October 10, 2014
It was about this time of year in 2011 that I first went along to my running club, after securing a charity place for the Virgin London Marathon the following Spring. After months of procrastination I knew it was finally time to start taking my training seriously, and the only way that was going to happen is if I started running with others.
Yeah, yeah I know marathon training is a solitary kind of thing for many runners, but I needed to do some serious work on upping my distance and thought having a challenging weekly club run to commit to would take me from being an occasional useless jogger to a frequent long distance runner.
I don’t know why it took me so long to sign up, well I do it was fear and unfortunately my first experience wasn’t that great (mainly because I am a terrible navigator and got lost in a park just after sunset) and it took me another few months to find the courage to return, but boy am I glad I did because I would never have made the progress I have or feel such a part of the mainstream running community without my awesome club.
So what were my initial fears about joining?
- I thought everyone would be faster than me
- I thought everyone else would have better kit
- I thought I would be the fattest there
- I thought I would find the runs too challenging
- I thought I would feel out of place
And I was right on all 5 counts.
After 3 years of being a member I am still the slowest, still the fattest and if I am being honest at times I do still feel a little out of place, even now despite my club being very inclusive and a real mixed bunch. But the friendships I have created and the memories of awesome training runs, ice cold track sessions and various races over the years reminds me that I am no less of a member than anyone else there, even if I am yet to secure them any points in league races or win a single prize for coming first.
So in light of the recent Virgin London Marathon ballot decisions, this has got me thinking.
At this time of year it is likely that running clubs up and down the country will see new nervous members come through their doors, less experienced and even slightly chubby runners perhaps desperate to build their confidence and of course mileage in the lead up to their spring race. But are running clubs ready for us? What would happen for example if 20 fat runners rocked up at tomorrows training session unannounced? Are running clubs set up for slow fat runners like me, runners that want to improve, but can’t always get to every club run session, can’t buy the latest gear (mainly cos it doesn’t come in our size) or be able to jet off to other countries to compete in back to back marathons.
So in the likely or not so likely event of a whole heap of new rather rotund female runners arriving one day I have pulled together a checklist so that you can do a little bit of a “can we accommodate fat runners” audit of your club.
1. Do you have a beginners session? But hang on a minute why are we assuming a fat person is going to be a beginner? I had been running for close to 7 years prior to my first run with my club, even if my speed and technique said otherwise. A beginners group however will help build confidence in newcomers and shows a commitment to wanting new members.
2. Do you offer track sessions? Track is great for slower runners because we stop keeping tabs on how fast everyone else is once we have been lapped a few times, plus we are less likely to be ridiculed than while out on the roads. Track sessions can also be adapted easily for different abilities, meaning you can all push yourself as hard as you like or just plod around working on your stamina and endurance.
3. Do you have a tail runner/do loop backs? Or are fat slow runners simply going to be left behind to fend for themselves? If I am going to run for almost an hour without seeing a soul, I might as well just go out by myself right? Also I want to know is the regular back runner is going to shudder each and very time I turn up to club?
4. Do you have club vests in our size? What do you mean you only go up to a large? What if I have big boobs? So what am I supposed to wear to represent the club…or do you not want me to?
5. Do you work closely with your local parkruns? That’s were some of us brave fat running folk hang out each week, although even parkrun seems too daunting for some of us fatties. A gentle push to join your clubs beginners group could sound quite attractive if you catch us after a succesful saturday morning run.
6. Am I going to annoy all the proper runners? Am I going to feel welcome? Will more experienced runners even talk to me? What if I come last at an event am I going to disappoint everyone else?
7. Are you likely to wait for me to cross the line at a race? Or will you all be down the pub by the time I finish? I know it’s not always possible to wait for slower runners, but at a local 5K surely hanging around to clap me over the line isn’t too much to ask?
8. What if I get one of your sought after marathon places? As a fully paid up member I would be entitled to go into a club ballot for any spaces you have. Would the better runners see that as a wasted place if I was so lucky? OK so I can’t do a sub 4 hour marathon, but I might still like to try a long distance race just once.
9. Are slimmer members going to preach to me about weightloss tricks and supplements? Maybe I am not here to lose weight, maybe I am happy with my size but just want to become a better more confident runner, or is this an oxymoron?
10. Do you actively recruit larger women? It’s one thing to say we are welcome, but do you do anything explicitly? What does your website say to a fat person, are your images all of skinny minnies, do you ever reach out and invite new members in to try out a session or work with your local authority to promote your club as part of their healthy lifestyle programmes?
In the UK one in 3 people are overweight or obese, that is a hell of a lot of people…a hell of a lot of potential new runners. and off the back of the athletics success at London 2012 Games and recently parkruns 10 year anniversary we know that running is a sport high on the political agenda right now with funding and infrastructure going in to enable more grassroots participation.
Attracting overweight women to a traditional running club is not an easy job, attracting overweight women to any new sport is tough but we can’t stop trying. When that switch goes off in someones mind that makes them want to make that change in their life we mustn’t have all these barriers, we have to make it easy for them, welcoming them like you would Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis, proud that they chose your club…if not any kind of bad experience has the potential to knock them back again, reinforcing the idea that exercise isn’t for them after all.
So come on, how did you do with the checklist?
Are you ticking all the right inclusively boxes? Can I tell my ladies all about you guys and be confident that they will have a good first session experience? Or when we walk through your clubs doors do you secretly think “Oh no, not another one?” and look back to the glory days when only proper nicely toned athletes graced your doors.