RUNNERS are being invited to celebrate the first birthday of the Seven Fields parkrun at their own leisure this weekend.

The free weekly 5k event launched at the Penhill nature reserve 12 months ago and after a muddy start through the winter, was put on hold indefinitely by the coronavirus pandemic.

Until March, around 140 participants gathered each weekend over 17 weeks to run or walk the course.

Event director Phil Jefferies said: “We’re very happy that we’ve got our first anniversary coming up, but it is also tinged with sadness that we’ve only been able to hold 17 events due to having to put everything on hold because of the pandemic. But obviously it’s nice to have some sort of celebratory thing going on to mark the first anniversary.”

This week people have been encouraged to complete a 5k run at a convenient time and log it through the Swindon Community Running Facebook Group as a virtual parkrun.

“We’re also encouraging people to post photos and memories of the 17 events we’ve had, and there’s also the option to wear some sort of fancy dress costume if they want,” added Phil.

“Though that of course is optional.”

The keen runner said that for him one of the most rewarding things over the past year has been seeing people develop a love of running through the event.

“Having people who’ve never run before come along each week, make friends, and say how much they’ve enjoyed their run and how much it’s helped them with their fitness and their mental health has really made it all worthwhile,” he said.

“It’s a but frustrating that we haven’t been able to develop it further because of the Covid-19 situation but we’re trying to keep people’s motivation up and encourage them to keep on running and keep themselves fit and healthy in the meantime.”

Phill said memorable anecdote from the year came when he was mistaken for burying a body one morning.

He explained: “A lot of the course is grass based and some of the areas do get a bit wet and muddy, so on occasions I would go out in the fields at the crack of dawn, in the dark, spreading bark chippings.

"Someone saw me doing this once by torchlight with a big wheelbarrow and said ‘oh I thought you were burying a body for a minute!'."

The Uk parkrun community is hoping events will be restored early next year.

“By this time next year we hope to have developed it further and got more people from the local area on their path to fitness and to have grown the event further,” said Phil.