My Winter Resolutions

I have never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, purely because I don’t see the point in making a resolution just because I feel like I HAVE to. I don’t want to make resolutions based on the expectations of others or the need to conform to societal norms (which is what I have done in the past.) I would rather make goals/resolutions throughout the year because I WANT to.

Don’t worry, this is not yet another goal-setting guide. I just thought it might be interesting to share some of my winter resolutions and hopefully inspire you to have a think about what you want to achieve over the next couple of months.

Reading 

I have always been a massive book worm. When I was a young whippersnapper, I handwrote hundreds of books; when I was 9, I even wrote my own spin off Harry Potter series (Tamara Jenkins and the Eagle Cauldron, absolute classic) accompanied by some very questionable illustrations. Basically I was (and probably still am) a massive geek with a very overactive imagination.

I frequently set myself reading goals, and for the next couple of months this involves reading more non-fiction, focusing predominantly on feminist non-fiction. I’ve just started reading Rise Up Women! by Diane Atkinson which explores the fight for women’s suffrage and will also be reading The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic.

Do you have any non-fiction feminist book recommendations? If so I would love to hear them!

Running 

MORE STRENGTH TRAINING.

I have always ensured to supplement running with strength training, and in the lead up to London Marathon I want to focus on this more than ever.

That’s all I need to say on this one!

Embrace Fear

I have been contemplating a change in career for over 2 years but have only recently been brave enough to go for it.

What’s been holding me back? It has nothing to do with fear of failure – it’s more to do with the expectations of others RE not following the career path that I have worked so hard on for the past 10 years.

None of us like to disappoint people, especially those close to us, and my change in career has disappointed a surprising amount of people. The internal battle of wanting to pursue my passion whilst feeling incredibly guilty has had a detrimental impact on my mental health, and in all honesty, I am still struggling with this.

However, I have finally come to the realisation that my career choice is nobody else’s business. I still have a long way to go, and some big decisions to make, therefore my key goal for the next few months is to be brave, embrace the fear and pursue my passion – I’m super excited for what’s to come!

When do you set goals/resolutions? I would love to hear from you!

Malawi Diaries Part 3: Kayak Challenge & Rainbow Hope Secondary School

The third and final challenge was a 25km Kayak on Lake Malawi, around Cape Maclear and Domwe Island.

I have never kayaked before, much to the amusement and disbelief of my wonderful and very patient kayaking guide. In fact, I haven’t been in a boat since 2003; 15 years ago, I went on a school trip to France, and the ferry journey was so unpleasant that I dramatically vowed to NEVER set foot on a boat again.

I was (definitely) not a natural on the kayak, but I was given some great tips from my guide and teammates, and eventually we got into a strong, comfortable rhythm. The Kayak challenge took around 4 and a half hours, and despite my initial concerns I found it rather therapeutic and of course the views were spectacular.

After the excitement of completing (and surviving!) the final Sport with a Purpose challenge, we visited Rainbow Hope Secondary School.

We were treated to a fantastic but heart-wrenching drama performance, which highlighted some of the issues that Malawian women face; serious gender disparities are prominent in Malawi and the play touched on just a few of these – education, marriage, and violence against women.

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Over the past five years, Rainbow Hope has developed from what was essentially a piece of derelict land to a functioning secondary school with three classrooms and 130 students. The aim is for the school to sustain itself by fee paying students, therefore most children must be sponsored to attend.

The Sport with a Purpose Team have sponsored 25 children, who will now be able to attend Rainbow Hope for their four years of secondary school education. * I am really excited to be a part of this!

It’s difficult to sum up my experiences, and actually I don’t want to, because I feel like I am still living it. I don’t want to come across like a pretentious moron, but I genuinely feel like a different person as a result of my time spent in Malawi. I hope that I have brought that person home with me, and I hope to continue to spread the word and inspire people to visit Malawi; friends, family, colleagues and strangers have asked me many questions and displayed a real curiosity, which was quite unexpected and very heartening.

Zikomo to everyone involved for the most challenging, emotional and inspirational trip.

*If you are interested in sponsorship, please do let me know and I can provide further details. It only costs £140 – £175 per year, and your sponsorship could make a HUGE difference to a potential pupil who will be so keen to learn.

