When I first went to parkrun there was an Annual Points Competition which awarded points by placing. The fastest finisher got 100 points, second got ninety-nine, all the way down to one point for finishing hundredth with everybody behind them also getting a point for attending. At the larger parkruns, the points began at 250 and went down from there. Of course with the front of the field being dominated by male runners, there was a separate set of points given out to the women thereby creating competitions for both male and female runners. To avoid deterring people from volunteering, you received maximum points on the first three occasions you volunteered so you weren’t disadvantaged. All this happened automatically and I met people who didn’t even know the competition existed.
At Poole we gave out small prizes to the top three men and women when it completed on our parkrun’s birthday in the April. I heard other parkruns simply gave the winners a round of applause. Initially there was a hidden competitiveness between those of us on the core team and in with a chance of winning it. No-one talked about winning the APC but it was occasionally mentioned or the people at the top of the leaderboard referred to. There were times when my volunteering job also allowed me to run (e.g. token sorting or course setup) and I’d ask not to be listed as a volunteer as it would use up one of my three freebies. Tactically I wanted to save those in case of injury or as an end of season points booster.
It took a year or two but, as I looked around the various parkruns, I came to realise there were only two or three people who were ever going to win the competitions. It didn’t matter which parkrun I looked at, Bushy Park, Cambridge, Basingstoke, Leeds there were only two or three people in with a chance. Firstly you needed to be turning up regularly, but if you weren’t finishing in the top five or ten places, you weren’t accumulating enough points even over the infrequent speedster. The winner was going to be someone turning up at least 45 times and it was going to be a case of outlasting the opposition.
I was thinking about all this when I wrote my article about how I made myself ill from competing in gym challenges. The essence of any good competition is that everybody competing in it must feel they have a chance of winning. I’ve been to pub quizzes where the same team wins every week and slowly you see the numbers dwindle as everybody else realises they’re never going to win. In athletic competition, it’s slightly different as physical skills diminish or injuries occur which open up the chance for someone else to come through. It’s hard to construct a good challenge for people of wide-ranging abilities.
Eventually, in about 2015-16, Parkrun HQ decided to remove the Annual Points Competition. I heard there were regular, almost weekly, discussions about whether to keep or remove it because it had been an integral part since the start of parkrun. Like the Strava and gym challenges it was originally there to motivate people to turn up and reward those who did. But once parkrun began to flourish and they had the 50, 100, 250 club t-shirts to recognise regular participation it became redundant. Realistically with only two or three people in the running to win it, it was always something of a non-competition for the hundreds of other people turning up.