The Born Again Runner

Most parkrunners will have seen that stunning vista of Mount Taranaki through Te Rewa Rewa Bridge. It’s an iconic image of parkrun in New Zealand.

When used by other parkrun countries it always garners comments from parkrunners wanting to know where it is so they can put it on their parkrun bucket list.

It’s just one such image by Andy Walmsley, one of parkrun New Zealand’s photography ambassadors.

“I’m a photographer by trade and have done a lot of events and sports photography,’ he says.

“I didn’t volunteer very much when we were in the UK because I wanted to run with my kids in the buggy and it was always my intention to catch up. When I saw the ambassador’s role advertised I knew it was the perfect role for me.”

The beginning

We’re going to wind this story back a bit, to when Andy started parkrunning in 2013.

At the time of writing (and the second pause) he’s on 124 parkruns at 14 different events.

Of these 124 he’s run 71 times at Heaton parkrun in Manchester and only 31 at the now famous East End parkrun in New Plymouth.

“I’d set up my own running group in Ramsbottom called Rammy Runners. I’d trained to be a leader in running fitness with UK Athletics and that was about beginning a group for those runners who were between being beginners to running clubs.

“Some people believed running clubs weren’t for them. There was a perception that running clubs were men in short shorts and running 20 miles. Rammy Runners was a one hour session with short running exercises, you didn’t have to worry about holding anyone up but you could still challenge yourself.”

One member of the group asked Andy if he had tried parkrun. He hadn’t but was intrigued so looked up his local – Heaton parkrun in Heaton Park – and went along the next Saturday. That was November 16, 2013.

“I absolutely loved it straight away. It was so closely aligned with what we were doing to get people enjoying running.

“I set my personal best at my second parkrun and it stayed there until the last parkrun I ran here before we went on pause.

“Most of my first 100 runs were pushing a buggy.”

His 50th parkrun was a celebration, he was about to turn 50 and invited 50 friends and family to join him at Heaton parkrun. They’d all pledged £50 for the Christie Hospital in memory of his mum who had died a few months earlier.


Despite living in a city with an abundance of parkruns Andy was a passionista for Heaton Park, which is the largest municipal park in Europe. Running with a buggy meant consideration for terrain had to be taken into consideration.

One of his most memorable events was when legendary runner Ron Hill completed 50 years of run streaking at Heaton parkrun, accompanied by Paul Sinton-Hewitt (who was running his Cowell event – 100th different parkrun).

He says he hopes to do more parkrun tourism as his two kids – Daisy (7) and Teddy (5) – get older, though his new ambassador role has already seen him visit three other parkruns in that capacity. They were Greytown Woodside Trail, Hamilton Lake and the inaugural Whanganui Riverbank.

It was when Daisy was months away from starting school that Andy and his wife Emily took a six month sabbatical – their settling in New Zealand is the result of an extended trip in 2016/2017.

“We thought it was our last chance to do anything like that. We visited both islands and loved it (and ran at three different parkruns). We felt at home in New Plymouth and decided to come here full time.

“Funnily enough, on that first trip we were at Hamilton Lake parkrun and met the Fosters from Lower Hutt parkrun.

“You strike up friendships at parkrun. You might meet for only 10 minutes over coffee but you make friendships that endure.

“It’s like a stamp of approval, being a parkrunner.

“If you surround yourself with positive people you will be a positive person. You’re onto a winner if you’re out of bed and doing something positive.”

East End

New Plymouth ticked a lot of boxes for the Walmsleys, except when they arrived in April 2018 there was no parkrun.

Naturally Andy contacted parkrun’s country managers at the time to see if he could get the ball rolling only to hear that plans were already afoot.

East End parkrun opened on September 22, 2018.

“East End is such a photogenic parkrun, especially when you’re lucky enough to get the mountain in the background.

‘It’s such an enjoyable role. I love how enthusiastic people are about parkrun. You see so many people enjoying it in so many different ways, whether it’s breaking the course record to the different ages.

“We have parkrunners aged from four to 86. It’s great to capture that and you don’t have to work hard to get a smile.

“Daisy picks up my phone and starts taking photos, we’ve got her her own camera now and she loves it.

“Some kids are brilliant runners but Daisy likes to take her time with running and walking. She’s run 15 parkruns but she loves the other aspects too. I’m delighted that she gets up every Saturday morning and she will marshal or take photos.

“I call myself a born again runner. If the football field wasn’t fit for football then we were made to do cross country so I’ve always associated running with being cold, wet and not playing football.

“ I didn’t run until I was in my 30s so I’m very wary, it’s easy to put people off things.”

Andy now leads a running group in New Plymouth called Tuesdays in Taradise. To join click here.

* Heaton parkrun is the long name for the event, it’s short name is Heaton Park. There are many different naming combinations in place.

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