Malawi Diaries Part 2: Cycle Challenge & YODEP

The second part of my Malawi Diaries will cover our visit to YODEP Village Community Project and our next challenge – the 55k Zomba Plateau Ride (climbing over 6000ft!)

I am a (very) nervous cyclist, therefore I anticipated that this would be my biggest challenge of the three. However, this brutal mountain bike was tougher than I ever could have anticipated, both physically and mentally.

Much like the Mulanje Mountain run, the route was very technical and therefore tricky to navigate. There were two options for the cycle, 35k or 55k, and in my head I was always going to complete the shorter ride (which was still an ABSOLUTE beast.) However, upon approaching the 35k split (whilst gripping onto my handlebars so tightly that I was beginning to lose sensation in my fingers), I was encouraged by my wonderful teammates to go for the 55k.

My biggest cycling fear is riding downhill, and this was downhill like I had never seen it before; steep, rough terrain with large rocks, holes and various other obstacles. We cycled through forests, streams and picturesque waterfalls – the views were INCREDIBLE.

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Although I wish I could say that I began to relax as the ride progressed, my honest feedback is that I felt anxious for approximately 90% of the Zomba Plateau challenge. Anxious is probably an understatement – I was sweating like a pregnant warthog.

However, it was an incredible experience, and I am very proud of everyone that completed it and so thankful for all the encouragement and words of wisdom from our fantastic guides. Despite my fear of the bike, this will not be the end of my cycling ‘career’ as I am far too stubborn/motivated/crazy to give up – plus, I’ve committed to take on my first triathlon next year!

Another highlight from my time in Malawi was our visit to YODEP Village Community Project.

YODEP (Youth for Development and Productivity) is a nonprofit community based organisation, established to help address socio-economic issues encountered by orphaned children, women and youth.

We received a very warm welcome upon our arrival at YODEP including allllll the singing, dancing, smiles and laughter.

A 5k run around the village really highlighted the strength and resilience of these amazing children – some ran in flip flops, some ran in odd shoes, and some ran in no shoes, but this most definitely did not stop them! These kids are SO fast and so talented, and with the right support and opportunities, could potentially go on to become world-class athletes.

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This was another eye-opening experience, and one that I will never forget. It was a pleasure meeting the kids at YODEP, who not only displayed exceptional sporting talent, but were also so welcoming, curious and kind-hearted.

If you are interested in helping YODEP, please let me know and I can provide further info!

Malawi Diaries Part 1: Mount Mulanje & Street Chef

I found it difficult to write this post as I have SO much I’d like to share about my trip to Malawi, therefore I thought I would break it down into three separate posts (which could potentially end up being 86 posts if I struggle to contain myself.)

This post will cover two of the highlights from my first couple of days in Malawi.

As part of the Sport with a Purpose campaign, we took part in a series of endurance challenges across Southern Malawi led by Dame Kelly Holmes – the first being a 25k mountain run up Mount Mulanje, the highest mountain in Southern Central Africa. We followed the route of The Porters Race, one of Malawi’s most challenging extreme sporting events.

The route is rocky, hazardous, unbelievably steep and incomparable to anything I have ever experienced! It was more of a scramble/fast walk/steady jog than a run, with extremely technical uphill trails and an equally challenging descent.

Mount Mulanje is incredibly beautiful; we were treated to views of spectacular waterfalls, majestic peaks, andddd I’ve run out of adjectives to describe the beauty of the landscape surrounding us so hopefully these photos will help!

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My teammates, along with the team that supported us, were fantastic throughout the challenge (and throughout the duration of the trip.) There is something very special about being part of a team of people who all share a common passion, and this set a precedent for the rest of the challenges.

Another key event from my first couple of days in Malawi was visiting Street Chef, an initiative which aims to provide more nutritious food for Malawians using locally sourced food cooked in an environmentally way.

Our visit to Street Chef was an eye-opening experience, and really highlighted some of the key issues surrounding nutrition in Malawi. More than half of Malawian children suffer from chronic malnutrition; this is a HUGE problem in Malawi and one that I cannot even begin to comprehend.

Street Chef have developed stoves that use minimal firewood and are a great accessory for a street food kitchen. These stoves come with recipes and training on how to make delicious food that is locally sourced, cheap to buy, and packed with nutrients.

