Spread­ing The Joy

You know the hap­pi­ness our sport can bring, but few feel­ings can be more sat­is­fy­ing than in­tro­duc­ing run­ning’s re­wards to oth­ers, as our bringers of joy dis­cov­ered…

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Ad­mit it, when you in­tro­duce some­one else to run­ning, you feel pretty good

Girl Power Lau­ren Gre­gory Run Like a Girl ‘Many of the women who'd never run be­fore are now com­pet­ing in half marathons and 10Ks’

Af­ter giv­ing birth to her first baby, in 2010, keen gym-goer Lau­ren Gre­gory was des­per­ate to get back in shape. ‘Run­ning is free and ac­ces­si­ble at any time so it seemed the ob­vi­ous way to get back into train­ing,’ says the 37-year-old, from Leam­ing­ton Spa in War­wick­shire. ‘I’d do a 5K loop, with my son in his buggy.’

Lau­ren quickly be­came a run­ning con­vert, mov­ing up to 10Ks, then marathons and even a 100km ul­tra. It wasn’t just the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits that she en­joyed: ‘ Women are of­ten their own worst crit­ics when it comes to body im­age and self­es­teem, but I found run­ning to be one of the best reme­dies,’ she says. ‘It taught me what my body was ca­pa­ble of and I felt em­pow­ered to share this with oth­ers.’

In 2015, she set out to achieve just that by launch­ing Run Like a Girl (run­likea­girl.org.uk) – a run­ning group aimed at help­ing other women find a love of run­ning. ‘I was thrilled when 23 ladies turned up for the first ses­sion,’ she says.

By Lau­ren’s side was her friend Re­becca Chu­mun, who, two years ear­lier, had been per­suaded to join Lau­ren in a 5K Color Run. ‘I wasn’t ex­er­cis­ing at the time, so I down­loaded the Couch to 5K pro­gramme to train for it,’ re­mem­bers Re­becca, 37. ‘I’m not a nat­u­ral ath­lete, but run­ning soon be­came some­thing I loved.’ She was de­lighted when Lau­ren asked her to tail-run Run Like a Girl’s first be­gin­ners’ group. ‘Hav­ing been that slow, unfit per­son strug­gling at the back I know what it feels like, but I also know where it is pos­si­ble for you to go,’ she says.

Lau­ren be­lieves that the strict ‘no-one is left at the back on their own’ pol­icy helps re­as­sure new join­ers, and the group’s swelling ranks stand tes­ta­ment to that: 800 mem­bers and count­ing, plus a 1,200-strong Face­book com­mu­nity. ‘Many of the women who’d never run be­fore are now com­pet­ing in half marathons and 10Ks,’ she

says. ‘It’s amaz­ing, con­sid­er­ing some couldn’t man­age more than a minute in one go at first. It is great to watch their bod­ies change and their con­fi­dence grow and to be help­ing them on that jour­ney.’

Among Run Like a Girl’s suc­cess sto­ries is He­len Owen, who has run two 10Ks, two half marathons and a marathon re­lay since join­ing in Septem­ber 2015. Aim­ing to ease back into ex­er­cise af­ter an an­kle in­jury, she hoped run­ning would im­prove her strength, but it’s done much more. ‘Run­ning with a group has given me the be­lief I can achieve any­thing if I set my mind to it,’ she says. ‘Lau­ren helped me see that you have good and bad runs, but it’s the get­ting back out there that counts. Af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing half-marathon re­sult in the spring, I knocked 20 min­utes off my time in the next one. I’ve even en­cour­aged my mum to join the group. It’s great that we get to run – and some­times com­pete – to­gether.’

Mem­ber Nikki Baker-mills says her proud­est achievement is not giv­ing up. ‘I be­gan run­ning in Jan­uary 2016 af­ter be­ing in­spired by be­gin­ners shar­ing their progress on the Face­book page, so I plucked up the courage to give it a go my­self,’ she says. ‘I doubted my­self dur­ing the first few weeks, but at ev­ery ses­sion, I proved my­self wrong and ran a lit­tle fur­ther each time. I re­cently com­pleted my first 10K, which I am so proud of. Lau­ren and her team have cre­ated a nur­tur­ing place for women to cast aside self-doubts and be the best run­ners they can be.’

Run Like a Girl is still ex­pand­ing – with 15 qual­i­fied run lead­ers, and groups in War­wick and Lon­don. Lau­ren cred­its her group’s mem­bers with its suc­cess. ‘Ev­ery woman who turns up knows start­ing to run is not easy. But the en­cour­age­ment within the group is what makes it so spe­cial. There’s no judg­ment – ev­ery­one is there to chal­lenge them­selves. For me, see­ing peo­ple reach their goals is one of my big­gest achieve­ments.’

Stronger To­gether John and San­dra Bridger ‘We chat a lot, we laugh, we get lost, but it's al­ways en­joy­able' – San­dra

John Bridger was no stranger to pin­ning on a race num­ber, thanks to decades of cy­cle rac­ing, but in Jan­uary 2013, aged 65, he swapped the bike for run­ning shoes. ‘Cy­cling had be­come too dan­ger­ous, took up too much time and was too weather-de­pen­dent,’ he says.

John's wife, San­dra (they met in 2011 and mar­ried a year later) was happy to help him out with his runs, drop­ping him off or pick­ing him up so he could make the most of the coun­try­side. But she had no in­ten­tion of join­ing him.

‘I’d done some gym work be­fore I met John but when we started go­ing to the gym to­gether I found the rou­tines much more up­lift­ing,’ she says. ‘I never thought of run­ning, though, and John never tried to con­vince me to. It was see­ing the joy his runs brought him that made me start to won­der if I could ever do it.’

The re­tired cou­ple, from Hast­ings in East Sus­sex, took a four-month trip around Europe and one day San­dra sneaked in a run on a tread­mill. ‘I found that I quite en­joyed it,’ she says. ‘But I was too ner­vous to ven­ture out­side, even though I felt a bit jeal­ous of John be­ing out run­ning in the fresh air.’

Back home, San­dra told John she’d like to try run­ning. ‘I wanted to feel how he looked!’ she says. ‘I didn’t have any goals in mind; I was 66 at the time and thought I may have left it too late.’

John was happy to be­come San­dra’s “coach”. Three years on, he has a 50km ul­tra un­der his belt and San­dra is run­ning faster than she ever dreamed pos­si­ble.

‘I love run­ning now I feel more alive than ever,’ she says. I try to run most days and I have just started to in­clude weight train­ing, hills and sprint­ing.’

Run­ning has changed John and San­dra’s life­style. ‘We or­gan­ise our days around run­ning,’ says John. The cou­ple, now both 69, do a lot of their miles to­gether. ‘We chat a lot, laugh a lot, get lost some­times, but it is al­ways en­joy­able,’ says San­dra. ‘Run­ning has made me fit­ter and hap­pier.’

STRENGTH IN NUM­BERS Lau­ren (far left) and mem­bers of Run Like a Girl

TWO'S COM­PANY John and San­dra have a new life­style

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