Whether you believe it or not, once you’ve done your first race you are an experienced runner. Passing on your knowledge, and encouraging other women into the sport,can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.
“Going out for your first run on your own can be incredibly daunting,” says Katharine Jones, running activator for Sport Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and an experienced marathon runner. “Women are very conscious of being gawped at and scrutinised when they venture out on the streets. It’s a brave woman that heads out on her own for the first time!”
This is where having a female run group leader helps. A female group leader can appreciate the embarrassment and unwanted attention that runners often get. “Many of our female members will be mothers returning to sport for the first time in many years, desperate to regain teenage figures, make new friends, discover more about the area they live in and not be judged,” adds Katharine.
“At the same time, you may be juggling the everyday demands of work, running a home and looking after children. A female group leader will appreciate that her members may be exhausted from a sleepless night, or fractious children. They will understand that people will probably want to visit the loo at least once during the session, and for some, the jumping, skipping exercises may cause embarrassing leaks!”
Christine Benning, who represented Great Britain in the 1500m at the 1984 Olympics and was a silver medalist at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, is the club and coach support officer for England Athletics. She says: “I think women feel comfortable around other women who are juggling similar things in their lives – children, jobs, and elderly parents, for example.”
An understanding group leader, who has the enthusiasm, experience and knowledge to appreciate what other women are going through, will make a huge difference to whether they decide to step out of their front door for that first run. “It is this person who will eventually lead other women to experience the true feeling of liberation that a run can provide,” says Katharine.
CAN ANYONE SET UP A RUNNING GROUP?
Yes! The saying is “You don’t need speed to lead”, and this is very true. To be a group leader you need to be able to run, but you don’t have to be the fastest in the pack. “It’s your enthusiasm and commitment to support and encourage novice runners take up the sport that will make you a good leader,” says Katharine.
It’s not hard to set up a running group. You just need to chat to other women you know, your friends, colleagues, hairdresser, beautician, and you will find that there are people out there who dream of running, but just haven’t got the motivation or bravery to get started on their own.
WHERE DO YOU START?
England Athletics (englandatheltics.org) offers a one-day course to become a Leader in Running Fitness (LiRF). Each course has attendees from local running clubs and leisure centres, but many will be individuals who want to help others take up running for the first time in their adult life.
The LiRF course is a mix of practical and theory, ranging from learning how to overcome barriers to starting running, up to actually practising leading a session. There’s no exam to pass, however in order to get your Leader’s licence you will have to get DBS clearance. “England Athletics have made it very easy for people to set up running groups in their local communities or work places,” says Christine. “The one-day LiRF course qualifies and insures leaders to deliver safe and fun running sessions.”
The course costs £160 to attend, but there may be funding available to assist with this payment, including bursaries from initiatives such as Project 500, which is actively supporting women to get involved with coaching and leading sports. For anyone who is a member of an affiliated running club, they pay a reduced cost of £140.
“All we ask is that you register your group and its members on the Run England website so we know just how many groups and new runners there are out there!” says Christine.
Visit the England Athletics website for details of your local course, or go to your local council to find out whether there is a running activator to offer advice and support in starting your group.
“I’ve been running beginners’ courses for three years,” says Sarah Gardiner, England Athletics’ Run! City Portsmouth activator. “I have many runners still in my intermediate group who started as absolute beginners, some have taken part in races, some are quicker than others, but we celebrate everyone’s success and remember to not take running too seriously.
Having good people skills is essential to being a run group leader, says Sarah. “You need to be able to relate to people’s fears, answer their questions and look after everybody, whether it is a group of five or 25,” she says. “At the end of each course I do, the group always tell me, ‘We didn’t believe we could do this!’”
As a run leader you will watch a group of strangers slowly transform into women that love running and the freedom it brings. “Seeing this, and watching them make real friends as they enjoy the challenge together, supporting each other is the greatest reward,” says Katharine.
Feeling inspired to give it a go? Read Melissa Juniper’s story, group leader of Ready to Run Surrey and Hampshire:
“I started running on my own 10 years ago, until I found my local running club, Blackwater Valley Runners, in Aldershot. The club was so supportive and I’ve made life-long friends.
“One day at work, a Run England running activator convinced me to train to become a Leader in Running Fitness. This is when my passion for creating safe and friendly spaces for people to learn how to run began. Over the years the numbers of people attending my 10-week course grew rapidly; many have joined local running clubs and have continued their running journey to 5K, 10K, half- marathons and full marathons.
“Feedback from the runners has enabled me to develop the sessions to encourage more runners with a Body Mass Index of 30+ to exercise safely in an environment where size, ability and gender really doesn’t matter. Being in a group allows runners to ‘merge’ together and become what they describe as inconspicuous to the public.
“Many times I’ve crossed over the 5K fi nish line with ladies of all ages who have lost up to three stone over the 10 weeks, got new jobs, worn a dress for the first time in years, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, lowered their risk of Type 2 diabetes or blood pressure, or have stopped drinking alcohol.
“Around week four of the course, other group members notice people’s weight loss; this is where the group support comes into its own. Friendships are made, extra runs are booked in, new running kit bought and the hilarity of conversation climbs to an all-new level! I’m proud of every single runner who has joined my group; they inspire me to always achieve my best on my own running journey.”