The skies were grey and the weather uninviting but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the parkrun crowd at Victoria Park early on Saturday morning.
After an enforced break of more than 10 months, they were once again able to take part in the five-kilometre course - and they did not disguise their delight.
"We're back," said Ballarat parkrun event director Kylie Mayne to cheers in the pre-event briefing, as almost 200 runners and walkers braved the chilly conditions to take part.
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"We're stoked, really excited to be here," said Shane Mathews, who was a regular participant before organisers were forced to cancel the events in March as concerns over the pandemic grew.
"It's fantastic, it's the social aspect you miss, the people that you might only see when you do parkrun - that's why you do it."
We're stoked, really excited to be here. It's fantastic, it's the social aspect you miss, the people that you might only see when you do parkrun - that's why you do itShane Mathews, Ballarat parkrunner
Wearing the red technical T-shirt reserved for those with 50 or parkruns to their name, Natalie Dreier had a similar message as she waited for the latest event to begin.
"It's been 44 weeks, I am very happy to be back. It's such a friendly environment - they're great people, I have missed the routine."
"It's so good, it's been a long time coming," Ms Mayne told The Courier. "It's a really awesome community and it's been really nice to see all the familiar faces."
"We've had a lot of contact and communication with parkrun even though we haven't been doing parkrun, it's a community that really supports people being active.
"We're here for everyone, it's also about mental health as well as being active. We have speedy runners, we have family runners, we have people who are happy walking, people with dogs.
It just shows you what a big community it is. You really miss it when you don't do itKim Finlayson
"We've had some new people who have started today, so that's fantastic - some of them have been waiting a long time to come and join us at parkrun.
"There's been a really positive vibe."
There were a few tweaks to keep the race COVID-safe: a QR code was provided, participants were asked to self-seed for the sake of social distancing and the finish was no contact zone as runners deposited their codes into plastic buckets rather than handing them over to volunteers.
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First to go through the parkrun flags was 14-year-old Micah Hickingbotham, storming to a personal parkrun record of 19:05, while Claire Phillips was the first woman to finish. "I love it, it's fabulous," she said.
The Hickingbotham family proved not only among the speediest, but also the most numerous, with 11-year-old Olivia, nine-year-old Benjamin and six-year-old Elijah a little further down the pack from their brother.
Their parents Tim and Felicity also took part with Ms Hickingbotham wheeling three-year-old Amelia in a pram to make it a family full house.
"The kids are leaving us for dead these days," Mr Hickingbotham remarked.
Old cycling buddies Kim Finlayson and Ray Malviste were also among the finishers. Both regulars prior to the COVID - Mr Malviste completed his 90th event on Saturday - they were only too happy to be back.
Mr Finlayson remarked on the good turnout for an event which only started in 2015 - a second Ballarat parkrun started at Wallaby Track in Brown Hill in late 2019 - but is now hugely popular.
"It just shows you what a big community it is," he said. "You really miss it when you don't do it."
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