John Matthews: International Slow Travel

parkrun can be whatever you want it to be, for some people visiting a different parkrun each week is what they enjoy most and UK parkrunner John Matthews (A10378) is no exception.

John has run the third most events of all parkrunners.

At the time of writing he has run 411 different events and 485 parkruns in all.

What makes John stand out from other uber tourists is that he’s completed parkruns in many other countries, enough to appear on the most events tables for seven of them – Australia (25), Singapore (3), New Zealand (18), Canada (15), Netherlands (6), Finland (2) and Italy (10), as well as his home base in the UK.

He’s completed parkruns in 18 of the parkrun countries but it may surprise readers to know he didn’t start off in this fashion.

How it started

It started with a move to Surrey and a new community.

“My dad was a statistician and I was embarrassed to join a running club where he was president. So when I moved I joined a running club.

“Friends there asked if I wanted to come to this thing called parkrun. They would go to Banstead Woods as Bushy was getting 300 then and they thought it was too busy.

“I didn’t go every weekend. It was a few months before I went to Bushy. parkrun was something I did now and then with friends. Gradually it pulled me in.

“There was a one-off at Morden Hall in June 2009, it was only my 20th parkrun (editor’s note: John’s first parkrun was on December 22, 2007).

“I thought, what if it never happens again? I should go to it.

“Then over several years I stopped going out on a Friday night and started making parkrun more of a priority. I would occasionally do a new one.

“Then I started building touring in.”

John at Railton parkrun in Tasmania

Travelling Down Under

He visited the events in and around Leeds where he went to university, revisiting places that had been part of his student life.

Then he ran all of the events in and around the Manchester area as there were several already up and running there.

“That’s how I thought about it.

“When I travelled through New Zealand people were surprised I was going to a different one each week but it’s easy as a tourist.

“As a real person with a life it’s not so easy. But by then it was my lifestyle.”

The New Zealand trip came on the back of a trip to Australia, where John combined two loves – The Ashes cricket series and parkrun.

It was 2013 and he’d decided to take a year off from work.

He travelled to Australia the long way, visiting countries that at the time had no parkrun but where there are parkruns now – Russia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

The Ashes tour visits the big cities, so he ran parkruns in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.

“It was a terrible series for England. I’d only go to the first day so they couldn’t lose on that day. It was fantastic, but hard to watch.”

He then travelled on to New Zealand where there were just six parkruns, so he ran them all.

Full time tourism

John ended up leaving his work and returned to Australia and New Zealand in 2017/2018.

“I thought, if I quit now I can go to the Ashes and Commonwealth Games; going to parkrun was definitely part of that.”

He ended up in Tasmania at Railton parkrun and that was where he learned of the Peel Club.

“I was talking to one of the run directors and they mentioned it. By then I was up to six.

“I just needed to go to Canberra and the Northern Territory. I hadn’t planned it but Canberra I probably would have got to.

“I did a car relocation from Sydney to Canberra, and Northern Territory was an extra trip after the Commonwealth Games.

“It’s all entirely down to that run director that I joined the Peel Club.”

Best laid plans

John is one of 15 Peel Club members who has also run a parkrun on both the North and South Island of New Zealand.

When he arrived back in New Zealand in 2018 he had 12 weeks planned to run the remaining 12 parkruns.

John at Hamilton lake parkrun on his first visit.

Unfortunately for John, 2018 was the year that parkrun in New Zealand experienced exponential growth, with nine new events by the end of the year – and several while he was on the ground.

“I’d planned to be there for 12 weeks to run all 18 but within that time they’d started two or three more.

“It hadn’t occurred to me that could happen.”

Future adventures

He says he’d like to return to New Zealand so he can visit all the newer events – and enjoy the Kiwi hospitality.

“In an alternate reality I saw the pandemic coming and ran away to New Zealand just in time, and I’m probably still there.

“I remember being in Christchurch at a test match and talking to the man next to me. After 10 minutes he said, if you’re ever in Nelson here’s my number, come and stay with me.

“I met Richard McChesney [founder of Lower Hutt parkrun] at Portrush in Northern Ireland.

“We got chatting and I put me in touch with Rob Hammington and Mark O’Sullivan and they looked after me on that first visit.

“Incredibly hospitable people.

“I saw Mark again in 2018 when Hannah Oldroyd and I were running at Kapiti Coast.”

John (in the 250 shirt) with Hannah Oldroyd at Kapiti Coast parkrun

You can probably tell that he likes to spend time in each country, enabling himself the chance to experience the culture, reduce his carbon emissions and also save money in the process.

It’s because of an astute investment, when he was in his 20s, that he can indulge in such parkrun tourism.

He neither owns a house, nor has a family, though he has a girlfriend in the US who also likes to travel.

“I live relatively cheaply, which also helps. That’s one of the reasons I spend a long time in places – the longer the stay the cheaper it gets.”

John’s advice:

“If goals motivate you then pick a challenge. I’m very flighty. I get distracted a lot.

“Don’t let it obsess you. That may be a foolish thing to say, given where I am but I don’t regret anything.

“Don’t forget the joy of your local parkrun.”

You can read about John’s adventures on his blog here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *