Tuesday 29th January saw me pluck up the courage to finally attend my local running club for the first time. I had wanted to attend since early 2018, however I didn’t feel like I was a “real runner”… whatever one of those is! Telling myself that I would join a running club when I got faster and was able to run further, I kept putting off attending. It was actually my New Year’s resolution last year, but one that I failed to achieve. Thus, it made it back on my New Year’s resolution list for 2019.
January 2019 came around and I still wasn’t feeling brave enough to attend. My anxiety makes things like this even harder, and it was a battle that I kept losing. Then came the Gloucester Half Marathon on January 20th. Aiming for a personal best with hopes of running a sub-2:30 half marathon, I was in disbelief at the finish line. My official time was 2:11:02. I couldn’t believe it! For me, this was a turning point. I had ran the entire distance non-stop and average 10:00 minutes per mile. Now I was starting to feel like a “real runner”!
I did a bit of searching and found that there were quite a few running and athletics clubs in the area, but I decided to try the closest first.
Running Club A Introduction:
On January 28th, I messaged my local running club on Facebook to ask what kind of groups they had and if I would fit in to one. They advised that it would be best for me to attend the club on a Tuesday and see. The next day I was trying to prepare myself mentally. Throughout the day I had been anxious at work, unsure of what to expect later. Would I have the courage to go or would I bail, again? To try and get some encouragement I posted in a Facebook running community that I was looking to attend a running club but was anxious. I got a lot of support and motivation, and it also acted as a way to make me accountable. People wanted to hear how I’d found it, so I had to go in order to report back.
That evening I got home from work, had something to eat and quickly got changed. Chris dropped me off at around 6:10pm, and I made my way to the reception area. They pointed me in the direction of the running club desk and over I went. They asked me for my recent race times and what I was looking for in a club. I told them of my recent half marathon success and that I was looking to improve my race times more and meet like-minded people. The lady called a gentleman over and introduced me to him. He was the run leader for the group that I was going to run with. He explained that his group usually run a little quicker than my half marathon pace but that wouldn’t matter for this session as we would be running hills in a loop, so that we would always be around each other. The group consisted of around 8 of us and we all headed outside for around 6:30pm.
Training With Running Club A:
Starting off at a “steady” pace, we made our way towards the hill area where we would complete the session. The warm up pacer was quicker than I was used to, but I managed to keep up. We reached the hilled area and everyone promptly took off their jackets and tied them to nearby trees. I was a bit more wary, especially as I had my phone in my pocket, so opted to tie my jacket around my waist instead. The coach explained that we would complete intervals of running up and down the hill. The intervals would be 2 sets of 5 minutes, 3 sets of 4 minutes and 4 sets of 2 minutes, with 60 seconds recovery in between. He counted down the time and off we set. I tried my best to keep up but found myself clinging to the back, struggling to keep up with a lady who was returning from injury. In hindsight I ran too hard on the downhill recovery section, but I was trying to make up some ground. Eventually the coach called time on the first 5 minute interval and we all headed back to the starting area. The coach advised me to tie my jacket to a tree as it was hindering my running due to my phone constantly bashing into my leg. Reluctantly, I tied my jacket up and lined back up to start the second interval.
I made it through the second 5 minute interval and then the 3 4 minute intervals. Knowing that the hardest parts were over, I was keen to push on. To my surprise, the 2 minute intervals actually felt the hardest! After completing 2 of the 2 minute intervals, I was contemplating sitting out the rest of the session, or the next interval at very least. I shook those thoughts from my mind as I started the third interval. I ran past the coach who advised that there were only 20 seconds left. These felt like the longest 20 seconds ever as I tried to power my legs and body up the hill for the penultimate time. Finally, the coach called time and we headed back to the start for the final rest period. Knowing that there was only 2 minutes remaining, I was feeling optimistic about completing the entire session. These final 2 minutes were tough, but I made it through! We all regrouped at the bottom of the hill as we recovered our jackets. Relieved to have made it to the end of the session, the coach then threw a curve-ball… the session wasn’t over yet!
