Reader, I did it! On Sunday 9th June 2019, accompanied by my wonderful sister Teresa (a multiple marathon runner and inspirational support) I ran the Sutton Beast, the local 10k race, in one hour and 19 minutes. And four days later I ran the Ely Runners 10k handicap in one hour and 16 minutes, two minutes inside my handicap time.
None of these numbers are particularly notable in terms of running times; almost everyone I know in Ely Runners can knock spots off them, but that isn’t important. What is important is that I managed to double the distance I could run and then carve large (largish) chunks out of the time that it took to do so. And that improvement in both time and distance was partly down to the efforts I put in with training and effort.
But, and this is a HUGE but, it’s mainly down to the wonderful outfit that is Ely Runners and the inspirational community of Littleport parkrun.
This blog was intended to be an update on how I’d progressed as a runner through 2019, but as I reflected on what to write my thoughts turned increasingly to the theme of community. The community of my running club, and the community of parkrun.
As mentioned in the earlier episode of this blog, I joined Ely Runners in September 2019 after completing the Beginners’ Course. The weekly Tuesday evening intervals training sessions gradually helped increase my speed, though from the sheer running perspective I found them difficult. But what began to help most were two things to do with the club: firstly the rest of the runners, who would lap me regularly, always had a word of encouragement as they zipped past; and secondly people would come up to me and chat both before we began and after we finished. And I found myself beginning to get to know people who could run 10k, half marathons, marathons and more. It was a revelation!
Through the winter the people I got to know at the club helped me, occasionally advised me and always provided an inspiration. There are so many people that I owe thanks to that I’m scared to start listing them in case this turns into a roll call. But I really do have to give special mention to John and Kyle, who lead the training sessions and always give strong and helpful advice, to Hannah who got me through the Beginners’ course and started me on the way to 10k, and to Allistair and Michelle who helped me time and again through the longer runs this summer.
As we got into spring I decided to take part in the Thursday evening training runs. These were longer, steadier and a continuing challenge as they were leading me into distances I’d never run before. But with the support of Ely Runners friends it worked. And as I said at the beginning, I got to 10k which was my ambition at the beginning of the year. Since then I’ve slowly been upping my distance and increasing my speed and with the help of my coach Lauren I’m well into a training plan to complete the Cambridge Half marathon at the beginning of March.
Lauren (who blogs as Girl Running Late – well worth following by the way) is an example of how great is Ely Runners club. ER has a Facebook group for club members and somewhere in November, realising that I needed to do something drastic about the forthcoming half, I tentatively asked there if any of the club coaches fancied a challenge. Lauren responded that if there was commitment then she would be happy to take it up. And a few discussions and one training plan later I’m well on the way. Lauren is showing herself to be inspirational (she is sub 20 for 5k), encouraging and wise. She’s also a good friend.
Now, there are many running clubs who focus solely, if not mainly, on running excellence. These are the sorts of places that have minimum standards to join – typically sub 30 minutes for 5k or similar. A club like that wouldn’t even consider someone who is aiming at best for a 2:30 time at half marathon. But Ely Runners does. In fact, as mentioned above, they go out of their way to welcome and encourage slower runners and rejoice to see every small improvement we make. Lauren’s voluntary efforts to guide me to that half marathon is the exemplar of that, and I am entirely in their debt.
For those who don’t know about parkrun, let me quote the opening lines of a great article on the subject from 2018:
Every Saturday morning at 9am sharp a little bit of anarchy breaks out across the country. This being Britain, it happens, naturally enough, in our parks.
At its most simple, parkrun is a timed 5k run/walk that happens every week. It is entirely volunteer driven, costs nothing to take part and requires no specific levels of fitness. And it is, above all, a community exercise.
My first parkrun, as I talked of in the earlier blog, was to mark my graduation from the ER Beginners’ Course . It was fun and exciting, and I’d never taken part in anything like it before. And it became part of my weekend. Initially I just ran it every week, but then began to volunteer as well, and I found myself in a fun and very supportive community. The speedy runners encourage those of us who are not so quick, and no matter how slow people go – trotting, walk/run, or just a walk – there are marshals and other runners giving encouragement. Latterly I have become more involved with the core team who keep the show on the road every week and have been hugely impressed with the selfless work that is put in.
The Littleport parkrun community is supportive of everyone who takes part, and everyone who takes part joins that community. I know that sounds all rather airy fairy, but when I see one of our speediest runners out on the course setting it up for others to benefit from it then it makes sense.
Running in my experience is a community exercise even though it’s an individual undertaking. And I am hugely thankful to both the communities that in one way or another have taken me in.
PS The article that I quoted from at the beginning can be found here.