NZ’s most prolific tourists

Go to any New Zealand inaugural parkrun and you’re guaranteed to meet members of the O’Sullivan family.

At the Whanganui Riverbank inaugural on July 4 all 10 of the touring O’Sullivans crossed the finish line (and they returned for week two).

They range in age from 8 to 50 plus. Four of them are also Countrymen (having completed all 30 courses).

They’ve been involved since week 5 of Lower Hutt parkrun back in 2012, when Martin O’Sullivan gave it a go.

Gradually the rest of the family has registered for their barcodes.

The beginning

“I’d been playing football all my life but I’d started enjoying it less.

“My friend from work, her son was in Year 10 at school, was out of shape and needed to improve his focus. She felt it was a good idea to start parkrun. He was there week 1.

“She told me about it and asked if I would go along and give him some company. That’s how I got started, by mentoring and motivating him.

“I’ve got teenage boys (Trent and James O’Sullivan, now 20 and 17) and sometimes they listen to other people more than their parents. Kemp [Engelbretsen] ended up doing 80 parkruns but as he got older he found other interests.

“My two boys started running too, I got them started soon after my first one. They lived down in Blenheim for three years so didn’t attend parkrun often, prior they only ran with me every second week when still in Wellington. They’ve not run as many as the others in our family as a result.

“When they were with me it was non-negotiable. It’s something we’ve continued to do with the others.

The first sibling

“With my siblings and getting them involved… I was into mountainbiking and running. They were into playing bowls and drinking. They said “how come you spend more time with your friends than us” so I said if they became more active then maybe we’d spend more time together.

“Mark and one of his kids turned up one morning. Then the rest of his family got into it.”

“By Christmas he’d not missed a run and now it’s something we do every week. We use it for family get-togethers.”

There are five O’Sullivan siblings – Martin, Michael, Chrissy, Mary and Mark.

Between them they’ve run 1072 parkruns at the time of writing [July 7, 2020].

It would be even higher had Michael, Martin’s twin, completed more than the solitary parkrun he did while in Dunedin on holiday with Martin.

“Once Mark was on board he got his kids going and his son Michael would have been the youngest then to get the 250 milestone. These kids were at parkrun in their prams.

Mark doesn’t quite remember his introduction the same as Martin.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what he said, it sounds like him,” Mark said.

“What I recall about us starting parkrun is he had just started going and was talking to us about it and trying to encourage us to get out of the door and get a bit fitter.”

It started with their eldest, Noah, getting into rugby.

“He was doing well but his fitness was holding him back. He was pretty solid and I could see my own life being relived by my child.”

You can read more about Mark’s parkrun transformation in another post, but suffice to say, once his family got running they all went.

Rebecca, their youngest, has the fewest official parkrun finishes to her name, only because she was in the buggy until she was four and unable to get an official result.

And then there were three

Chrissy joined the family at parkrun on Christmas Day 2012. At the time of writing she’s only a couple of runs away from achieving her 250 milestone.

“Mark is all about getting everyone into everything. ‘Come to India’, ‘go on a cruise’. He pesters you until you do it. Martin is a bit more cruisy.

“My first parkrun was Christmas Day, with Mark, Jo and their kids. As the kids got old enough they joined in. Rebecca was in the push chair and when she turned four she started running or walking them.

“We used to get a lot of comments. Bruce McCardle (Lower Hutt and now Greytown regular) at some point coined us the O’Sullivan Travelling Circus.”

Chrissy’s first away parkrun was to Porirua on January 1, 2014.

Turns out her siblings had a New Year’s resolution to run all six of the New Zealand courses, she discovered that on a trip to Queenstown, which included a drive to Dunedin just for parkrun.

With that achieved by March the O’Sullivans began their affinity with parkrun tourism.

“It’s got me out walking regularly. I’ve got a bad back so running is out of the question for me but I might run the last 50m or so over the finish line.

“There’s the aspect of getting out and doing 5km every week. As well as that there’s the social aspect of meeting these people every week and really enjoying the company.

“I keep telling mum we’ll get her fit so she can do it but she’s 82 so it might be a bit far.

“The thing about parkrun with the family is the kids know from the start that it’s not optional, it’s what we do on a Saturday.”

Mark says their mum, Colleen, might not have yet finished a parkrun, but she (and her late husband Michael, who died in June) were very much part of the parkrun family as they were always present for milestones.


“The question I get asked the most is how do we keep the kids doing it now they’re teenagers,” says Martin.

“For me it’s always about keeping it fun. It’s also something we’ve always done as a family and as a wider family.”

The O’Sullivan’s tips on parkrun and children:

  • Make it fun
  • Include it in holidays
  • Make it family time
  • Communicate expectations

“My expectations are we go to parkrun,” says Martin.

“There have been times when we’ve been at home and it’s been pouring with rain so I’ve given them the option of running or not.

“But if we’re at an inaugural the expectation is they complete it.”

Mark says the same. “We don’t mind how they get to the end, but we’re all doing parkrun. Quite often my boys will walk it.”

At the Whanganui Riverbank inaugural on July 4, 2020.

Whanganui Riverbank parkrun inaugural from left: Trent O’Sullivan (161 parkruns at 30 courses), Daniel O’Sullivan (258/21), Jo O’Sullivan (234/22), (in green) Michael O’Sullivan (270/21), Mark O’Sullivan (342/23), Noah O’Sullivan (274/21), (front in pink) Rebecca O’Sullivan (198/17), Chrissy O’Sullivan Robertson (249/30), Martin O’Sullivan (379/30) and James O’Sullivan (161/30).

Not pictured: Mary Walker (101/2)

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