Chasing Laces – Voices from the Running Scene – Chapter 10

Chasing Laces – Voices from the Running Scene by Arthur Knaggs

The Newton Mum Run

Cathy and Sarah founded the Newton Mum Run in 2010. They agreed to meet me at a coffee shop in Newton. They arrived on time and in Lycra. They had been at yoga. I explained who I was. I explained what I was doing, and why it mattered. Nobody got up and walked out. I relaxed. They told me I could ask some questions.

C – My side of the story starts in 2014. I was at a dinner party on New Year’s Eve, and I made a New Year’s resolution to start exercising. I went on my first run-walk on 13 January. I haven’t really stopped since.

S – It all started with the Race for Life didn’t it?

C – The class decided to do the Race for Life.

S – Our children had just started school and we asked all these new parents that we’d never met before if anyone fancied doing Race for Life? We said we should train together.

C – So we did. We didn’t have a name then. We went through a process of choosing our name, then we went through a process of designing a logo, and getting a T-shirt.

S – My story is different. My eldest is slightly older than Cathy’s, and I was going through a bit of a rubbish time at home. My husband was diagnosed with cancer the same week that my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and my youngest child was just starting at school. So I was in a bit of a weird state. I found solace in running. I went out and found it therapeutic. It was a bit of time out the house, to think things through and to process stuff.

That’s what really deepened our friendship. Cathy was really, really sensitive and supportive. She would follow me on Strava, and if she saw that I had gone out for a run but not actually run, or stopped half-way through, she would send me a little message to ask: “Are you alright matey, do you need to talk or give me a call?”

We ran the Great South Run together. The first one was just me and Cathy, and we did it because it was when my husband and my dad were still having treatment. Since then it’s become our signature run.

C – Each year, the group that has done the Great South has grown. A lot of the women, who train with us don’t want to do a half marathon. They know that’s unachievable. They know they can run 10km, but 10 miles is quite a distance. You can’t wing it. You have to train and the girls like that challenge, so it’s become a focal point for our year. It also works from a childcare perspective. The real training starts when the children go back to school in September.

S – It’s a good thing to keep motivated over the summer. It’s easy, when you’ve got the kids off school to lapse into not running, and it can be hard to carve out the time in the holiday period, especially if your husband is working and you’re trying to juggle work and childcare. Running is often the first thing that goes. But if you know that you’ve got a ten miler coming up in October, you need to keep ticking over during the summer. You can do the really heavy training at the end, but you’ve still got to be able to run a comfortable 8km by the end of the summer. You say, Cathy, that a half marathon is unachievable but actually we’re getting more and more of our girls building confidence, and this year we’ve had a lot of half marathons.

C – We have, but I think they’re not necessarily the people that are new to us. When new runners come to us, either they may have run previously, had some children and want to get back into the routine, or they’ll come to us via Couch to 5K, never have come before, get into it and realise that the structure of the group and the time slots work for them. They keep coming and after a couple of years they start upping the mileage. Then they set themselves a challenge.

At our annual do we give each mum the opportunity to set themselves a challenge for the year. They don’t have to, it’s up to them. We recognise that publically announcing your challenge means you are more likely to stick to it. Some people might say, this is the year that I’m going to do a half marathon, or a 10km, and we find that a lot of the people who do the Couch to 5K with us, if they stick with it, are with us for years.

We’ve got different people within the group. A lot of it can depend on their children’s age. That can make a big difference.

On our Facebook group now we’ve got about 360 members but they’re not all runners. And I think that there are people in there who don’t run. They just like the idea. A lot of people admit to us that they stalk us for some time, and then pluck up the courage to come out.

Each time we organise a club run, the run leader will ask who’s coming. Then we know who to wait for. A lot of people who watch all of this traffic, and eventually they will just come along.

S – We’ve had people who’ve waited for a year and then gone, we’d like to come today.

C – It’s ok, if that’s what it takes for them. But also sometimes it depends on the stage they’re at. Some people might want to join the group, but they’ll have really young babies. They’ll ask if we do a buggy run, and we don’t do any buggy running. Then they might hover in the background and in a year or so, may come back out. So the group has evolved.

***

C – It’s not a business, the only thing we charge for are our courses. Sarah has trained as a coach and she does ‘run faster’ courses which are for people who want to push themselves a bit more. Those costs will cover our time, and any back end costs for the website. Some running groups charge a fiver per run – I think that’s just cashing in. We feel fundamentally that we should not. You can always just go out for a run. I’d rather do it for the motivation, so we just charge for our course.

It’s very much a community driven thing for us. It would be very interesting to get some of the mums together to see what they get out of it. There will be different women that we’ve got who have different stories that you might be able to pull together, which could be interesting.

You can have a mum with two kids at university chatting away about sleep issues, with a mum that’s got a four-year-old that’s not started at school. I think that’s what some mums find fascinating.

