JACA FUN RUN: The Jacaranda Fun Run could experience unprecedented quality at the front of the pack this Sunday thanks to the rise of parkrun in the region.
Sam Ward and Katie Porra are two such athletes who have clearly benefited from the 5km events held in race conditions at Junction Hill's Barnier Park at every Saturday morning since Grafton parkrun was introduced 12 months ago.
Both will be looking to make their mark - in the 10km event - when the annual fun run takes place at its new starting location of Memorial Park in Grafton.
This time last year Ward had never competed in a fun run. But after trying parkrun the 22-year-old has found a liking for middle distance running and regularly wins the Grafton event.
"It all started here at parkrun," Herd said.
"I've always loved sport but always tried to exceed in other sports. Then I just found running. I'm really starting to enjoy it, so I'm training during the week and trying to do 10km runs.
"It was always just a bit of training but now I want to take it up as a sport and hopefully one day get pretty far in it."
Ward's form going into the race is top notch, stopping the clock at 18 minutes 47 seconds last Saturday, six seconds outside his 5km personal best.
He also finished one second behind winner Phil Cook in a sprint to the line at the recent Washpool World Heritage 9.25km Trail Run on October 16 - the first time Ward has competed outside of Grafton parkrun.
15-year-old Porra rarely misses the Saturday morning 5km event and was congratulated for completing her 50th parkrun just a week after Grafton parkrun's first birthday celebrations.
She won the 2km and 5km Jaca Fun Run events last year but has thrived from the regular hit outs at Barnier Park and this year competed at NSW All Schools Cross Country.
"I always liked running so when I found out about parkrun I was really excited that I could finally meet some other runners in town," Porra said.
"I really enjoy it. It's really fun and something good for the community."
She will step up to the 10km this year and face stiff opposition from the likes of NSW Under-20 Cross Country champion Beth Hickey and 2013 World Cross Country competitor Celia Sullohern.
Katie has a 5km personal best of 21:15, while her mother Jenny Porra is in tip-top shape in the women's 45 to 49 years division, recording a new personal best time of 23:40 in her 43rd parkrun at Junction Hill last Saturday.
While the likes of Ward and Porra will be eyeing major placings, like parkrun, Jaca Fun Run is suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
And regardless of your ability, reaching maximum speed never gets easier.
"You actually feel like you're struggling," Ward said. "So you push yourself a bit harder.
"The days you're feeling good are when you actually lose time because you start to slow down."
Register for Jacaranda Fun Run at www.webscorer.com or on the day from 6-6.45am.