I can confirm that the food was DELICIOUS (particularly the goat stew!) and it was great to see how inspired and motivated the team were.

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If you would like more information on Street Chef, or would be happy to donate*, please click here

*To those who have already donated via my personal GoFundMe page – thank you so much! To anyone else who is planning on donating, please could I ask that you use the link above.

Running at Altitude

Having only completed 3 sessions at the Altitude Centre, I am by no means an expert on this topic! However, I have been asked to write a post about this, so I am simply sharing my experience thus far.

There is a vast array of benefits associated with exercising at altitude, including improved strength and endurance, decreased resting heart rate and blood pressure, increased VO2 max etc. Apparently, altitude training can also help with ‘beauty enhancement’; I have no idea what this means and obviously it’s complete rubbish, but I did find it quite amusing.

My initial feedback is as follows:

  • Be mindful of altitude training if you are anaemic (I have suffered with anaemia on and off for a number of years.) I woke up this morning feeling a bit odd/shaky which could be down to several factors…but I have felt particularly ‘anaemic-y’ since I started altitude training
  • It takes my body significantly longer to recover from an altitude training interval session vs. a standard interval training session. This sounds obvious, but it is something that I most definitely underestimated
  • I struggle to eat post-class, which makes sense given that hypoxic environments reduce levels of ghrelin (the hunger-inducing hormone.) Nonetheless, this came as quite a surprise to me as I spend 86% of my waking hours thinking about food
  • I am faster and stronger than I anticipated, and I apologise if this comes across as arrogant. Up until recently I have refused to partake in any form of heart rate-based training, partly because I am stubborn, but predominantly because I believe that the in-depth analytics of every run/workout can sometimes be unhealthy and obsessive. However, the fact that I am now equipped with the knowledge that I can run quite a bit faster than my perception told me has been a wonderful confidence booster!

I cannot comment on the potential long-term benefits that I listed at the beginning of this blog (improved strength and endurance etc.) at this early stage. However, I am planning on incorporating some altitude training into my weekly schedule post-Malawi, so I shall be able to provide more in depth feedback at a later date!

Malawi Training/ I have no idea what I’m doing

Upon recently being accepted onto the ultimate Malawi Challenge: Sport with a Purpose, I frantically began searching for training plans for similar challenges. This raised 2 key issues:

  1. The majority of plans were created to be undertaken 6 months prior to expedition, and I depart on 6th October
  2. I couldn’t find any similar challenges…

Therefore I decided to write my own 4 week plan, based on nothing but my non-existant knowledge of running at altitude, kayaking etc.

A few days into this plan, I quickly realised that I urgently needed to simmer down because training 3 times a day is OBVIOUSLY completely unrealistic.

I then completely re-wrote the plan, based on more concrete evidence, and have subsequently re-written the plan every day since. I now have precisely 2 weeks 1 day until the ultimate Malawi Challenge, and to be perfectly honest I still have no idea what I’m doing. However, I thought I would share a couple of the highlights/lowlights of my ‘training’ thus far:

  • L A Y E R S, all the layers

As per recommendation of one of the greatest trail runners of all time (this was obviously not recommended directly to me as said runner has no idea who I am), I have done a few short distance runs wearing multiple layers. When I say as per recommendation, what this individual actually recommended was investing in a heat suit. I wore 5 layers, including a thermal vest and a ski jacket; I knew this was stupid at the time, but still proceeded to do it. It was uncomfortable and I looked like a moron, but apart from that I suppose it served its purpose.

  • Altitude training

To pre-acclimatise, I am aiming on taking 6 classes at the Altitude Centre prior to my departure. These are high intensity interval training classes, at a simulated altitude of approximately 2,710m, 15% oxygen.

My first session was both fantastic and nauseating, and I can safely say that I believe this form of training will be far more effective than prancing around in my ski jacket.

There is only so much I can do training wise within a period of 4 weeks, and I think at this point I just need to turn it down to a light simmer and enjoy the process. However, if anyone has any recommendations as to what I can do short term to acclimatise etc, please do let me know!

Is the Great North Run ACTUALLY great?

I was a spectator at the Great North Run 9 years ago, and at the time (whilst off my face on £2 netto wine with all the other young whippersnappers) I remember thinking, “why would ANYONE want to participate in this?”

