WORDS: Mike Gregson

PICTURES: Dave Hitchen and Ali McArthur

BOLTON parkrun has become an institution in the town in the last seven years.

The weekly, free, organised 5k run around the track, trails and paths of Leverhulme Park regularly attracts around 300 people.

Its appeal is it is not like typical running events in that many of those who take part would not consider themselves to be runners.

People of all ages, shapes and sizes enjoy making their way around the Bolton park, whether it is running or walking, and the emphasis is on enjoying the experience.

There are club runners who use it as part of their training programme as well as those who run for exercise or just because they like it.

But there are also plenty of people who get themselves down and round the park every Saturday to get themselves a little fitter, or just to enjoy the positive, encouraging atmosphere.

It has become an established community event in Bolton since its first staging in February, 2011, and here co-event director of Bolton parkrun, MIKE GREGSON, recalls a year in the life of the event.

WHAT a year 2017 was for Bolton parkrun – 3,025 different runners completed 15,394 runs covering 47,721 miles – or almost twice around the Earth. All this supported by a team of 326 volunteers.

Along the way a number of records were broken too, with the 400 mark being smashed three times in the year and the new highest attendance of 448 runners being set.

For the first time ever the event also had more than 50 volunteers at an event and the course record was smashed with a sub-16-minute run.

A huge 2,285 new personal-best times were set and there were 1,535 people who tried the Bolton event for the first time.


The year started with the usual New Year’s Day event, also coincidentally Bolton’s 300th, before January’s schedule was hit by the weather and we had to implement an alternate route during the work on Cruella.

A total of 73 runners tried Bolton for the first time in January with 12 still looking to complete the difficult second appearance. A first timer was also the first lady home in January with Lindsey Brindley of Horwich RMI Harriers also taking the accolade of first lady on all her four visits to Bolton this year.


Paul Johnson became the latest member of Bolton parkrun to hit the 250-run milestone at its birthday event.

By the end of 2017 Bolton had 12 members of the 250 club.

The event saw its first guide runner volunteer helping a visually-impaired runner take on the course.

A total of 117 first-timers took part in February including two from Hyde Park Harriers who had amassed more than 800 parkruns between them on 122 different courses.


A group from the One Foot On The Track running group provided a team of pacers every two minutes from 20 minutes up to 36 minutes helping runners in their quest to set a new benchmark time.

The pacers included Linda O’Byrne, Gareth Doherty and Mark Jackson who all went on to complete 100 runs in April.

A large team of Darwen Dashers also took part to celebrate Barry Shackleton’s 300th run.

The Dashers have a group of new starters join Bolton parkrun every 10 weeks as part of their graduation of ‘Couch to 10k’. In fact, 19 Dashers made their Bolton debut in March as part of a total of 115 first timers at Bolton.


The course record of 16mins 6secs had stood since October, 2011 and was on the old, slightly slower course.

Step forward Michael Cayton on event 314 on April 22 not only to break the record, but to smash it out of sight.

The new benchmark became 15:46. Michael’s only other visit in 2017 was in February when a 16:09 may have given an indication of what was to come.

Siobhan Pimlott had a great milestone in April, having volunteered at parkrun 100 times.

A regular helper at both Bolton and the Queens Park junior event for four-to-14-year-olds on Sunday mornings, she is also a keen volunteer at a number of other local events and is always one of the first to arrive at Leverhulme to set up.

Paul McGreavy became the newest Bolton runner to join the 250 club.

Three of April’s five events are in the top 12 attendances of all time, including event 315 on the 29th which equalled the then record of 384 runners.

There were also more first timers (209) and PBs (a massive 384) in April than any other month.

April also saw the introduction of the run/walk pacing looking to encourage new participants by offering support, and a ‘one minute run 30 second walk’ to get around the course in around 40 to 45 minutes. We will look to put more of these on in 2018.


Josh Birmingham ran his third run, finishing in third place and setting a new PB, the 12,000th PB set at Bolton in its history.

New records were set for the number of runners, with the 400 barrier being broken for the first time as 416 took part at event 318, a record that stood for only a couple of weeks.

A new record for volunteers was also set the next week with an astonishing 51 hi-viz heroes, thanks in large part to a takeover event by the guys from One Foot On The Track.

Brian Tull joined the 250 club in May – a regular runner whose wife Shirley is a regular barcode scanner.


The month started with the sad passing of Eileen Royle who ran at Bolton 174 times and volunteered 27 times, dating back to event 13 in 2011.

A total of 39 members of Radcliffe AC attended the event on June 3 for a fitting tribute.

This was the day the new attendance record was set with 448 runners attending.

Two more Bolton regulars joined the ever growing 250 club – Peter Johnson and Judith Bonnar, Judith having the additional distinction of all 250 runs being completed at Bolton.

A total of 134 first-timers gave the event a try and an impressive 232 PBs were set.


The gremlins played havoc with the results on July 1 with them needing extra attention to fathom out.

It was a nice coincidence that a Bolton United Harrier, whose home is Leverhulme Park, was the 70,000th finisher at Bolton parkrun, with junior runner Harry Aldred taking the honours.

The event’s founder, Rowan Ardill, was one of the many Boltonians who competed in the Ironman in Bolton in July, along with his brother David, another of the core team.

The event was also privileged to receive its very own defibrillator, courtesy of AO.

Neil Bonnar joined the 250 club, just following his wife Judith by a couple of events – a great family achievement.

July ended with a slight variation to the route when a fallen tree blocked the way to Dave Hitchen’s corner.


The first event of August was a takeover by the NHS Health Trainers who turned up in their droves and spread the message of their work.

Another 133 people tried the event for the first time and 205 new PBs were set.


Anthony Johnson became the latest entrant into the Bolton 250 club.


The event celebrated Restart A Heart day on October 16 safe in the knowledge Bolton is included in the more than 97 per cent of UK parkrun events with a defibrillator.

The goal is every event will have one by the end of 2018.

For the first month since January Bolton parkrun saw the number of first timers dip below 100 and fail to top 300 runners at any of its events.

November and December

The gremlins were back with a stopwatch failure and major problems in connecting the second stopwatch.

But it was Rob Short to the rescue as the parkrun stalwart, who became the final Bolton entrant into the 250-run hall of fame later in the month, lost most of his Saturday sorting through results in between the small matter of the cross country event that followed Bolton parkrun at Leverhulme.

The year ended in style, despite a couple of cancellations, with the annual Christmas fancy dress event, which doubled up with Bolton parkrun’s first collection to donate to the local foodbank. A total of 36 full bags of food were donated.