The popular harnesses rest on a jogger’s hips, allowing their four-legged buds to trot on a leash in front of them as they run.
However, new rules which will come into force on April 2 this year will ban this piece of kit, with the organisation citing an ‘increased risk of serious incidents’ to other Parkrun competitors.
Instead, dogs will have to be kept on a ‘short, handheld, non-extendable lead by the side of the participant’.
Dog-owner and ex-run director Kevin Ward, 46, called the move to ban the harnesses ‘bizarre’, saying it would actually make events more ‘dangerous’ for dogs and their owners. Kevin claimed: ‘They’re promoting something that’s arguably dangerous for dogs and runners.
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‘The rumour mill has it that people were being called cheats because they’re running with a dog and getting some assistance.
‘I was one of the run directors for junior Parkrun locally, but they’ve compromised their ethos and integrity with what they have done, as far as I’m considered.’
He is now helping to launch a rival ‘Barkrun’ organisation for dog owners looking to take their pets for weekly 5k runs in public parks without such ‘unilateral rules’. Finance company director and married father Kevin started going to Parkrun events close to his hometown of Kesgrave, Suffolk, with his family in 2015. Part of why he loved doing so was because Wilson would have a great time there.
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He said ‘I run with the dog a lot – normally I’d be doing 20-30 miles a week – and of all the runs we do together, Parkrun is his favourite by far.
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‘He’ll trot along with me quite happily on a normal run, whereas with Parkrun, he gets really excited.
‘Plus, he is particularly well known at our Parkrun by lots of runners. He gets a fuss made of him, and it’s his favourite time of the week.’
He added: ‘I know he’s not alone – there are other dogs like him around the country – well-behaved and well-trained – and they usually end up with a bit of a following.’
When he heard that Parkrun was going to be banning waist harnesses, Kevin was furious.
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He said: ‘It’s a family thing for us. We like to go down as a family, and that includes Wilson.
‘If they banned all dogs, it would make more sense than actually banning them on waist harnesses.
‘Clearly, Parkrun isn’t listening to its own people on the ground – it’s in an ivory tower, making a decision which doesn’t seem to be very a considered or logical one.’
Parkrun has said the ban on waist harnesses is due to safety risks, posting on its blog: ‘Our evidence shows that, when participants use waist harnesses, there is an increased risk of serious incidents, particularly trips and falls, compared to when using handheld leads.
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‘Unfortunately, the nature of parkrunning with a waist harness is such that the lead allows dogs to move from side to side, in front of the participant, which can result in the dog suddenly and unexpectedly crossing in front of other participants on the course.’
However, Kevin disagrees, arguing: ‘The handheld lead can potentially hurt the dog if it’s not on properly.
‘A lot of people will use the handheld lead, but then if their child’s fallen over and the dog’s taken off, they’ll have their hand degloved.’
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Yes, he said ‘degloved’, referencing skin instead of fabric – lovely.
‘So as well as the obvious,’ Kevin added, ‘there are some quite horrific things that could happen.’
He also suggested that the true reason behind the ban could be envious competitors.
He said: ‘Logically when you’re running with other people, and the dog’s out in front of you, that just helps.’
Kevin has since left his role as a director of the junior Parkrun league, and has high hopes for the new Barkrun project.
‘There’s a Barkrun group on Facebook that started about three weeks ago, and it’s got 2,600 people on it already,’ he said.
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‘The idea is that it’s an hour before Parkrun, running the same route.
‘I could see it becoming a rival, personally, if it comes off and becomes a formal event as opposed to just a social run, and more people start to do it.’
Kevin also feels the waist harness ban is indicative of a change in the Parkrun ethos.
He said: ‘Parkrun has become very commercialised. It doesn’t feel quite the same as it used to.
‘I think they have missed the point – it’s not just the dog issue, it’s the fact that it was meant to be an inclusive event for everyone, and there was no consultation of everyone on the ground.
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‘It seems like a knee-jerk reaction.’
Parkrun was approached for comment about Kevin’s claims but declined to answer.
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