How Community Running In Blackburn Changed My Life
Back in 2015 I was looking for a new way to get fit. Someone in my slimming group mentioned a community “couch to 5k” group that she had been running with. It was helping with her weight loss and for her to tone up. They were almost at the end of the plan but there was so much interest in it that there were going to offer the service again.
I went along, not knowing what to expect, and not having run since high school. There were 10 groups, each with a team leader, a couple of volunteer helpers and a free C25K phone app. We were put into groups and spent the next 9 weeks - three sessions a week - working our way through the plan, culminating in a ‘Celebration Run’ on week 10 to honour our recent achievement.
I learnt a lot in those 10 weeks. I learnt that I could progress through the plan with the help and support of others. I learnt that habit forming is the first step in making changes. I learnt that I wanted to carry on and do it all again - this last lesson was the most surprising to me.
I turned up for the next plan, ready to run again - the only problem was that I’d turned up a week early and had joined in with the volunteers meeting, preparing for the next week. I attempted to slink away quietly but the GroupRun organiser, Rick Wilson, spotted me, told me I’d make a great group leader and promptly put me in charge of Group 6. If I thought the previous 10 weeks were life-changing, I had no idea what I was about to embark on.
Being a community run leader/volunteer is a huge responsibility and commitment. People look to you for advice and guidance which makes leading a group Hard Work. You have to prepare your route and take health and safety measures into consideration. You have to be “on” all the time and provide a positive atmosphere even if you’re not feeling tip-top yourself. But all that feels easy when you know that what you are providing is changing lives and bringing enjoyment to people. You see people at their highest and their lowest but, ultimately, you help them towards that first goal of running 5k to the best of their ability in a short space of time.
All in all, myself, my co-leaders - first it was John and then Lesley - and numerous volunteers took small groups of people (around 20-30 at a time) through the programme for two years and then it was time to move on. A small group of us decided to tackle the “Progression” group; a similar plan but learning to run 10k. It was a tough 9 weeks but, again, with the support of each other, we did it!
Throughout the Progression plan I had been plagued with injury. My doctor referred me for tests and I was diagnosed with a Bakers Cyst and arthritis of the knees. The ideal (and advised) situation was to give up running but I was now hooked. I decided to take a couple of months off and then see how I felt.
They were the hardest three months ever as I had now give up a lot of my spare time to the community running ethos but I was also enjoying it - I watched my friends talk of training to run further and faster and entering races - I still joined in by offering to marshal some local events, dishing out encouragement and high-five’s along the course but it was never the same elation as actually completing a run. After three months or so, I rejoined from the start again - my half marathon dream is out of the window - and have since had the opportunity to lead a group on a couple more occasions and then volunteer for the Progression group. I have also been elected to the GroupRun committee and co-manage the social media side of things.
Blackburn GroupRun is unique - or is, at least, the forerunner or model for community running groups. People join the group for many reasons - to get fit, to lose weight, because their friend told them it was a good thing to do, to work towards a longer distance. Whatever that is, we ensure that it becomes an enjoyable experience and something that they want to return to whether that be to complete the plan again, volunteer, run further or be signposted to the local running club.
From the vision from Rick had just over three years ago, to the run leaders and volunteers, to the management team that have had to be put in place to support the programme and its volunteers, to the participants who come back for more and bring their family and friends, to the backing in and around the town from local business, to the support it gives to charities, to the friendships formed, to the opportunities it brings, to the spin-off activities and the links to Blackburn Road Runners… this cannot be replicated overnight.
I said towards the beginning that this had changed my life - and it continues to do so. I struggle with running both mentally and physically but my volunteering role helps me to take my mind off that. Not being the fastest has been the hardest lesson to learn as I was a champion sprinter in my teens, however I now understand that this is more about personal goals - small and attainable - and being part of an altruistic community that generates invaluable friendships and provides so much more than ‘teaching’ you to run. It’s also inspired me to start my own mini-community - the #FitbitchesMOVEment which is a small community that encourages women to move more in 2017 to improve their fitness. It’s not just about running but extends to all kinds of fitness activities. We have a private support group on Facebook and share pictures on Instagram. It’s very much in the early stages and is already providing support and encouragement to women around the UK who need it. And, in a very selfish way, it’s helping me to make even more changes towards self-improvement.
Massive thank you to Nickie for sharing her experience up in Blackburn and the great work that she is doing to inspire people in the GroupRun set up.
If you're interested to join up or find out more then contact Nickie on the details below:
Twitter : @nickieohara | Blog : www.iamtypecast.com
Instagram : @fitbitchesMOVEment : https://www.instagram.com/fitbitchesmovement/
Twitter : @5kGroupRun | Website : www.5kgrouprun.co.uk
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