his army of volunteers continue their push to have an event in every town in the country.
The concept is simplicity itself. Anyone interested registers once on the website (www.parkrun.com), is allocated a printable barcode and is then good to go at any of the 5km events, all held on parkland and all free. They start at 9am every Saturday morning, 52 weeks a year.
On completion each runner's barcode is recorded and results are emailed out later in the day, with details of all previous results and historical data available on the website.