We headed back towards the club with another “steady” run. This time I had dropped a little off of the back of the pack. We reached the club grounds and a few members turned into the club, whilst others followed the coach. I started to turn towards the club, feeling like I’d worked hard enough. Then I thought, “I’m here now, I may as well see the entire session through”, and followed the coach. We crossed a road and found another steep road. The coach explained the session and called it “lampposts”. We were to run to the first lamppost, around and back down, then to the second lamppost and back down, then the third and fourth lampposts. Despite the incline, this didn’t sound so bad – I wasn’t sure why the rest of the group seemed to despise this workout so much. That was, however, until I found out that we had to do that 4 times, with only 60 seconds rest in between each set.
My run to the first lamppost was okay, but this soon changed on my run to the second lamppost. I was starting to feel the burn in my legs and was falling behind the main group. Just like the earlier session I tried to stick with the lady returning from injury. As we completed our first set, we regrouped at the bottom. The rest of the group started their second set and we started 20 seconds after them so that we all had a full 60 seconds recovery. I battled through set 2, and as I was on the final downhill run of set 3 I was debating whether or not to throw in the towel at the bottom. Ultimately, I decided against it. I had done so well and I really wanted to complete the entire session. It took a lot of determination and power to get through the fourth and final set, but it was worth it! I reached the bottom around 5 seconds or so after the lady I was trying to keep pace with.
Collecting our jackets, which had once again been tied to trees or left on the floor for the session, we headed back towards the club ground. During this brief walk, I spent some time talking to the run leader about Thursday’s session and what it entailed. He advised that it was a steadier paced run and usually attracted a few more people, depending on the weather. Upon reaching the club I called Chris to request a lift. Whilst I waited for him to arrive, the lady from the registration desk was on her way out of the building and asked how I had gotten on. I smiled and said that it had been a good session.
Running Club A Conclusion:
To be honest, I had been a little underwhelmed with my first experience of a running club. Other runners always recommend joining a running club and speak highly of the benefits, however I wasn’t getting that at all. Sure, the session had been good, however I could have achieved the same on the treadmill or on my own. Lately I’ve been completing hill and speed interval sessions on the treadmill and didn’t need external encouragement to get through tough sessions. I was looking more for the social aspect and being part of a community. I decided that I would give the club another try on Thursday when more people were expected to attend. It would also be an easier session which should make it easier to talk to each other.
Thursday rolled around and the weather was dreadful. -8 degrees, but worst of all, there were a lot of ice patches. After losing control of my car that morning on a patch of black ice, I decided against training at the running club. I didn’t want to risk falling so opted for the safer treadmill option instead. For the rest of the week I debated if joining a running club was for me. Maybe I was just better as a lone runner? There were two other clubs that I was interested in, however the one that intrigued me most was too far from work and home. The second option was just over 5 miles from work and then 8-10 miles from my house, depending if I used the motorway or not. In comparison, the club that I tried first was in the middle of my house and work at under 2 miles to either.
Running Club B Introduction:
After much deliberation, I messaged the running club closest to my work place to see what groups they had. They replied to request my phone number so that someone could contact me. Later that evening I received a message from a lady at the running club. She advised that there were a lot of road runners in different groups, as well as track athletes. I replied to say that I would be interested in coming down for a trial session, and she promptly gave me a call. She went over the sessions, different groups, location, fees, parking, etc. We agreed that I would message her on Tuesday if I was to attend, and she would arrive a little earlier to meet me at 6pm so that I could meet people before the session started at 6:30pm.
Tuesday came around much too quickly! I really wanted to attend, but I had always avoided driving anywhere near Birmingham. All of my commutes use the same roads and are usually under 4 miles. I also hate parking and always opt for the easiest spot. Driving into the unknown, in the dark, was starting to play on my anxiety. Still, I messaged to say that I would be attending. I had brought something small to eat and my running clothes with me so that I could eat and get changed at work before travelling to the club. Throughout the day I kept looking at the route that I would have to take. With no traffic it was only a 13 minute commute. That changed at 5pm and became a 28 minute commute. Still, I would have plenty of time. At 5pm I got dressed, ate and got into my car. Trying not to overthink things, I set up my sat nav and started my journey. Most of the trip was at a crawling speed, but I eventually arrived at the running club grounds.