Nonetheless, the GNR has been on my bucket list ever since I started running, and I was SO excited to get a place in this year’s ballot. However, as strongly hinted in the title of this post, following on from Sunday I have mixed feelings about the GNR.

The 3 main issues I experienced were as follows:

  1. Starting Pens

I arrived at my allocated start pen with plenty of time – however, the pen was full and therefore blocked off. I was directed to the next pen down, which was also full, and the next, which was also full… I’m still a little perplexed about this. It meant that initially I could not run with my pacer of choice, as he was approximately 86 pens in front of me (a slight exaggeration as always.) Somehow I did manage to catch up with him, but let me tell you this was not an easy task!

  1. The Course

Prior to partaking in the GNR, I read multiple reviews describing the course as ‘really varied.’ Sorry (not sorry) to be rude, but I’m presuming that these bloggers have been paid to say that…

96% of the course is really uninspiring – there, I said it. Essentially, it was one straight road, up until the sea front at the very end of the race. I understand that the course is set out this way in order to accommodate the sheer volume of runners, and in general this works very well. However, I can’t pretend that I’m not disappointed by how dull the course was.

  1. Post-race mayhem

I was completely aware that the GNR was going to be incredibly crowded; with 57,000 runners and 172782342* spectators, that goes without saying! However, I did not expect to queue for 3 hours (this is actually not an exaggeration) to travel from the event village back to the car.

The fact that the race had a very late start (10:40am) added to the general mayhem; by the time we got back to the car it was too late to drive back to London so we had to stop off overnight.

That being said, the atmosphere really was FANTASTIC; there is something very special about being part of the world’s biggest half marathon. The locals were great, the pacers were great, the event village was great, the red arrows were great etc.

Would I do the GNR again? Yes, absolutely. Do I think the GNR is great? Based on my 2018 GNR experience, no I do not – HOWEVER, I think it has the potential to be great.

What are your views on the Great North Run? Please do let me know!

*Obviously I made this number up. Just a little FYI

The ultimate Malawi Challenge: Sport with a Purpose

I am ever so excited to announce that in October (i.e. next month!) I will be travelling to Malawi to join Dame Kelly Holmes and a team of 20 on the 2018 Orbis Challenge. The purpose of this expedition is to assist with launching a new campaign, Sport with a Purpose, to raise awareness of the importance of nutrition and sport in Malawi.

As the challenge takes place in four weeks, and my place on the trip was confirmed four days ago, I really don’t have long to prepare for what will most DEFINITELY be the most intense physical challenge of my life!! There are 3 key elements to the challenge, which are:

  • RUN: Every year, there is a 25km run up Mulanje Mountain known as The Porters Race. This trail has a 1660m elevation gain (I REPEAT 1660M) and the incredibly hot climate will make the run even more challenging. I’ve never run in this heat before – in fact, I’ve never experienced this heat before and therefore any tips would be much appreciated!
  • CYCLE: We will be completing a 55km cycle across Zomba Plateau, which has an elevation gain of 1800m (I REPEAT 1800M.)
  • KAYAK: There will be a 20km kayak on Lake Malawi (the ninth largest lake in the world!) commencing at Cape Maclear, heading out to Mumbo Island, and then returning to the mainland.

We will be visiting several community initiatives in Malawi to support this years Sport with a Purpose cause. Our main focus will be raising awareness about health and wellbeing in Malawi.

One of these initiatives is Street Chef; a small, local initiative designed to get healthy local grown food onto the streets of Malawi. Street Chef have created environmentally friendly stoves that use minimal firewood, and come with recipes and training for the business street chefs on how to make delicious, locally sourced food.

This is such a fantastic initiative, and I feel SO privileged to be taking part! However, I would really REALLY appreciate your support; ideally I need to raise at least £2,000, but I am aware that at this late stage it may not be an achievable target. If you can help, anything at all, I would be ever so grateful: The Orbis Challenge

Do you have experience of running in the scorching heat? If so, I would love to hear your words of wisdom – please do get in touch!

Thoughts on training plans & the Great North Run

It may seem unusual to post about a race the week before race day, but I wanted to touch on something that is of great importance to me.

I am ever so excited to be racing the Great North Run on 9th September and have been looking forward to this race for many months! However, unlike other races, this is the first time that I have not followed a rigid training plan, and I would like to explain why.

