'Parkrun tourism' draws crowds to regional Australia, brings money to 'country towns'
Neil Barnett lives with multiple sclerosis and hemochromatosis and last month he had a mild heart attack, but when he puts his running shoes on, there's no stopping him.
The 57-year-old Brisbanite has run in more unique Parkrun locations than anyone else in Australia since he first took part in 2012.
Mr Barnett's name proudly sits atop Parkrun Australia's official leaderboard.
"I just love running," he said.
"When I started Parkrun it was my passion and it won't ever end."
A regular at the weekly free 5-kilometre run in Mitchelton, Mr Barnett participates in the worldwide community running movement, where everyone is welcome and there is "no time limit and no one finishes last".
He is also among a growing group of Parkrun tourists who travel near and far, adding to their tallies at each destination.
Mr Barnett's latest conquest was in Longreach in western Queensland, one of Australia's newest Parkrun events, after completing the Graham Andrews Parkrun in Charleville.
"I love seeing Australia and I love coming out here and spending money in the country towns," he said.
"I love supporting Oz."
'Afterparty' core to the experience
Millions worldwide take part in Parkrun and its growing popularity is having a positive flow-on effect in smaller communities.
University of Southern Queensland marketing professor Jane Summers said social activities after Parkrun, like having a coffee afterwards, were just as important for runners as the run itself.
"If you've got an extra five people coming into a small community, enjoying themselves, eating, drinking, maybe staying overnight and then leaving, those people will go and tell their friends: 'Hey I was in Longreach and it was amazing and we did this great run'," Professor Summers said.
"It's that influencer effect which is really important for every community interested in tourism.
"I wouldn't be surprised if in the near future we see on the Booking.coms and the Expedias and those sorts of aggregator sites … there'll probably be a Parkrun option on those — they're becoming so popular."
Parkrun tourism not just for the hardcore
Brenda Windsor, who is a teacher's aide at Koumala, south of Mackay, uses Parkrun to bond with her grandchildren and loves logging a new run.
"If I happen to be somewhere on a Saturday, I always work out where the Parkrun is," Mrs Windsor said.
"I've done Maryborough, South Brisbane, as well as the home of Parkrun which is Bushy Park in London."
Mr Barnett completed his 400th Parkrun today on his home turf at Mitchelton, but he already has his next location in his sights.
"I'm booked in to do the Clermont Parkrun, Ingham in the future, and there's a new one down in Brisbane on Bribie Island," he said.
Mr Barnett credits the organiser of Parkrun Australia, Tim Oberg, for sparking his passion almost a decade ago.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today," he said.
Article from ABC Health