I remember watching the London Marathon as a child and announcing I was going to run it one day…my family thought I was mad. Although we were a very outdoorsy family (which explains my love of a muddy, hilly XC), at the time we weren’t a running family and to run that far seemed impossible. I always loved running at school and was even relatively speedy at 800m representing my school in Preston schools competitions and I also enjoyed the schools cross country races but for some reason I prepared myself for it by cycling up and down the hill at the end of our road. I was interested in joining our local athletics club, Preston Harriers, but it was on the other side of town and I have a couple of younger siblings which made it tricky for my parents to get me there so I didn’t join.
I started to get properly into running in my final year at university in Edinburgh where I saw an advert for a new running club and decided to join. Through this friendly club, I discovered I loved running, the places running can take you and meeting likeminded people so when I moved to Hertfordshire in Autumn 1999 for a three month contract I contacted a few local running clubs and North Herts Road Runners were the first to respond. I was living in London Colney at the time so NHRR weren’t the most handy club but I was more than happy to drive up the A1 for Wednesday night training at Letchworth Corner Sports club. I think one of the first people I ran with was Karen Dodsworth and I vaguely remember running the 5km series that used to be on Winter midweek evenings in Stevenage and Bedford Cross Country as some of my early races.
After chatting with a couple of other members in the changing rooms after training and listening them talk about in the bar at Whitethorn Lane, I was inspired to enter London Marathon and miraculously got in at my first attempt. In 2001 I completed the London Marathon like I said I would when I was a child! I have been a member of NHRR for 20 years now and I can’t imagine not being a member. I’ve now run 15 marathons, countless other races of various distances and completed a 40 races in my 40th year challenge but I think my favourite is XC. Although family commitments mean I can’t always make training at the moment, NHRR is a big part of my life and it has been great to have watched NHRR grow with and around me over the last 20 years. I have made friends (and met my husband!), spent time with lots of great people and enjoyed being part of the committee. So what next in my running story? At the moment, my aim is pretty low key, get rid of an injury and get down to the club on a regular basis.
Yifter the shifter they called him…….
This was the start…..
A 10-year-old watching the Moscow Olympics on the telly in 1980. This guy just took off on the last lap. Wow! – The drama of it all - the others seemingly going backwards, all anguished faces and flailing arms as this guy sped off into the distance.
And there I was – miserable summers spent indoors, suffering severe hay fever, all puffy eyes and wheezing lungs. Frequent hospital visits for treatment were the norm. No running outdoors for me.
School athletics often saw me side-lined with a sick note. Yifter the shifter had gone, replaced by Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett at Los Angeles 1984. The London Marathon featured on the telly. More drama, more excitement, but now, thanks to an inhaler and weekly hay fever injections, I was able to participate. Sports day yielded a 1500m time of 5:20.6, and my 800m time was 2:48. Trying to replicate Coe and Ovett’s performances on the track, the reality was a bit different – being able to breathe at the finish was enough! However, the whole concept of endurance running fascinated me.
The inevitable loss of interest in my early work years followed as I discovered wine, women and song – a familiar story to many; and a fairly sedentary life beckoned.
Then working in Germany in my late 20s to avoid spending every night in the bar, I was talked into going for an occasional run with a colleague.
Our route went up “the hill”. Short and sharp, my first attempt to run up it I was almost sick! Legs like jelly at the top, it became the focus of each subsequent run. Eventually able to run without stopping, it became enjoyable, and I started spending more evenings running rather than drinking.
This was the start (again)!
Fast forward through a few years of sporadic running, with no real idea of what I was doing and with plenty of injuries, and I found myself at my first Standalone. With a proper training plan from Runner’s World I became a runner!
A discussion with a club coach met at work convinced me to join a club (he actually tried to get me to join his club!). He said it would work wonders for my running.
The weekly paper showed results from local clubs – NHRR seemed to be the best performers, and finishing the Buntingford 10 just behind one of their top guys (age group triathlon world champion, no less!) convinced me this was the right club.
The first few club sessions were great – the atmosphere was so welcoming and inclusive, and a great bunch of people made fitting in very easy. A structured training programme set by the club coach meant things started to improve…….
I asked one of the faster club runners at a midweek league race how many times a week he trained.
“Two……”, he said hesitantly “……times a day”
“Really!!”, I said, in awe. This was extreme! And I was hooked!
Now - this really was the start!
Now in my 6th year at NHRR, running for me today is as habitual as cleaning my teeth, a consistent, daily thread running through the sometimes ruffled, twisted fabric of life. It sets the agenda for my day, every day. In the background, NHRR, and the greater running community, provides the structure and network of like-minded individuals, who, just like me, wouldn’t want to be without it.
I was one of the kids at school who would do anything to avoid PE. Being overweight, it was my idea of torture! It was a theme that carried on throughout my life until the age of 43. But then, having been inspired by a fellow slimmer, I signed up to North Herts Road Runners’ Couch to 5k course, primarily to help me continue losing weight. I must admit, as someone who was still five stone overweight, I expected people to laugh at me, but I honestly received nothing other than support and encouragement.
I completed the Couch to 5k course and was immensely proud when I ran my graduation 5k. The club were there to support us and gave us certificates and the biggest cheers. Approximately 30 of us graduated and we felt like we were part of something special. And then the club asked us if we would like to join. I couldn’t believe it. My first 5k took over 45 minutes – there are runners in the club who complete 5k in a third of that time! Why on earth would they want someone like me as a member?
It speaks volumes for NHRR that they were willing to commit not only to putting on the Couch to 5k course, but also to nurture a core group of novices going forward. Tens of club runners volunteered to operate a rota of running leaders to train us and we have grown in confidence, strength and ability as a result. We proudly wear our club vests and some of our group are now posting very respectable times themselves. I still regard myself as a plodder, but I’m close to a 30-minute 5k now and that will do me!
Being part of the club is about so much more than running. I’ve learned that volunteering as a marshal is just as important (and rewarding) as running sometimes and I’m always proud to go and cheer on our faster runners at important races. Since I’ve joined, even the fastest of our runners have found time to shout words of encouragement to me as they have whizzed past me on their second lap – they’ll never know how much that means to someone who only discovered a passion for running later in life. And our coaching is superb, the time and dedication that is put into the club is frankly incredible.
If you’re considering joining a club, please do. I’ve made friends for life, I’m inspired by the people I run with (behind mostly!), I’ve accessed expert coaching and I’m immensely proud to be part of this club. How I wish my PE teachers could see me now!