Looking back on my training for Brighton Marathon, I took it very seriously; I stopped drinking, my nutrition was absolutely on point, and I declined invitations to a variety of social events that I really wanted to attend.

I don’t regret doing this, and I will certainly be following a structured plan when training for my first ultra and London Marathon. I am more than happy to dedicate 16 weeks per year to this lifestyle, as I thrive off fully committing to a set goal. However, for me, this just isn’t a sustainable way of living long term.

I want to emphasise that I think a fantastic personality trait is having the motivation to commit to goals (both fitness and non-fitness related) that require time and dedication. I know that some may view this kind of behaviour as ‘obsessive’*, and this is a comment that has been made to me on many occasions by Hortencia and others. However, Hortencia is a narrow-minded moron, therefore quite frankly their opinion is irrelevant to me.

My ‘training’ for the Great North Run has been fairly flexible and highly enjoyable. With a summer full of birthdays, weddings, and various other celebrations, my weekends have consisted of a healthy mixture of running, wine and lots of cake. I have not turned down a single (important) social event, because no race or long run is more important than spending time with my friends and loved ones.

Moving forward, if (realistically, when) my training starts to genuinely interfere with my general lifestyle, I will be treating this as a warning sign. I must admit that I do feel hypocritical writing this, as honestly, I find it SO difficult to take a step back when I have set my mind to something.

As always, it would be so interesting to hear your thoughts on this (unless you’re one of the Hortencia’s) – please do get in touch!

*I am not referring to exercise addiction here. That is, of course, a completely different kettle of fish, and there is sometimes a fine line between being a dedicated runner vs. addiction.

£3,000 down the drain on a PT course

Around 2 years ago, I embarked on a personal training course with a company who shall remain unnamed. * The course cost me over £3000 and I have just paid my final installment (although I dropped out of the course over a year ago), hence the inspiration behind this post.

My intention was not to become a PT; my main goal was to gain a lot more knowledge around strength training in order to improve my running, and also to come away with a better understanding of physiology.

Being the eager beaver that I am, I conducted VERY thorough research prior to committing to anything. The course that I selected seemed to incorporate a decent mixture of both online learning and practical workshops, and I truly believed that it would provide me with the skills and knowledge required. HOW WRONG I WAS. These are the 3 main problems I encountered:

  1. It was BORING and generic

As I have previously mentioned, I would describe myself as self-motivated. However, the online content of this course was presented in the dullest way possible. I felt like I had travelled back in time…the graphics and copy were probably extracted directly from a 1970’s Biology textbook.

I also encountered numerous technical difficulties; video demonstrations not playing, being unable to click through to the next section of a chapter etc.

I genuinely fail to understand how such a fascinating topic can be so boring. I would rather eat my dog’s toenails that sit through that e-learning.

  1. Hidden costs

Human contact was rather limited, which I struggled with as I enjoy working with and learning from others. Whilst I was presented with opportunities to attend a variety of webinars and events, the majority of these came at an additional cost (sometimes a substantial cost!) which I felt was such a shame.

I began to realise that I was wasting both my money and my time, which leads me on to my final point…

  1. CHEATING

Despite the uninspiring online content, I put a great deal of effort into studying for my Level 2 exams, in the hope that the course would improve. I needn’t have bothered, as the examiner revealed many of the answers during the exam. This is not an exaggeration, and I have been advised that this ‘cheating’ takes place within many PT courses.

I wouldn’t say that my PT course was a complete waste of money, as I successfully completed my Level 2 Gym Instructor course, and I did gain some value from this. I also wouldn’t go as far as to say that I was conned, as I was fully aware of the structure of the course, although I do feel that I was misled.

It may have just been the case that this course was not for me. However, one thing that I cannot fathom is the cheating element. Of course, this in unjust, but the main issue is that it could potentially be unsafe; how can one determine who is a ‘qualified’ PT when so many people simply cheat their way through the exams?!**

Have you had a similar experience? Would you class this as cheating, or am I coming across like a bitter 86 year old woman? Please do let me know your thoughts on this!

*I am more than happy to reveal the name of the company privately.

