One of the things that puts women (and probably some men) off joining a running club is the apprehension that they will get left behind and it’s true that some traditional running clubs do not offer anything for beginner or slower runners.
Since I’ve been going to my local parkrun (Colwick, Nottingham) I’ve become aware of a running club which has a very different approach and ethos: one which focuses on running for enjoyment and the social side of running. In March I visited the Woodthorpe Huffers & Puffers on one of their club nights to find out more about the club and what it offers women runners.
The club started a few years ago as a small group of friends who wanted to run together for fun. After a while they tried going to an established running club but decided it was not for them as they did not want to focus on racing and improving their speed. So they set up Woodthorpe Huffers & Puffers as an inclusive club which welcomes beginners and slower runners, and encourages people to take up running. The club now has about 100 members, most of whom are women, and their membership includes blind and partially-sighted runners. There are several qualified run leaders and they run two Learn2Run courses for beginners each year. The club also recently started a walking group which they hope will give injured and retired runners an opportunity to exercise together and may also appeal to people who do the Learn2Run course but decide that running is not for them.
On the night I visited the club I went for a three mile run with one group and afterwards there was a social night in the pub next to the park where we had met. I took the opportunity to chat to several members about what the club meant to them. One of things that came across strongly was that although the club encourages members to enter races it’s not the main goal – they see running as a hobby and not a sport. Someone said that no-one had done a marathon yet and it struck me as so different from a traditional running club where you might sometimes feel you are not a “proper” runner if you haven’t done a marathon yet!
The women I spoke to talked about how important the social aspect of running was to them. You never found yourself running on your own. There was always someone to chat to. “I’ve met women I never would have met otherwise”. They found the club supportive: “whatever you want to do they will support you” and they appreciated the non-competitive atmosphere: “it’s not about how fast or how far, it’s just about running”. They found that running with others encouraged them to run further and made them feel safer. It gave them the confidence to see themselves as runners.
There are many different reasons for running. Not everyone is motivated by personal best times. Not everyone wants to compete in races. Many people start off thinking they will never run in a race but change their minds if they have the right support. Woodthorpe Huffers & Puffers offers a brilliant model of a club that encourages new runners, makes running fun and recognises the importance of the social side of running. As they say themselves:
“We are all ages and all shapes and sizes. We think that with the right support, anyone can learn to run….. we know because most of us couldn’t run for more than a minute when we started!”