There are nearly half a dozen free, timed parkruns every Saturday in the Washington area.
But there was something special about one recent parkrun — complete with cookies, cupcakes, a balloon with “100” on it and a poster that said “Go Stefania.”
Stefania Falconer, 12, recalled those things about her recent milestone-hitting 5K. The D.C. resident became the first United States parkrun participant under the age of 18 to complete 100 parkruns this April. For the occasion, she wore a parkrun milestone shirt with a “10” on the back for completing 10 parkruns with an extra “0” added to make “100.”
“It was a big deal,” said Stefania’s dad, Andres Falconer, event director for the Fletcher’s Cove parkrun, of her accomplishment.
Andres said he thought Stefania might be the first child to hit the milestone in the United States, and he was able to look up the data to confirm this. The first parkrun was held in the United Kingdom in 2004, and the first U.S. parkrun was in 2012, according to the parkrun website.
Fletcher’s Cove parkrun had its inaugural run Jan. 9, 2016.
Andres lived in London for five years and saw parkrun happening at a park where he ran, he said. He decided to check it out.
“I was hooked instantly and immediately wanted to take parkrun with me wherever I went,” Andres said.
Now, there are parkruns held Saturday mornings at Fletcher’s Cove, Roosevelt Island D.C., Anacostia, College Park and Kensington, each followed by a gathering at a nearby café.
Although parkruns are timed, people aren’t always trying to run as fast as they possibly can.
“I would describe it as a run, not a race,” said Stefania, who is in sixth grade at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens.
When she first started, she would run for a minute and walk for a minute, she said. It’s more fun now, she said, and she was excited about her recent accomplishment.
“It’s always so much fun to run and hang out with all the people there, and sometimes I don’t just run by myself; I run with one of the kids there or a dog, and usually I run with my parents,” she said.
Sometimes for special occasions, like her 100th parkrun, she will try to go for a personal record, which is around 26 or 27 minutes for her, she said.
Andres said participants under 18 get milestone T-shirts for their 10th parkrun, and all parkrunners get shirts to commemorate their 50th, 100th, 250th and 500th parkruns. Fletcher’s Cove has hosted 172 parkruns, according to the parkrun website, which has plenty of data listed about each site.
In addition to the runs she has done at Fletcher’s Cove, Stefania said she has also completed parkruns in Poland, Roosevelt Island, Anacostia, College Park, Kensington and West Virginia.
Fletcher’s Cove parkrun has had anywhere from eight or nine participants in bad weather to a max of 167 during an event with the South African Embassy, Andres said. The Fletcher’s Cove parkrun also held an event with the Irish Embassy and Irish community, he said. Mayor Muriel Bowser has participated at Fletcher’s Cove twice.
Parkrun relies on volunteers, and Stefania has also served in that role. She said positions include run director, who gives a speech before the run; tail walker, who is the last to cross the finish line; a timer; a token giver — tokens are used as part of timing; and a scanner. Each runner uses a unique parkrun barcode.
Then, people process the results at the café where people gather after the run, Andres said.
People who might be considering trying parkrun don’t have to worry about being the fastest, Stefania said.
“When you come out, you’re going to have a lot of friends and you get better as you keep going,” Stefania said.
Andres said he and his wife have been running with Stefania since she was about 8. Parkrun gives her a fun way to run recreationally, rather than compete in cross country or track — which would take away from her love of dance, Andres wrote in an email. Stefania is currently injured, but she plans to return to parkrun once she gets past that.
He hopes more people will join the parkrun community, whether they are running or walking.
“Stefania may have been the first under-18 parkrunner to reach 100 runs, but there are many more kids hot on her heels, as parents find that parkrun is an enjoyable activity that families can do together, instead of just driving kids around and cheering from the bleachers,” Andres wrote in an email.