Runners: they’re everywhere

I never realised quite how many people were closet runners. There are those ‘obvious’ runners, spotted in motion in the countryside or headtorches blinking alongside the road or just people with such healthy glows/long limbs that there can be no other explanation – but there are also enormous swamps of secret fitness buffs.

For example, in the last 48 hours I’ve met two strangers through work from completely different backgrounds and age brackets, and both of them lit up when I mentioned my new habit. One (mid-20s PR from London) just completed her first 10k (#goals) while the other, (50-something charity staffer) is in a local running club and does regular 5ks.

It just makes you wonder whether everyone’s secretly at it. It’s all a bit Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but, you know, in a nice way.

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Why join a running club?

Pros:

  • You get to meet other runners. Obviously. You can talk to your heart’s content about trainers, and – if you’re lucky – you might find race buddies too. I feel much happier about running my first 10k race alongside two experienced runners, who can carry me if need be. (They don’t know this is part of the deal.)
  • You might get freebies. In Sweatshop clubs there are all sorts of treats to sweeten the deal, including a discount card. I got this fetching yellow T-shirt that bugs LOVE to stick to after five weeks of running with them.
  • You get distracted. Running a cold 5k in the rain is hard. Having someone alongside you, answering your panted questions about their running background, is immensely helpful.
  • Special events. We don’t have terribly many, but there’s an annual run (with medals!!) for the anniversary of our shop opening, in September. Last year there was a great turnout and we had scampi afterwards. (Important detail.) Also we did a ‘guesstimate’ in January, where were had to estimate how long we’d take to run just over 5k, no watches or phones allowed. I was robbed – just 20 seconds out! Next year…

Cons:

  • Sometimes you just don’t feel like going for a run, and being part of a group leaves you with a teeny, tiny guilty voice in your head. And on your Facebook wall. Although really, perhaps that’s a good thing?
  • You might get stuck running with someone boring, or unfriendly. It happens – but again, it’s a blessing in disguise, as it’s sure to motivate you to pick up your speed.

Of course, the other option (and perhaps the best of both worlds) is joining a virtual running club… More on that later!

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Here we all are, marshalling at Park Run – I’m towards the right

Are you in a running club?

My running background

This isn’t me – this is a terrifying clown I ended up running behind on a Hallowe’en run in Richmond Park. True running dedication. #someregrets

Prior to last April I’d dabbled in running. Breathless 30 minute yomps designed to burn fat and not much else. Often joyless – apart from the smug factor – and without much purpose, they consisted of running along the river Cam from my mum’s house, out to a field of ponies (the high point) and back. They were a chore. A bore. A punishment.

Last April, stuck in traffic on a sunny evening, I experienced something I never had before. I was abducted by aliens. Probably. That could be the only explanation for how I felt. I felt the urge to run. For pleasure. I wanted to get out of my sweaty car, and feel a breeze on my neck. I wanted to follow the river (this time the Nene) and the railway into the woods by my house, and I wanted to do it fast. Ish.

I parked up, put on my trainers and flew along the path. For a bit. Then it was more like a crawl. With bugs sticking to my face sweat (nice). And perhaps it was the extra protein involved in eating insects, but I enjoyed it. I really did.

I did it again, and again. And then I got curious – just how far was I going? It felt like miles. (It wasn’t.) I downloaded a free app (Runtastic) to measure my progress. One night, I decided to see if I could v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y run 5k without stopping, and it turned out I COULD. I was jubilant.

I signed up for a 5k Race for Life in July, and I got around without stopping, despite it being hot and crowded. See? There’s forehead sweat and everything.

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Then I signed up with a running club – the Sweatshop club in Peterborough – where I found people I could talk to about running without their eyes glazing over. I started doing a weekly 5k with them on Monday nights.

What you need to understand is that if you’d told me any of this a year before, I would have laughed in your face. Me? A running club? But I hate sports. And people. And especially running. But there you go. I was finally in a team, aged 28.

My next race was a Hallowe’en 5k run (pictured above) in Richmond Park. It was all a wee bit stressful (eye bulge) because of the fog, and the navigating (I drove up from Hove with my mum in tow). Oh and there were gentle slopes, which to a fen girl might as well be Mount Kilamanjaro. And it was freezing! But I did it, and got a pumpkin medal for my troubles.

The next diary date was a Santa Dash 5k in Ferry Meadows (the same place as the Race for Life) where I got this snazzy (sweaty) suit.

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What did I learn? Running in a beard is tricky. I found a new respect for my boyfriend, who has no choice.

So that’s that. Next up, my first 10k, which will be at the Milton Keynes Festival of Running on March 6th. I’m lucky enough to be going with two new friends from my running club, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

What made you start running?

Why I run

 

  1. I love to be outside. Yes, there’s some treadmill work involved currently until the nights get shorter again, but primarily it’s all for my long weekend runs. Just me, the sunrise/set, numerous birds (typically swans, robins and the odd heron), dog walkers (actually not always a good thing – I got lunged at by an alsatian recently. Although this was good for my speedwork.) and other runners.
  2. Other runners. Both within my group (Sweatshop Peterborough) and strangers who smile, say ‘good morning’ or just scrunch up their faces into a sweaty grimace. I feel your pain.
  3. To eat more cake. They can’t all be virtuous reasons.
  4. To control my goals. I’ve always been ambitious, but my goals have almost always been work-related, and therefore generally come down to someone else’s decision ultimately. Running is my decision. When/where and in fact whether I go out for a run, which (if any) races I sign up to and even what my next goal is (currently getting to 10k) are all up to me. And guess what? I can do it if I stick at it. A revelation!
  5. It’s changed how I feel about my body. I’ve not been nice to my body over the years, but it would be churlish not to appreciate what it’s done for me lately. I give it a task, and it more-or-less gets it done. I tell it to get out of bed early on a Saturday, and with no breakfast, plod its way down the river for a slow 8k, and it does it. For the first time ever, I’m proud of it, no matter how it looks.
  6. The merch. A whole new world (Aladdin-style) of shopping has opened up to me. Running tights, sports bras – even socks are exciting to me now.
  7. The magazines. I experience any new hobby through magazines (that’s why I love my job) and running has meant I can invest in at least three new subscriptions. Print’s not dead.
  8. The bling. I appreciate these reasons have gone somewhat materialistic, but I defy anyone to not feel just a teensy bit Gollum with a shiny new race medal around their neck.
  9. The support. I always knew I had supportive friends and family, but their tolerance for my waffling on about distances, times, etc has been really touching. Special thanks to mama Dening for accompanying me to races at ungodly hours.
  10. The pride. One of my favourite mantras for (literally) uphill climbs is ‘pain is temporary, pride lasts a lifetime’. And it’s true, although I sometimes have to remind myself. It’s amazing to catagorise myself as a ‘sporty person’ for the first time in my life. To not be terrified of embarassing myself running for a train. To take an interest in televised races. To not shuffle guiltily past the ‘sports and leisure’ catagory on the magazine racks. To tell people: “I’m a runner.”

 

Why do you run? I’d love to know.