As part of my quest to run the marathon after a 12-year break, I have been reading up on the latest training ideas. I have learnt about (and bought) lots of fancy gadgets – GPS watches, new running tops, fantastic trainers, super accurate heart rate monitors, compression clothing, hats, gloves and a whole host of books. You could go bankrupt taking up this running malarkey!
The books hardly mentioned any of the gear and while they had slight differences in training techniques there were a number of commonalities:
- Interval training
- Hill runs
- The “long” run
- Marathon pace running
- Weight management
- Diet and nutrition
The final thing that nearly all the books advised was that if you wanted to really improve it was best to join a club. The advantages of training with like-minded individuals are easy enough to see, but I am more used to using my running to gain some ‘me time’ and running independently and so just carried on training alone. My mind was changed, though, when I ran my first Park Run with a friend on Saturday the 1st of December. Conditions were appalling, the water on the paths had frozen solid and the grass was a waterlogged bog. It was more Bambi on Ice than running, and I was quite surprised that it even went ahead. We did a slow wander round the course in about 30 minutes but I was struck by the people around us. Despite the conditions, they were all smiling, happy, and chatting away about the course, running and the meaning of life, and … there were hundreds of them!
It was the camaraderie of the Park Run that made me decide to join a club: that, and the dawning realisation that I need to run intervals and train differently and could simply not do it effectively on my own. An early adopter of technology and at ease with all things online, I began my search. Google would be my friend. I looked at just about every running club in Newcastle and the surrounding area, well, all of those that had a website. Undertaking effective research is a major part of my job and those who know me will not be surprised to learn that I had a spread sheet of options!
My first choice was Tyne Bridge Harriers. Their website is superb (check it out http://www.tynebridgeharriers.com/) It is packed with interesting information about the club, how to join, race reports, race results and crucially, over the two weeks I spent looking at it, it was regularly updated. The final piece in the jigsaw was that they meet a five minute drive from my office. So, I sent an email. The guy on the other end must be paid to monitor the club inbox, because within minutes I had a reply: very impressive. A quick bout of email tennis and I arranged to go along on the next Tuesday.
I walked into the East End Pool lobby and there was a busy throng of people. Before I was fully into the meeting area, someone approached me and asked if I had been before, explained how it all worked and put me into Group 5 to try out. There were a lot of very fit people wandering around and lots of expensive gear on show – I was beginning to have second thoughts. Five miles running with this lot may put me in hospital! Anyway, off we went. We jogged for a mile or so to warm up and then ran intervals followed by another jog back to the pool. The session went well and I managed to chat to a few members. I went along again for the Thursday session and tried the slow group in Group 4. Same again, great group of people and I really enjoyed it. I joined the club that night.
The third session was a Grand Prix. I didn’t have a clue what this was, but basically it is a 5k handicap with a staggered start where everyone races off at alarming speeds racing against each other and their own previous times. I have written a separate blog post about it here. (As it was such an experience I felt compelled to share my pain.)
The bottom line is that the club is a vibrant, incredibly well organised, friendly and packed with knowledgeable people. It has a vibrant online community via Facebook and Google groups, no discernible impenetrable cliques, a good craic and lots going on. At the time of writing, I have only been to four club nights, but I already know much more about running than I ever did before and, crucially, I have run intervals and pushed myself harder than I have ever done previously, even gaining a PB over one of the shorter distances. Not bad for just four weeks.
So, I am a member of a club and I have a club vest – I must be a “proper runner”…
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