Running clubs and races
If you are new to running, this is going to sound ridiculous. You have barely started running, and now I’m going to suggest you join a running club. Bear with me.
One of the great things about running is that you can do it alone. Many of us enjoy running precisely because it gives us a little time to ourselves. But there are also significant benefits from being a member of a running club. Running clubs are not full of super‑fit, super‑fast athletes; nor are they full of serious runners. You don’t have to get fast before you join: whatever your standard, you will be welcome, and you will almost certainly find that there are plenty of members who run more slowly than you do. Running clubs are generally quite cheap (they cost upwards of £20 a year).
There are all sorts of running clubs, just as there are all sorts of runners. I once belonged to a very serious club, full of really serious athletes who all wanted to win every race. I remember preparing for a race where all the runners from my club were warming up alone, focusing on the race ahead, while a group from another club were limbering up together, chatting and laughing, and seemed to be having FUN. I decided there and then to join that club. So my advice would be to enter a few races and check out which clubs have runners who seem to be on your wavelength.
Why join a running club?
There are a number of benefits from joining a running club:
- by arranging to meet with other runners, you will be encouraged to run regularly, and this will make it easier to continue running;
- you’ll get advice from experienced runners on how to start running, how to avoid injury, how to improve, good routes to run in your area, how to enter events, how to run at different speeds and over different distances, and so on;
- you will get motivation and enjoyment from running with other people, and you will find that the miles slip past on your long runs as you chat with new friends;
- you will meet people with a similar passion for exercise and running;
- you get discounts at running shops and on race entries.
Depending on the club, you may also get access to coaching, regular races and competition (if you want it) and an opportunity to be part of a team. Some clubs provide access to physiotherapy, and information such as newsletters and seminars.
Am I too slow for a running club?
Almost all new runners feel they should wait until they are faster and more experienced before they join a club. This really is a mistake. Some clubs will have one or two fast megastars, but these will be easily outnumbered by members who run to control stress, keep fit, lose weight, or just as a way to socialise. Don’t be daunted about joining a club. Every one of its members has been a beginner at some time. Any club will be excited to welcome new people into the sport.
The Serpentine Running Club – Central London’s Running Club
I am a member of the Serpentine Running Club, which is based in London’s Hyde Park. Because of its location, it attracts a lot of young people working in London, including a lot of visitors to London from overseas. Unusually for any running club, more than half the members are women.
There are club runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays, track sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and long runs on Sunday mornings. Club members also organise weekend bike rides, yoga sessions, swimming classes, triathlon training and seminars. There are always weekend races, and the club organises excursions for events such as the Davos Marathon in Switzerland, the Welsh Castles Relay and trips to marathons in Paris, Berlin, Boston, Amsterdam and New York.
Membership of the Serpentine Running Club costs £20-25 a year (half price for pensioners and free for students). This gets you 10% off your kit from London running shops, discounts on race entry, insurance, a quarterly newsletter, a free physio drop-in clinic and running assessment, as well as an active social life.
For more information, have a look at the website at http://www.serpentine.org.uk
What does a running club actually do?
Running clubs vary. Most are focused on regular weekly club runs, often with a social element such as ending up in a restaurant or a pub. Some organise track training sessions and coaching, liaise with the national athletics organisation (UK Athletics in Britain), inform members about events and races, enter teams in team events such as relays, provide information to members, arrange social events, and organise races. Most of all, they link runners with other runners.
“My running club is the only reason I stay here. It is the best way to meet people of all different ages, from every walk of life.”
Simon, 30, from New Zealand
How do I find a good club?
Probably the best place to get information about running clubs is from a local specialist running shops. You can also get contact details from UK Athletics, or on the internet.
It often comes as a surprise to new runners that races are not especially competitive. There may be half a dozen runners or so who are in contention to win the race; for the rest of us, races are a way to challenge ourselves, measure our performance, run with other people, and to benefit from the race facilities such as traffic-free roads and water tables. The camaraderie among the runners creates a great atmosphere of mutual support. In short, races are a good day out. As we shall see in Chapter 11, you don’t need to be especially fast to enter a race.
One of the great merits of running, compared with other sports, is that you can enter the same competition as world-class athletes, whatever your level.
Races, teams and clubs
Many races give prizes for teams as well as individuals. These are calculated by adding up the position or time of a number of team members, and awarding the prize to the team with the lowest aggregate. Running clubs don’t choose team members in advance: it is simply the first members of the club to finish who score (e.g. the first four). This means that you don’t have to be “selected” to run for your club. In most races you must be wearing your club’s shirt to score for your club.
“My advice to new runners? Get a running buddy.”
Al Chou – former semi-pro cyclist and sub 3 hour marathon runner