By Ben Hart, Sportsbeat
Iwan Thomas hopes the success of British track stars at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games has encouraged people to seek out their local parkrun and follow in the footsteps of their heroes.
This week, The National Lottery is teaming up with parkrun to inspire people across the country to take part in their local event.
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Thomas, who has taken part in over 100 parkruns since 2012, believes that parkrun is as much about socialising with friends and being immersed within a sporting community as it is a running event, and wants more people to give it a go.
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – including over £3.6m of funding to parkrun alone.
Sport England have also invested £35 million into the Commonwealth Games - a combination of National Lottery and government funding - to support a long-term legacy of more active and connected communities across the nation.
"I’ve been doing parkrun since it started and I sometimes pinch myself to think, 'how do they put this on for nothing?" explained Thomas.
"Whatever your shape or size or running ability, everyone is welcome. I can go there and get thrashed by some youngsters, but I also get the same smile off seeing people go around in 45 minutes, that’s the beauty of parkrun."
Thomas confessed that his favourite parkrun is Netley Abbey, principally because of its proximity to his home, meaning he can wake up just half-an-hour in advance of the 9am start time.
When he does arrive at the start line, Thomas quickly bursts into life, cheering his fellow runners on and embodying the feel-good atmosphere parkrun has fostered in communities since its inception in 2004.
"Nobody judges you, it really is a sociable event," Thomas explained. "It’s not a physical thing, it’s a mental thing as well to get out the house, rub shoulders with other people and talk to them. For some people it might be their only interaction of the week.
"I’ve done many across the country and I’ve never come home feeling worse off than when I started, I’m always absolutely buzzing, bouncing for the weekend having done some exercise and seen some brilliant people. I love it, it feels like a big family."
The Commonwealth Games provided no shortage of track sensations-turned-inspirations, from Eilish McColgan claiming gold in the 10,000m some 36 years after her mother first topped the rostrum in that event, to Katarina Johnson-Thompson producing more heptathlon heroics a week on from the death of her grandmother.
As an infield host at the Alexander Stadium, three-time Commonwealth Games medallist Thomas was in the thick of the action once again.
On this occasion, he was overwhelmed by the support of the home crowd and the difference they made to the athlete experience.
"The crowds were amazing,” beamed Thomas. "The people of Birmingham seemed to really enjoy it and obviously the athletes delivered.
"The best way to illustrate it and I mean this with respect, the decathletes were on and normally the programme becomes a little bit quiet at that point and a lot of people go home because it’s the end of the morning session.
"The last time I felt noise like that was London 2012, so I think the people of Birmingham outdid themselves and were superb.
"I think it has been a really good summer of sport in the UK and I think it reminds us how amazing this country is and the fact we can put on global sporting events and be very successful."
Thomas believes the strong stable of middle-distance runners who shone in the west midlands is evidence of the ‘Kelly Homes effect.’
Laura Muir raced home to win the 1500m, the very event in which Holmes made her name, eight years on from a trip on the home straight which cost her a medal at Glasgow 2014.
Thomas believes that role models such as Muir help to remind young people that it is possible to overcome adversity and to achieve their dreams.
"Over 80% of parents say that a positive sporting role model has a good impact on their children’s lives and makes them want to get out and do sport," added Thomas.
"If we don’t have those role models to aspire to be like, then where is the next generation going to come from? I think it’s essential when we do get the opportunity to put on these sporting events, we do such a great job.
"All you need is that little bit of an ignition for a child to go, ‘wow, that was amazing to watch, imagine what it’s like to play hockey or be an athlete or to be a swimmer.’
"That’s all you need really, to trigger someone’s imagination and make them realise it’s achievable."
The National Lottery and parkrun have joined forces to encourage people across the UK to take part in their local parkrun this weekend. For more information and to find your local parkrun event, visit www.parkrun.org.uk
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