Last night I ran with my running club and hated every minute of it. Nevertheless, over the next few paragraphs, I’m going to explain why you absolutely, positively must join your local running club.
The fact is that most runners have a love-hate relationship with running. For a large proportion of the time, we love it. Take, for example, those gloriously warm summer sunset runs, every ParkRun or every time you cross a finishing line. The endorphin and serotonin hit is unequalled.
However, for every glorious run, there is usually a painful, hard work, awful run that just doesn’t go to plan. Heavy legs, inability to breathe, inexplicable exhaustion, zero pace – all are familiar to regular runners.
Lesser known, though, is the third type of run; the hate it, but actually really enjoy it Club run.
This was the position I found myself in last night for the third of my club’s summer ‘out and back sessions’. Twenty minutes out, turn around, twenty minutes back. The concept sounds easy, but the reality is brutal.
Running with others, especially faster runners, means that you are inevitably carried along at a faster pace than you would normally run by yourself. Having set a benchmark distance the previous month, meanwhile, also means that you have a personal target to beat.
This, coupled with the challenge of completing the whole thing bang on 40 minutes, makes the out and back experience a little vomit inducing! Upon completing it though, cheered on by your club mates, the feeling is almost euphoric. And this is exactly why every runner needs to run with a club.
Running clubs offer something that solo running simply cannot and, if the horrors of the out and back haven’t convinced you yet, here are five tips for running with a running club and the main reasons why you need to find and join your nearest club today:
1. Other runners
This might be the most obvious tip of them all, but when you join a running club you will meet a whole host of people who share your passion. However, the benefits of this are numerous. Firstly, no one outside of running really wants to hear you talk about your black toenails or your struggle to get under 47 minutes in the 10K. Even if you talk about it with the kind of enthusiasm that you would expect others to embrace, non-runners’ eyes will gloss over as they listen to you. Runners, in contrast, will lean in and listen. They will share their own tales or running woes with you, they will compare injuries and they will tell you about races and events that you’d never even heard of, let alone considered. They are kindred spirits and, furthermore, those in your life who don’t run will be grateful that you no longer have to bore them with your running rants.
The other key benefit to meeting and running with other runners is that they become a source of support and inspiration to you. My running club includes David, a member in his late 80s who has run his whole life. A competitive runner and field athlete in his younger days, he turns up to every session, helps to coach the junior section and has no intention whatsoever of defaulting to the expected pastimes of someone his age.
I never fail to be inspired by David and by all those within the Club who take on personal running challenges of all shapes and sizes, from ParkRun PBs to ultra marathon glory. They are people to admire and inspire in equal measure.
2. Improve performance
Running is a surprisingly technical sport with consideration needed in regard to such things as pace, gait, cadence, stride length, nutrition, hydration and even breathing. Terrain, distance and time, meanwhile, all add further complication.
However, runners are often creatures of habit who, when running independently, can unwittingly pick up bad habits along the way. Running with a club, alongside more experienced runners and those who have actual coaching qualifications, on the other hand, gives you access to advice that can vastly improve your performance and help you to avoid injuries.
Whether you’re running on track, road or trail, uphill or downhill, short distance or long distance, technique is everything. The odd word of advice, or opportunity to watch how others approach a session, can make all the difference.
3. Discover new routes and places
I thought I knew my local area, until I joined my running club. I used to run familiar routes around streets and trails and covered plenty of miles. However, within a few weeks of joining the club, my eyes had been opened to a whole variety of different tracks, trails and routes that I never knew even existed.
Veering off the beaten track with other local runners, I was soon able to connect the dots between different runs, via the tiny tracks, unseen turn offs and wholly new paths that the club sessions took me on. Furthermore, as my endurance increased over time, the longer club runs took me outside of the circumference of my personal running locale, introduing me to new areas and allowing me to appreciate how easy it actually is to get between places that I had only ever driven before.
I suspect every running club also has an Elly. Elly is the person at my running club who, when leading a run, will take her group of unsuspecting victims on a wild tour of the local countryside, finding paths that I swear are only usually used by runners of the four-legged, hairy variety. Sometimes at night, I fear that these expeditions will eventually require the recruitment of a subsantial land and air rescue team, if not for the incredible navigation skills of our run leader. Despite probably only ever being no more than five or six miles away from home, Elly’s adventures always feel like we are lost in the depths of a South American jungle. I love every one of them.
4. Variety in training
When running on your own, you would never run to a painful looking hill, stop and then proceed to run up and down it 10 times. However, when you’re a member of a running club, you do exactly that, with a group of people who – to the casual observer – all look as mad as you.
Running clubs add great variety to your training, with sessions catering for all abilties and for whatever your personal goals may be. Often adapted as necessary to suit whoever turns up on the night, most clubs will offer sessions that focus on speed, hills and endurance, as well as social runs, on track, trails and road.
For those wishing to improve their pace or endurance, track, hill and speed sesions are vital. However, while turning up on a random street by yourself and proceeding to repeatedly run between different lampposts will inevitably cause the neighbours’ curtains to twitch, doing so with a group of runners means that you become lost in a crowd. Whether the local residents approve of a mass of sweaty-looking sporty-types passing back and forth infront of their windows as their eating dinner, is another matter.
Good running club coaches are also able to find a multitude of different ways to exhaust you. Whether tackling a Kenyan hill session, a shuttle run or a pyramid interval session – and often like being in a real-life, low-budget Saw movie – running with a Club will introduce you to whole new worlds of suffering…and you’ll love it.
5. Discounts on kit and races
If all this hasn’t been enough to convince you to Google your nearest club, perhaps the prospect of a healthier bank balance will.
Running can be an expensive sport as trainers, kit and race entires alone can easily run into the hundreds. Being a Club member, however, can lead to savings. My local running shop, for example, offers a 15% discount to members of England Athletics affiliated running clubs. Race entries, meanwhile, are usually similarly discounted for England Athletics members.
On this last point, its also worth mentioning that part of your Club membership fee should cover your England Athletics membership, which means that a short while after joining, you’ll receive a letter in the post with a membership card and official confirmation that you are, in fact, an athlete.
Not a runner, an athlete!
So, there you have it. Joining a running club will literally transform you into an athlete, it will improve your running technique and performance, it will broaden your social circle and it will save you money to boot. Why wouldn’t you join?
As for the out and back, I will give it another go next month and hate it just as much, but I can’t wait.
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