I got into running about 4 years ago. I had heard about the NHS couch to 5K programme and in the new year of 2013 after too many Cadbury Roses I was determined to complete the programme. I had never enjoyed running, I never had the fitness and stamina to be able to, and the horrors of school bleep tests and cross country in the mud were not exactly encouraging memories. In about week six of the programme I did one walk-run session where I realised I was no longer thinking about simply putting one foot in front of the other and breathing and pain, but could think about something else entirely. It was getting easier and far more enjoyable and it was so incredibly rewarding to see myself go further week after week.
After the end of the 10 weeks I completed a 5K, from there a 10K, then made the bold decision of signing up for a half marathon. Safe to say by then I was well and truly bitten by the running bug. In my final year of university I decided to set my sights on the full marathon distance, I secured an elusive place for the 2015 London Marathon through the university running club but remained absolutely terrified of ever joining in with any of their training sessions. Having seen them whizz along the river there was no way I was going to embarrass myself by trying to keep up. So I kept plodding along on my own.
I was a true believer in the couch to 5K model; building up walk-run bursts. Anyone can do it; the hardest thing is getting out the door. This becomes so much easier when you know someone is there waiting for you. This is where the idea of a ladies only running group in Cambridge, for absolute beginners came from. I wanted these sessions to be approachable, open and free because, why should you have to pay to go for a run? I floated the idea to two friends from the gym who I knew were also keen runners and they were keen to get involved. Living Sport offered to fund our training course and we soon became qualified Leaders in Running Fitness (LiRF) with England Athletics. We decided to offer three sessions a week for a block of 10 weeks and started our first session in July 2016. We had about 10 – 15 ladies attend at least one session per week for the first block. We asked for feedback about the sessions, we made some changes, when the evenings became darker we changed locations, moving onto the road and we started a new 10 week beginners block.
We grew in numbers and now had our first group who could comfortably run 5K, as well as beginners. The need for more leaders soon became apparent and our first port of call was our own group. Two of the initial group were excited to get involved and we managed to put them through training courses that enabled us start the New Year offering four different sessions a week. One sprint session, one steady 5K for improvers, one walk-run for beginners and one circuit session for everyone. We envisaged a drop off in numbers with the arrival of the colder weather but, in fact, we saw the opposite. Our first session in January saw a record 22 ladies attend.
We have recently launched a crowdfunding initiative and have raised funds to train up four new run leaders in Cambridge who will soon be starting sessions in the South of the City – we have effectively franchised our group, widened our running community and allowed more women in Cambridge to access running in a friendly, approachable manner.
The whole Let’s Run Girls group is volunteer-led and will remain that way. It’s about women sharing their passion for running with other women. We have a Facebook community of over 200 people, with approximately 50 women who attend at least one session a week. Most impressively we have recently had 12 of our group successfully complete the Cambridge Half Marathon. The group is now mixed-ability and we run regular 10 week beginner blocks throughout the year, always accepting new starters.
Before I went on the LiRF course I had lost my way with running a bit, and was terrified I would be the slowest one on the course. As soon as I got there I realised I had nothing to worry about, it was a very supportive environment and everyone there probably felt the exact same way! Supporting others into running and seeing them improve, become more confident, run out the stresses of a bad day at work, and be proud of their achievements has been so unbelievably rewarding for me.
Leading sessions has also been incredibly motivational for me, there’s very little chance I would head out on my own for a run at 7.30pm on a cold and dark winter’s evening, but knowing there is a group there waiting for you makes it an easy decision. I have also grown in confidence through leading sessions, I feel part of a really great community of like minded women who never fail to surprise and impress me. When I was recruiting new leaders to start up sessions in a different location in the city I was contacted by four women who said exactly the same thing in as many words: ‘I love running myself, I’m interested in becoming a leader but I’m not sure I’m a good enough runner myself to become a leader.’ My answer was the same to all of them, it does not matter how fast you can run, that’s not the point of our group, if you want to be ultra-competitive there are plenty of other athletics clubs you can join. In my opinion, to be a leader for our group all you need is a passion for running and a willingness to share that with others. Those four leaders will soon be starting beginners’ sessions in the city and long may Let’s Run Girls continue.
This coaching story was supplied by Living Sport – County Sport Partnership for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough