I can't remember whether I've said much about my role supporting new runners this year. It started in the spring when M suggested I take over organising our club's C25K (couch to 5k) course. We had 47 people sign up, 14 on the waiting list, and 40 finished the course nine weeks later. I learnt a lot about my ability to manage large numbers of people, how to motivate and support them to do more than they thought they could, and it was totally inspiring watching them progress and overcome obstacles and hurdles (a lot in their own minds) and seeing them go from people who didn't believe they'd be able to sustain ninety seconds of running at the first session let alone do 5k by the end of the course. We had all ages from 11 to 70, all shapes and sizes, all abilities. Some had run years before, some had never done any exercise at all, but all of them completed the 5k (3 mile) parkrun at Eastleigh nine weeks later with the biggest smiles on their faces you've ever seen.
We were all slightly bereft when the course ended. It had become a highlight of all our weeks. We had become friends, peoples' fitness and health had improved and the general sense of teamwork that developed was lovely to be part of. We had a laugh every time we met, there was lots of good natured teasing and banter and it was a really nice, happy, positive thing to be involved with. When it finished I had people telling me it had been a transformative experience, that they'd made friends for life and in some cases, that it had been life changing. I found it a very humbling experience and absolutely worth the time invested. Almost everyone continued running, with some joining RRR and others meeting up a few times a week to run together informally.
Several of the group were keen to take their running to the next level and do a 5-10k course. For various reasons the club wasn't able to facilitate that, so I decided I would set something up myself. With help from M and some friends from RRR and OS Runners who kindly gave up their time to support our new runners, I put together a ten week programme of progressively increased distances (in small increments to minimise injuries) and worked out routes that took us through some beautiful countryside, starting and finishing at pubs (complete coincidence). Poppy came with us and soon found herself the group's mascot.
The culmination of the ten week course was this Sunday just gone, when three of the group ran the inaugural Ageas Bowl 10k in Southampton. More of them had entered, but a combination of colds and unexpected circumstances meant not everyone could do it. Anyway, Rob, Ali and Jo all finished the race in fantastic shape. I have to say I thought they looked a good deal more composed and confident than many of the more experienced runners coming in. We'd trained hard and thoroughly and with discipline and it showed. We'd talked race strategy beforehand and they'd all managed NOT to get swept up at the start and had had the discipline to keep their pace steady until the final sprint. I was MASSIVELY proud of them. We had to pinch ourselves slightly to remember that five months ago they couldn't run at all, and yet here they were running a little over six miles in a race with a thousand other people.
Faced with the imminent ending of another course which we'd all enjoyed and realising that meeting up once a week to run across fields and through woods and then sit in a pub at the end with a pint having a natter afterwards had become an integral part of all our weeks, and something we all looked forward to, I tentatively suggested that we could just keep going. Everyone jumped at the idea, so M and I spent an evening or two brainstorming names for the group, eventually coming up with the Hampshire Hares. One of the group members is a graphic designer and she put together some fantastic logos of running hares, the group voted on their favourite one, and we are now in the process of having them printed and put onto running kit for the group. I have every expectation that next year some of them will be training for their first half marathon. I shall certainly be encouraging them!
I'll leave you with a photo of RRR celebrating numerous PBs at the Ageas yesterday, including M who got his fastest 10k time in three years...... hip, hip, hooray!
If you've thought about starting running but are worried you might not fit in with a group- go for it. Honestly, you won't be on your own or stick out like a sore thumb- all kinds of people run, all kinds of abilities, all kinds of speeds, and there are all kinds of groups out there for all kinds of people. If you're in the UK, a good place to start is the Run Together website, which has a search facility to enable you to look for organised groups in your area. They are all registered with Run Britain, the governing body for athletics in the UK, so you can rest assured the people organising them are qualified and know what they're doing. If a group isn't your cup of tea, you can download an app or print a programme from the NHS called couch to 5k which is the one we used this year, so I can testify that it works. You won't regret it.
Hope you've all had a good weekend? I'm still on hip rest but it is starting to feel better so I hope I'll be allowed to try a little run later this week.....