To call parkrun an institution would be an understatement. The free weekly 5k timed run that started in the UK in 2004 is now enjoyed by over a quarter of a million people globally every Saturday morning (global pandemics allowing).
We’re spoiled for choice for parkrun venues in the UK, each with fiercely loyal home runners and volunteers.
Courses come in all shapes and (in theory) one size, but here are ten of our favourite fast parkrun courses for those looking for a personal best.
A mecca for every parkrun fan, Bushy was not only the first ever parkrun venue in the world, it’s also home to the parkrun world record, an astonishing 13:48, run by Andy Baddeley. Bushy is a massive event that is managed impressively to allow runners to give this flat, one lap, multi-surface course a proper blast. Expect a couple of twists and turns, one short bridge, and the most impressive finish funnel you will ever see. Bushy is massive (attendance record 2,545) so take a moment when you finish to take it all in.
As the home of the female parkrun World record, you’d guess Cardiff has a lot to offer someone in pursuit of a PB. Cardiff is run as an out and back on the Taff Trail, a pancake-flat run that has the benefit of being suitable for all weather as it’s completely on tarmac and feels sheltered from the elements for much of the course. While it often gets massive numbers (attendance is regularly over 1000) you’re guaranteed the chance to pace yourself to a PB.
Pitchcroft was Worcester’s second addition to the parkrun map, with the nearby Worcester woods parkrun a busy and popular event established in 2011. What Pitchcroft offers in contrast to Worcester woods is a wide start and a flat two-lap course, giving runners the chance to stretch their legs around Worcester racecourse. It’s a buzzing, friendly parkrun mixing tarmac, trail, and a fabulous grass finish. Pitchcroft’s only downfall is that it’s often at the mercy of flooding from the nearby River Severn so check the event pages before you travel.
Walsall has an obvious charm, promising fast times over a flat, picturesque course. The on-site cafe is pretty good too! We love the long flat stretches and wide turns that take runners on a three-lap tour of the park and around the lake. The great marshaling at Walsall makes it easier for faster runners as they make their way around the run, with a very slight downhill into the finish.
Fans of out and back courses assemble! Bakewell is one of a few parkrun courses on our list without laps. Line up at a wide start and it’s a straight out and back along the Monsal Trail. There’s a very gentle uphill and a sharp turn before you head back on a straight blast back to where you started. It’s not a technical trail, but it’s best run on a dry day for perfect fast conditions. We love that this parkrun has running marshals to keep everyone to the correct side. And yes, you can get Bakewell tart to reward yourself at the cafe when you finish.
Heslington has heaps of charm including an open, flat road surface. There’s a long straight out and back section to help you settle into a great position before a fabulous two-lap smash around the York sport village cycle circuit. Heslington gets a lower turnout than its neighbours at York parkrun as you’re only likely to get to it by car or bus. But if you can get there, we found nothing at Heslington that would stand between you and your fastest time.
It could be the inspiring views of the London Olympics site that make this parkrun an ever-present in the fast parkrun times every week. The nature of the Hackney Marshes course comprising two fast, flat out and back sections is likely to inspire healthy competition too as you keep an eye on your competitors as well as your watch. There’s a short dirt path stretch by the river but the majority is run on tarmac, so if you’re a fan of mixed surface running this could be the one for you.
Dulwich takes place entirely on and around the tarmac paths of Dulwich park meaning even the fastest of first-timers will have little opportunity to get lost. Dulwich offers a gorgeous tree-lined run which has been a popular choice with PB chasers since it started in 2012. parkrun stats fans will note how close Alex Yee’s course record (13:57) comes to the parkrun World record. It’s a super-fast three-lap run with plenty of healthy competition at the front, so pace yourself properly and PB glory is guaranteed.
If you like your parkruns on the quirky side, Eden Project is the one for you. Running entirely inside the Eden Project’s biomes, you will zig zag your way around clockwise and anti-clockwise laps of this super-fast 5K. It’s run entirely on paths that are thankfully brilliantly marshaled by ever enthusiastic volunteers to keep you on the right course. We love that the course record here is held by Kenyan elite Bernard Rotich.
Blyth Links on the North East coast of England is a relatively new kid on the block, starting in April 2019. It’s already proving a firm favourite with those hunting a PB, and it has all the factors to contribute to that if you can catch it on a day that’s not too windy! Fly around two and a half laps of the paths, park, and promenade and enjoy something of a freewheeling feel just before you turn to finish on the final stretch by the beach huts. Blyth Links is a well-managed course with plenty of room to overtake and truly put your foot down.