(Reuters) - Mass participation parkruns, the hugely popular free, weekly 5km running events organised by volunteers, are closing in on a return to England towards the end of October having been suspended since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parkrun began as a group of 13 friends in a south-west London park in 2004 before growing into a worldwide phenomenon.
Overall, about seven million runners have registered for the runs worldwide, with about 350,000 people walking, jogging or running every week and another 30,000 volunteering before the pandemic-imposed hiatus.
Parkrun issued a framework for holding events amid the pandemic in August, which has now received government approval, its global CEO Nick Pearson said on Monday.
"We've long understood that human beings have an innate need to be with one another. To talk, to laugh, to support, to share experiences. This is a watershed moment. Parkrun will return. We will be back together again," Pearson added.
"Following detailed conversations with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Sport England, and Public Health England, I'm delighted to announce that we intend to reopen parkrun and junior parkrun events in England toward the end of October this year.
"Unfortunately, as things stand, and due to current restrictions across Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, we are not able to commit to the same timeline across the other Home Nations."
Around 140,000 runners take part in parkrun events around the UK each week under normal circumstances, with another 15,000 volunteering.
Since its launch, parkrun has grown to over 2,000 weekly locations across 22 countries and was growing at an annual rate of around 25%, with the movement being widely credited with having a beneficial impact on the mental and physical wellbeing of attendees.
Under parkrun's COVID-19 guidelines, participants and volunteers must undergo a self-assessment for symptoms and will be advised not to attend if they have a high temperature, continuous cough, or a loss of, or change to, their sense of smell or taste.
Participants, volunteers and spectators must socially distance before the event. High fives and spitting are banned.
Participants are also advised to make use of all available space and minimise the amount of time in close proximity to each other.
(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)