I started going to my local social running group in January 2016, for their second 10 week series. I did not consider myself a runner at all, in fact, truth be told, I really didn’t like running! I was doing a lot of cycling and was working out at the gym in preparation for a big cycling challenge and thought it would be good to mix things up a bit, try a different form of exercise.
The first night was freezing cold, I wore multiple layers, hat, gloves the lot. This was definitely a moment to wonder why I wasn’t at home on the sofa in front of the log fire! I joined the walk to run group as I didn’t anticipate being able to run. However, by the end my body was telling me that I should change to the running group for the following week as it just wanted to run, not walk! That was a revelation. Over the next three years I dipped in and out of the group and stopped a year ago when my knee decided that it wasn’t up for running any more.
The women who turn up each week have their own reasons for doing so – improving their fitness, losing weight, the social aspect, getting back in to running, some dedicated ‘me’ time or a combination of reasons. They are women of all ages, abilities, shapes and sizes and it’s fabulous to see how many have found a love of exercise and/or running. Some have gone on to take part in 5k or 10k races, half marathons, marathons and Park Runs – things they never believed they were capable of before coming to the group. Even I, a non-runner, did the Cardiff 10k in 2017 – the first time I ran 10k without stopping – I was pleased that I did it to prove something to myself but I won’t be doing it again!
However, groups only works if people volunteer their time to make it work. When they advertised for new Leaders at the end of 2018 I didn’t think that would be for me. A lot had happened since I last attended at the start of 2018. In April 2018 I found out that I am autistic and the time since had been a rollercoaster as I relearned myself, trying to understand what that diagnosis meant for me. My mental health was up and down as I processed this new information. Having finished work in July 2018 I became aware that I was isolating myself, seeing few if any people other than my wife most weeks.
I find small talk difficult, I’m really not great at talking to people I don’t know and many things are context specific so I don’t know in advance whether I’m going to find a situation ok or really difficult. Despite all that I dived in to applying to be a Leader! It helped hugely that my wife was already a Run Leader with the group. To be honest, if she wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t have made the leap. However, I was also aware that unless people volunteer for these roles the group doesn’t happen.
By now, the group had evolved and had a Walking group, a Walk to Run group and a Fun Runners group. That needs a lot of leaders! A Welsh Athletics training date was set for the end of April 2019, the day before the start of another 10 week series and two of us attended on behalf of our group.
I had committed only to lead the Walking Group because I couldn’t be sure my knee would hold up for running anymore. I was pretty anxious on my first Monday night, even though I was only shadowing the main Leaders – for experience and whilst waiting for DBS checks, Safeguarding training and my Welsh Athletics licence to be issued. It was good to be back with the group, see familiar faces and be impressed once again by how many women turn up to Just Move – many of them regulars but always some new faces too.
I’m now in to my first series as a qualified Leader and am on the rota for 7 out of the 10 weeks. I’ve had to consider what routes are appropriate for the women in the walking group that would meet their needs whilst also being suitable for the weather and levels of light. There have been a couple of times that I know I would have been at home on the sofa whilst the rain was absolutely hammering it down – but, that can’t happen when you’re a Leader and people are expecting you to take them out! The ladies are dedicated women who want to get out, whatever the weather, which is good for them and good for me too!
So, what do I get out of it? Well, being a leader on the rota means that it ensures I turn up, whatever the weather or regardless of how tired I might be. It would be so easy not to do it for myself but when you know other people are relying on you, somehow you find the motivation to get off the sofa when it’s wet and cold out. It ensures that I get out and socialise – I still feel awkward and self conscious when trying to make small talk, it really isn’t one of my skills. Knowing that, as a Leader, I have to make the effort means I have to do what does not come naturally to me and which I would rarely be comfortable doing if I just turned up to walk with the group but they are such a lovely bunch of women that I seem to manage to get by. It’s helping me to rebuild my confidence in myself after having the stuffing knocked out of me by my diagnosis. It’s also amazing to watch how quickly women can build their confidence and fitness when they are encouraged and supported, how they can achieve things they didn’t think possible for themselves, even in the space of 10 weeks. That is definitely worth the effort of volunteering for an hour a week!
Social running groups give so much to people. They only happen because of those who volunteer as Leaders. If you’ve ever thought about helping out with your local group I’d encourage you to give it a go. If I can do it, anyone can!