The only parking space that I could find on the actual car park was a tight squeeze. I took a few deep breaths and started to reverse park. It was a longer process than I would have liked, but I eventually parked up. It was just after 5:45pm, so I had arrived in good time. I called Chris to let him know that I had arrived safely and headed into the club. The lady on reception got me to fill out a form, pay my session fee and then put on a wristband to show that I had paid and was covered by the club’s insurance. She advised that the lady whom I was due to meet hadn’t arrived yet, so to wait in the club room. The room was busier than I had expected! With runners of all ages chatting and preparing for their runs. There were trophies and photos throughout the room, and a bar on the right side.
At 6pm the lady who had agreed to meet me arrived. She introduced herself and showed me where the toilets, changing room and track doors were. I already felt a lot more welcome than at the running club I had tried previously. She then introduced me to the run leader of the group that I would be running with. He explained what tonight’s session would entail and spoke about my previous running experience. He told me how runners move up groups when he feels that they have improved, however some opt to stay in his group. A few other members of his group arrived and so I spent some time talking to them. We then headed outside. I set up my watch and the coach ensured that everyone had hi-vis clothing and was ready to start.
Training With Running Club B:
We started off with an easy paced run whilst we made our way to where the session would start. I was able to run towards the front of the group and the pace felt comfortable. Every now and then we would slow down to allow the people at the back to catch up, or turn back to close the distance. The coach was running between everyone to ensure no-one was left alone. He would then run to the front of the group to direct us across roads and around obstacles. During this time we were running at a comfortable pace and all talking to each other. We then reached the area where the session would start.
The coach had called the session “triangles”, and it was pretty self-explanatory. We were to run up an inclined path, turn right and follow the path all of the way around until we looped back to the start, forming a triangle. The plan was for 6 laps, however he explained that people could at the end of each lap or miss a lap if required. At first I was nervy as I didn’t know the route, so stuck towards the mid-back of the pack. Once I had climbed the first hilled path, I saw the coach at the top directing us right. I then realized that it was impossible to get lost as I just had to follow the footpath. There was one quiet side-street road to cross, however there was no traffic there throughout the entire session.
I completed the first 2 laps and felt good. I had gained a little confidence so decided to push on. Working my way through the group, I ended up as the third runner. The lady in front and I would then alternate placings; I would overtake her on the hill part and she would regain her position on the downhill stretch. I couldn’t quite catch the lady who was out front, however she stopped after 5 laps. I pushed on to complete the sixth and then regrouped with everyone. We then proceeded back to the club grounds at an easier pace. I spent most of this run back talking to the lady that I had been unable to keep up with during the main session.
Running Club B Conclusion:
Upon returning to the club, everyone congratulated each other and shook hands. They were all really supportive of each other, and also of me. The run leader walked with my back into the club room where we had a chat about how I had found the session. The lady who had originally greeted me was also there and keen to learn about how I had fared. There was also free water provided at the bar, and the coach handed me a glass. I spent some time talking to a few of the runners who had stuck around from my group, and a few from other groups. I felt much more part of a group than I had previously at the other club. This now made me wonder; perhaps being a club runner could be for me after all!
Having tried two different running clubs, I was surprised at how different my experience had been at each. The latter running club was the more expensive of the two, but if my experience there was better, then the price difference was irrelevant. There are a few other running clubs that are a bit further afield, however it would be difficult to drive there after work and arrive in time for the session start time. There is a club which is only 200 metres or so down the road from Club A, however this is a triathlon club and I would prefer a more dedicated running / athletics club.
Overall, I would definitely recommend trying a few local clubs before making the decision that a running club isn’t for you, or for settling on a certain one. A good club will cater to all abilities and be welcoming. Club A didn’t meet my expectations, and it did almost put me off joining a club all together. With that being said, I’m glad that I got out of my comfort zone and attended Club B. I have met some great people and actually look forward to going to train. I’m looking forward to membership opening for 2019 so that I can register officially and then represent the club at events.