Volunteer generates good vibe 

SHORTLY before 8 o'clock every Saturday morning, people from all walks of life gather on the shores of Throsby Creek in Carrington to tackle a five-kilometre run.

The community event, known as Newy parkrun, attracts everyone from serious runners hoping to achieve a personal best, to beginners and walkers just having a crack.

The free, timed event is run entirely by volunteers such as Andrew Dodd.

The Hamilton Baptist Church pastor, who is 51, has been volunteering his services to Newy parkrun since its inception in June.

Mr Dodd has been a runner for years, and after hitting it off with Newy parkrun event director Dave Robertson, he became involved as both a runner and a volunteer.

"I think there was about 80 people there when he first started it, and the next week there might've been 90," Mr Dodd said.

"I thought it might have dropped down a bit after that, but it's only gotten bigger and bigger."

Founded in 2004 in the UK, parkrun is the name given to a collection of five-kilometre running events that now take place all over the world.

The Newcastle branch consistently has some of the highest new registration rates per week in the world.

"It's interesting trying to work out what the attraction is," Mr Dodd said.

"There is the fitness aspect, but I also think it's a social engagement factor that people are picking up on.

"There was a running boom around the world in the 1970s, and there seems to be another one happening now.

"Newy parkrun is not a highly competitive environment.

"It can be, because you get a finishing time and position, but I think the appeal for a lot of people is just doing something in a big group."

Each parkrun event has its own flavour, its own vibe. Mr Dodd thinks much of Newcastle's success has come down to Mr Robertson's contagious enthusiasm.

"He is very personable and very encouraging," he said.

"I find it an intriguing phenomenon. It has proven to be hugely popular here. I've been down to the Sydney one a couple of times, and it's not quite as big as the one here. It doesn't seem to have quite the same vibe, and I think a lot of that has to do with Robbo."

More than 1000 people are registered with Newy parkrun, and close to 250 people turn up each Saturday.

"One of my roles is often briefing the new runners," Mr Dodd said.

"We ask how they heard about it and invariably it has just been word of mouth."

The Newy parkrun volunteers do everything from setting up, timekeeping and pace-setting to results processing.

"The fact that it's free is a big one," Mr Dodd said.

"It's not a commercial thing. We're not here for money, we're just here for each other.

"I've found volunteering isn't a chore. I'm just as happy to run in it one week and volunteer the next.

"Sometimes you can do both."

Mr Dodd will often don a bright-coloured vest and run as a pacer to help people aiming for a certain time.

"For people just outside a time, to have someone running with them pulls them along.

"When you get a few people come up to you at the end and say you helped them run 30 seconds quicker than last week, then it's really quite rewarding.

Newy parkrun takes place every Saturday at 8am around Throsby Creek, starting at 1 Arnold Street, Carrington.

Participation is free but you must register in advance via parkrun.com.au/newy.

SETTING THE PACE: Pastor Andrew Dodd.  Picture: Dean Osland

SETTING THE PACE: Pastor Andrew Dodd. Picture: Dean Osland