It is becoming quite a challenge in itself to reply to every comment or email about why Żary parkrun no longer counts towards the Alphabeteer A-Z challenge. It has come up so many times now that it is worthy of a blog post - hopefully this can set the record straight, with all the facts.

What Happened?

At the start of May 2019, parkrun HQ changed corrected the spelling of Żary parkrun in the results table, it now accurately starts with a Ż, and not a Z.

The Polish alphabet contains many letters that are not in the UK English alphabet, with Ż being one of them. Of the 66 current parkruns shown on the map in Poland, the following list shows those that have an initial letter not in the UK English alphabet:

The extension currently checks whether the first letter of a parkrun name is one of the characters in the list abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwyz i.e. one of the characters of the UK Engish alphabet, minus the X. A computer programme does not know if the letters look the same, it has a unique code for each letter - therefore Ż and Z are never matched together. With that in mind, we did not remove Żary from counting as a Z, it merely no longer starts with a character that we check for, and thus it effectively became invisible in the Alphabeteer challenge in the Running Challenges extension. There has been no change in the Running Challenges Extension code, this change in behaviour is purely down to the change in the way the event name is displayed in the results table - a change made by parkrun HQ.

To be clear, the Running Challenges Extension is not affiliated with parkrun, and as it says in our About page, it is made by a couple of keen parkrunners who just wanted to share a cool tool they made. We don’t get notified in advance of any parkrun website changes; if it breaks something in the Running Challenges extension, we just have to catch up and fix it. The first we heard of the change in the way Żary is written was when we were on holiday in Cornwall!

Why Did It Change?

As we are unaffiliated with parkrun HQ, we have no insight into why this was changed now, but we can (and will!) speculate. The primary reason is that it was wrong! Ż is not the same as Z, and being correct is important.

As parkrun becomes ever more global it has to make sure the events in each country are accessible to those local communities. Having your local parkrun incorrectly spelt on the website can only hinder native Polish parkrunners finding it.

Edit: 20190522. Word on the street is that the Polish parkrun community wanted the parkrun spelt correctly on their apricot tees, seems reasonable!

Why Does It Matter To Alphabeteers?

It is well known in the parkrun tourist communities that some initial letters are harder to get than others. For a long time, Jersey parkrun was the only event on the UK parkrun website that began with a J, and there were many grumblings about ‘having’ to go to beautiful Channel Islands to get that letter. The more extreme case is for a Z, where the nearest one was in Zary Żary, Poland. To some, finding that Zary Żary is not being counted as a Z is the-worst-thing-in-the-world™.

What Else Might Change?

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that all the Russian parkrun events are listed in the results table in their English spellings, take Gorky Park for example, which is actually called “parkrun Парк Горького”, or maybe 二子玉川 parkrun, which begins with “二”, “ふ”, or (at a push) an “F”. It is probably only a matter of time before these corrections are also made.

How is the Running Challenge Extension Going to Cope?

Good question. Whatever we decide will unfortunately be seen to favour one group over another. However, where possible we have always tried to include the worldwide parkrun family and not make this extension exclusively UK only, so our solution will attempt to respect that.

One thing we will definitely not be doing is counting Żary as a Z, that makes no sense - the letters are as similar as O and Q, but no-one is suggesting that those two are interchangeable!

It is likely that we will split the Alphabeteer challenges up into country variants, and include a master list for those people wanting to truly get the whole list. This will have the following advantages:

  • Those parkrunners who don’t want to, or can’t, go abroad will be able to track their local progress against the available alphabet letters in their country.
  • The master list will allow anyone to track any specific subset they are interested in, and if they want to track Żary as a Z, they can see that it has been done. But this won’t mean the badge is available for arbitrary subsets.

Why Isn’t it Fixed Yet?

There are not enough hours in the day! We have full-time jobs, other hobbies, and lives outside of parkrun, we’ll do the changes when we can. As you can hopefully see from the above explanation, however, it’s not a trivial change.

If you haven’t yet joined the fun, you can get the extension from one of the links below:

Running Challenges in the Chrome Web StoreRunning Challenges in the Firefox Add-ons Web Store