How a Social Running Group Motivated me to go from Couch to 10K

Fitness motivation through group running
Credit: heikkisiltala

In May 2018 I am running my first 10 km race. This is totally down to the motivation from running with a group of like minded people.  This is how I found out about a local running group I was totally unaware of, and how they gave me the motivation to get off my backside and get a fitness and wellbeing boost.

I have been blessed with a generally good level of fitness, probably due to walking my dog several times a day, but have always wanted to up my game. The thing is, it takes motivation to actually do it. I found that when I try running by myself I soon falter at the first signs of fatigue, usually within the first 30 metres or so. I get out of breath or my legs ache and before you know it I have slowed to a walk with the intention of running again in just a moment. Honest. Oh well, maybe in a minute or so. Oh who cares about this running lark? It requires effort that I can’t be bothered with. I’ll just have a little rest here. Maybe tomorrow.

Why exercise when you can enjoy the outdoors lying down
Credit: DieselDemon – Having a lovely rest outdoors

If only I knew someone who could keep me company to go running and give me a reason for going for a run.

So it was by good fortune that one of my dog walks took me by chance past a poster in my village for a local running group. Apparently, every week a group of like minded individuals of varying abilities gather by a gate and go running together. Sounded like it warranted some further investigation, so I sent an email to the address on the poster to see if I could join in one week.

The next week I put on my old pair of trainers and was warmly welcomed by a group of about ten at the starting point. The beginners running group was led by two Athletics England qualified running group leaders. The group consisted of men and women aged between 25 and 80. I was to be starting out in the beginner’s group, running 4.2k. Sounded like quite a long way to me for my first continuous run, but the group leader reassured me that the running pace was matched to the slowest person. Looking around the group I was fairly confident that wouldn’t be me, but the next forty minutes would let me know for sure.

We headed off along the roads around two of the Kent villages, running at a nice and easy pace. Everyone was very sociable and friendly, which was perfect for taking your mind off the fact that you were actually out running. At the first gentle hill the group began to spread out, but no one was left on their own. Everyone in the group watched out for each other and even slowed to walk with those who were struggling. For those who had the stamina to keep going, the group leader would keep running for 100 metres and then they would turn back to join up with those at the back. This was a really good way of keeping the group together whilst allowing people of different abilities to keep to a pace that suited them.

I successfully completed the run with only a couple of points where I slowed down to a walk. I blame those darned hills, and being noble by keeping company with some of the slower runners who I felt needed the support. At least that’s what I told them.

The group leader congratulated me on doing so well on my first session and encouraged me to come again. I walked home feeling quite chuffed with myself. That wasn’t so bad, and the company was good. These social workouts were a real mood booster. Would definitely be back.

Slowly Building up Running Fitness Before Going Too Far

Fitness motivation through group running
Credit: heikkisiltala

I stuck with the beginners group for about 5 weeks so as not to overdo things. This allowed my body to get used to running that distance at a steady pace. Then I moved on to joining the intermediates running group. Some of those who ran with the beginners also ran in this group, effectively using it as a warm up and giving a total distance that evening of about 15km.

You guessed it; I was now up for running 7-10k. The first coup!e of months was tiring but achievable. The pace was nice and easy with everyone keeping together, and more importantly ensuring I didn’t get left behind. From the start of each run, everyone was very friendly and conversation flowed on a wide variety of topics. The beauty of social running groups is that you can move around the group and join different conversations depending on your mood. And if you don’t feel like talking much, that is fine too.

After a few months, the intermediates group regularly completed 10k running every week. The group run was one of the best ways for 10k run training.  Each week the 10k running plan incorporated a different element that built strength and stamina.  What’s more, it was done without you really realising how much benefit you were gaining.  Before I knew it this 10k run every week was becoming fairly straightforward.  Some weeks you did struggle if you were suffering from a cold or busy week, but the running group always catered to the ability of the entire group on that evening.  The perfect tailored 10k running plan for all abilities.

During the warmer months, we ran alot more off road across the gorgeous Kent countryside. Due to the enthusiasm of the group, they also began organising informal Sunday morning runs. Using WhatsApp, the group cold also spontaneously go for small group runs by putting out a call to see if someone wanted to go for a quick 5k that evening, or perhaps a nice little 10 miler a bit further afield. I was quite content with my weekly session.

Now after regularly running for about a year now, I feel up for seeing how I fare in running a bit faster over 10k. There is a local annual event that was just begging to be entered (along with much encouragement from my fellow runners). So, we shall see how I get on in the Darent Valley 10K in May.

How Group Running Helps Fitness and Wellbeing

Color Run fun running with friends
Sharing the fun with friends on a color run

The biggest motivating factor in group running is the supportive social aspect. If I hadn’t found out about the local running group I doubt that I would be as fit as I am today. We humans need that reward feedback in order to do things; those biological and chemical signals telling us that what we have just done was good and we should do more of it. If you are starting out in running, you need to get that positive feeback in anyway you can to motivate you to do it again. If the physical effort is a huge barrier for you, then the social aspect, friendship and having a good laugh together really does help to make you want to go out again. After a while, you become used to the physical effort and seek to achieve more. More distance and more speed.

The variety of running routes also helped keep things interesting.

Although the beginners group used the same route so you could sense how you were improving week on week, the intermediates group always ran a different route each week. Occasionally there would be a track session to run at different paces on the flat, or hill sessions to help improve stamina (or completely exhaust you).

How to Find a Running Group Near Me

You can search for local running clubs near you on the Run Together website. It lists all of the running groups and clubs across the UK, when they go running and what routes they take. Most of the sessions are free, but some running courses that offer a 10 week couch to 5k training routine may cost.

Another great way to go running regularly with lots of like minded people of varying abilities is to go to a parkrun. Parkruns are held at locations all over the world. It is a free 5k running session at local parks at 9am on Saturdays. You get timed, and you can compare your results with people worldwide. A great way to start your Saturday outdoors with family or friends.

I can’t recommend group running enough. It made a huge difference to my sense of wellbeing and fitness, and I look forward to my weekly running sessions; followed by the post run session in the local pub.

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