July 15, 2015
When I was at university (Did you know I have a first class degree in Performing Arts??) one of my 2nd year modules was called Virtual Reality in Performance and we spent 3 months exploring new technologies and concepts that might have the potential to change the way we see the world. The group I was working with developed a multimedia performance called Denier, where audience members came into a studio space and were met by multiple projections, TV screens and a soundscape of various futuristic noises…plus 5 performers with tights tied around their eyes so they couldn’t see.
Now this was like 1999 and we thought we were cutting edge, little did I know then that I would go on to develop a virtual 5k race series and a virtual running club, because back then I thought I was going to be an international artists, not athlete.
So lets just explore for a moment what we mean by virtual…
The dictionary defenition is
1.almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.
“the virtual absence of border controls”
not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.
“virtual images” carried out, accessed, or stored by means of a computer, especially over a network.
but I like the late Middle English explanation of ‘possessing certain virtues’
Technology and in particular social media has made the forming of global communities of people with shared interests a piece of pie, and in many ways transformed what we traditionally think of in terms of belonging to a group. So back in the spring of 2013 when I had a newborn baby to look after and a body that didn’t feel like my own, I reached out and found likeminded runners around the world and convinced them to buy into my idea for a virtual 5K just for plus sized runners…otherwise known as #OneBigFatRun
Running with others once a month was great at first, especially having an event to look forward to but what about the three and half weeks in between? Women were telling me they wanted other ways of keeping in touch, they wanted to share experiences, ask for advice and congratulate each other on their successes, you know much like you would in a traditional running club.
But we were all over the world, how would that even work?
Thats when I started investigating the idea of a virtual running club, because not everyone can join or wants to join a traditional running club. Some of us don’t enjoy running with others, some of us are too scared and some of us simply can’t make evening sessions.
So my proposed club would offer something different. It would be a safe place for women from the TFTR community to develop fully as a runner, both in technique but also in confidence. A space where no question was stupid, where no speed was too slow, somewhere to post pictures of red faces, or ask for moral support when things go wrong. There was even the possibility that as it grows women could use it to find buddies to run with in the real world or even start up their own TFTR local group.
But what would members ACTUALLY get as part of their membership?
- Weekly Training Runs
- Monthly Mindset Themes
- Fitness Challenges
- Training Resources
- Downloadable plans and templates
The Clubhouse was launched in January 2015 with 15 brave pioneers who happily tested the new membership area of the website and dealt with all the initial teething problems, and I am so proud to say 6 months later we now have over 100 women signed up with new members joining each and every week. We’ve just started mapping where everyone is from in the world and I am so eager to see those little coloured pins pop up elsewhere on the map. It fills me with joy knowing that from Brisbane to Bristol, Washington to Woking women are putting on their TFTR tops and heading out the door for a run, willing each other on to do their best and push just a little harder perhaps.
Recently we did a bit of research to look at who our clubhouse members actually were and how they were finding being part of the worlds first virtual running club for plus sized women and the results showed a whole range of perceived benefits with 79% of women saying that being a member kept them motivated with their running, 90% found the group inspirational and 93% said it was the sense of community that the clubhouse encouraged that they most valued.
I have been blown away by the support I have seen in the closed Facebook page, with members offering to run either virtually or in the flesh if geography allowed. Sharing recipes, gifting unwanted kit and giving virtual kick up the rears when needed. Regular meet ups at races happen all the time now among UK members, and we are also starting to think about road trips for next year…Berlin Half Marathon is top of my wish list so we can meet our German members.
The majority of our members are aged 30 to 49 and we have a mixture of abilities, with plodders being the main contingent (37%) but with over a quarter run walking. One member said in our survey
“I’m somewhere between a run/walker and a plodder (on the scale), depending on my health, the weather and how much I have run recently. I like the way Julie caters for all women, from beginners to marathoners and beyond.”
I wish I had been part of a virtual running club when I first started out all those years ago. I think I would have started enjoying the sport much sooner and not beaten myself up so much about how I looked or how slow I ran. It’s the being accountable and knowing that you all share a common goal that makes our group so unique…that and the fact we don’t take our selves too seriously.
Over the next 12 months I hope the membership will grow and that we will have members on every continent, I have all kinds of ideas for developing the offer and can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. The question is will you be in the virtual locker room with us? Will you have your very own coloured pin on my map?
Membership is only £10 per month you probably lose that amount down the back of the sofa without realising, or on buying coffee while out shopping…or dare I say it in unused gym memberships or slimming clubs. Becoming a member of a running club shows that you are priorotising your running and taking yourself seriously as an athlete. Joining this running club shows that you are supporting the TFTR campaign to make running accessible and enjoyable for all.
Why not give it a go…who knows where you might be in 12 months time.