Each Saturday morning (at 9 am in the winter and 10 am in the summer) joyful clamor resounds in some of Bulgaria’s largest parks. The medley is getting ready for the start of the 5kmrun – a free of charge running initiative. It started 5 years ago and the number of the participants has increased significantly since then. Over 17,000 joined the 5km run so far. Georgi Stanoilov told Radio Bulgaria how the initiative emerged:
In 2010 I was in England with my family. The 5 kilometer free run first emerged in this country. We had the opportunity to join a series of events organized by the English people and more specifically with the founder of Parkrun Paul Sinton-Hewitt. Then I came up with the idea to organize a similar five kilometer free run in Bulgaria as well.
When Georgi returned to Bulgaria he rolled up his sleeves to popularize this positive experience, with the consent of Paul Hewitt of course.
We had difficulties in the beginning, because the people and the institutions did not know what exactly to expect. Fortunately, we received support and understanding from the Sofia Municipality and several Bulgarian companies. Everyone thought the idea about such free of charge Saturday event was cool.
The five kilometer run first started in the South Park in Sofia. Later, such running competitions were organized in the coastal city of Varna, the second-largest city Plovdiv, in Burgas and in Sofia’s West Park. The registration is free of charge and is not mandatory. However, it allows the organizers to monitor the results of each run. The event is held each Saturday. Some runners do not miss even a single event. They are ready to run when temperatures outside drop to -17 C or rise above 30 C, when it is pouring outside or the roads are covered in ice. We managed to build a society where people feel comfortable. They come on Saturday to run their five kilometers and communicate in an exceptionally tolerant environment, Georgi pointed out and added:
The 5km event is running, not a competition. However, some people want to compete with others and they put all their efforts and energy into it. The record in the men’s and the women’s disciplines is held by professional athletes who run at middle and long distances- Mitko Tsenov and Militsa Mircheva. However, you can see different types of people in the park on Saturday morning- of different gender, ethnicity and religion, ordinary people and people with successful careers in different fields and even diplomats, including the Ambassador of Denmark to Bulgaria His Excellency Søren Jacobsen who took part in nearly 50 runs.
The oldest runner is eighty three years old and took part in nearly 180 running events. Many children, including nine year-old Kamen Trichkov, also join the running. Kamen runs the 5km distance together with his father. Kamen was faster than his dad and covered the distance in 29.07 minutes. The last meters are the most difficult part of the running, Kamen says. He wants to score a better result in the next running events.
I am very happy when I cross the final. Children can also participate at separate two-kilometer running events in Sofia’s South Park. Volunteers help them during the running. All children receive goodies after the run. Sometimes the runners receive T-shirts with sentimental value. The jubilee number of competitions is written with large numbers on them. We often joke than if we see participants with the number 250 written on their T-shirt we must stop and salute them, because they have five years of running behind back. Four competitors already had 250 runs and the rest of the people show great respect to them, says Georgi and specifies:
We promise the people who are still hesitating whether to join the run or not that if they come to our next event they may not finish first, but will not finish last either. We have a tradition. On each 5m run in the South Park we dress volunteers with vests. We stamp the word LAST on their vests and the volunteers cross the final last, signaling that the event is over. The volunteers encourage some competitors during the run, because nearly 5% of all participants are literally walking the whole distance. So, our events allow people to run or walk. We follow the Olympic motto - participation is more important than winning.
English version: Kostadin AtanasovPhotos: 5kmrun.bg