**This also backs my previous post about some of the dodgy PT’s I have experienced.

M A G I C A L running: the power of nostalgia

Yesterday I returned from a weekend in St. Andrews, which is my favourite place in the WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD. I completed my master’s degree at the University of St Andrews 4 years ago, and it genuinely was one of the best years of my life.

My initial love for running began to develop in St. Andrews, although I did not realise this at the time. Back in 2013, I lived a 2-minute walk from the beach, and every day, between work and writing my dissertation, I would disappear for a couple of hours to power walk/ jog through the coastal trails.

I didn’t realise that essentially what I was doing was trail running (I didn’t actually know what trail running was at this stage.) Bizarrely, I didn’t even class what I was doing as a form of exercise – I thought I was just exploring a beautiful place, mixing walking with a bit of running here and there. I used these 2 hours as my one time to escape between a particularly busy period – working full time whilst writing a master’s thesis was quite a challenge! Looking back, it was a fantastic form of exercise and on the rare occasion that I am lucky enough to visit St Andrews, I take full advantage of the coastal trails and golden sands.*

Nostalgia is bittersweet; the desire to escape into the ‘perfect’ or idealised world of a previous time can come with dangerous connotations. In a course that I am currently taking, nostalgia is very much discouraged, which I understand to an extent. However, ruminating and positive reminiscing are, in my opinion, at very different ends of the spectrum.**

I find that nostalgia really aids my running. ‘Magical’ running in St. Andrews is an extreme example of this, but there are also less scenic routes that spark nostalgia… the aerodrome where I would take my dog when I first started running and was too self-conscious to run alone. The long, bleak stretch of road in the Scottish Borders where I trained for my first marathon. If I am lacking in motivation, going back to old running routes can have a really positive impact.

Do you have a ‘magical’ running location/route? Perhaps a place that sparks a feeling of nostalgia, or is meaningful to you?

*Last weekend, my Sunday morning run wasn’t 100% magical as I encountered a naked man swimming in a large rock pool. It was very cold and pouring with rain, so the nudity did shock me a little.

**I have read many great books and studies surrounding time perspective – please feel free to get in touch if you are interested in this and I can share these with you!

Should I join a Running Club?

In line with my 1-year & 3 weeks anniversary of ‘officially’ joining South London Harriers, I thought this would be an apt post!

I attempted to join a running club in Scotland a couple of years ago but was informed that said running club was for MEN ONLY NO LADIES ALLOWED. Being the stubborn character that I am, I turned up and ran with them anyway, and can report that it did not go down well.

Upon relocating to London, I attempted to join a running club for the second time. On this occasion, I was not rejected due to my gender (#blessed). However, I was asked to provide a list of my PB’s for various distances, which made me feel a little uncomfortable.

Both experiences led me to conjure up mental images of smug, conceited runners, and I concluded that perhaps joining a running club was not the right move for me.

Nonetheless I persevered, and this is where this sad tale ends. South London Harriers were supportive and welcoming, and encouraged me to come along for a few Sunday long runs – a couple of months later, I joined the club.

From my personal experience, here are a few (of many) reasons to join a running club:

  1. Accountability

Positive peer pressure works very well for me! Although I’m intrinsically motivated, this sometimes wavers during the winter months (I really, really LOATHE cold weather. And by cold weather, I mean anything under 20 degrees.)

Making a commitment to join others for a training session is a great way to hold yourself accountable, and it makes those frosty winter early morning runs a lot more enjoyable.

  1. Community

Primarily, I wanted to join a running club purely to improve my running. This has evolved into something a lot more meaningful, although the self-improvement aspect has been fantastic, and it’s been beneficial to pick up tips from runners with decades of experience.

I’ve met some wonderful people through running (although there have been a couple of morons, such is life), who I might not have crossed paths with otherwise.

  1. Mental Health

I have previously written a post dedicated to Running & Mental Health, and I would like to highlight this again. Being surrounded by enthusiastic people has had just as much (if not more) of a positive impact on my mental health than running itself.

Although my initial contact with running clubs did not go to plan, I really hope this doesn’t put anyone off. From my experience, runners with an elitist attitude are in the minority*, and I was simply very unlucky.

Joining a club has enriched my experience of being a runner, and I would encourage anyone considering it to give it a go!

*Of course, there are some clubs that tend to be a bit elitist, and perhaps this is the sort of running club you are looking for! However, it’s just not for me.