S – I find that lovely, because I think that it’s easy to just become focused on the age group that your children are. When you have kids you meet a lot of people, and it’s a fabulous way to make friends, but then you are sort of stuck with people who have children the same age as yours. As your children go up the school, you suddenly don’t know anyone who’s got children in the lower years. So what’s been lovely for us, is that the club has been a fabulous way to meet people whose children are at university, or are now working, and there are some people who are still having babies. So for me that’s been lovely. I like to have a broad range of people that I’m interacting with.

C – Also the mum connotation is pretty loose. It started as a name but there are also people in the group who aren’t mums, who might be trying to be mums, or they might just be what people call mums with dogs, or doggy mums.

S – We’ve got some grannies and we’ve also got a couple of kids.

C – We’d hate people to think that you can only be a mum to run with us. It’s just a name. But it’s interesting, the ones who don’t have children don’t seem to mind. The conversations we have are all over the place. We don’t get feedback from our non-mums saying we are a bit too ‘kiddy-focused’. It’s never like that, is it?

S – I think when you get women of a certain age, a lot of them are going to be mums, and as a result, that does tend to be a very uniting element of our life experience. From our personal perspective, this club has changed running beyond recognition. I used to enjoy running as an escape. It was a physical challenge and a mental challenge. I still enjoy those things and I enjoy watching myself improve, and setting myself challenges, but I get a massive amount of satisfaction from bringing people on and coaching people.

I think both of us would say that our Couch to 5K course is one of the most rewarding elements of the club.

When we did the London Marathon a couple of years ago, everyone asked us: “What are you going to do next, what’s your next challenge?” Actually, I was really looking forward to running the Couch to 5K course. I felt like that was going to be my next challenge. There’s nothing more gratifying than introducing people to a sport that you love.

C – I was running with someone yesterday. We were talking about a new club run that we’re going to launch in April. I said that the two people that have volunteered to lead this run are one of our fastest and one of our slowest girls. Sarah asked how that was going to work? I said I don’t know, we’ll just suck it and see. But I hope it’s going to motivate from both ends of the spectrum because Misha, the lady that’s particularly fast, she’s very happy to just circle back.

The thing that hits me is that Misha’s run with us for probably over a year now, and I think she’s seen, and recognized, how much satisfaction we get from leading a run, and from motivating others, and recognising that not every run has to be about yourself.

I led a run on Monday and someone turned to me at the end and said that she had just run her longest ever run and quickest 5km. She was beaming from side to side. I had absolutely no idea. It was brilliant!

I guess the part I played was keeping her going. I had no idea she was going for her longest run, and we got to the end and she was over the moon. So we have runs where we recognise that it’s not about us, it’s about the other runners. Misha has certainly seen that. She’s a brilliant runner but she also recognises that on a Monday night, that run is not going to be about her. She wants to get involved in the motivating and encouraging.

S – We’re very lucky, the way we’ve structured the club is to have a load of volunteer run leaders who are established members and have run with us for a period of time, and have then volunteered to take on responsibility for one of our runs. They are then responsible for organising that run, posting about it and then leading it. That structure’s worked for us so far.

***

S – The club offers quite a lot. Talking to people with similar experiences is really valuable. But I think it offers more than that. A lot changes for a woman during pregnancy. Your body changes massively and then your lifestyle changes. Trying to get back to where you were before pregnancy is almost impossible, your body will never be quite the same, and your life will never be quite the same.

Neither of those are bad things, but they do mean that you have to make massive changes, and what we find is that a lot of women really struggle to get their bodies back so they lose faith in their body. Getting back to fitness is really hard. It’s all the more hard because you’ve got the challenge of trying to look after your kids at the same time.

A lot of the women who come back to us are worried about their weight. They’re worried about their fitness, and they might have lost a lot of fitness. They’re incredibly body conscious and feel uncomfortable in gym wear so that is one challenge we face. The other thing mums really struggle with is their mental wellbeing.

Quite often you don’t have any time for yourself, you’re low on sleep you spend your whole time worrying about other people, and very little time prioritising yourself. We find that a lot of the mums who come to us are low on self-confidence. They’re just trying to escape from their day-to-day lives. Running offers that, and actually the camaraderie and fun of our group gives lots of women a really positive environment. We get a lot of feedback that we’re a fun, warm, inclusive group – completely non-judgmental and really supportive. That’s certainly our aim.

C – We all remember how we felt at that stage. So for example, I used to lead the Wednesday night runs at 19:30, and you’d have people rushing to get there. They’d be all frazzled because little Jonny wouldn’t go to bed, or somebody pooed in the bath and all these very common things, or they only just made it on time. Once their husband walked through the door, they would give him the baby and then immediately come out to run.

We’re only talking 6km, but at the end of the 45 minutes the girls are more relaxed. They’re going to go home in a better state of mind. They might have had a bit of a shit of a day, and we get it. We’ve all been in those shoes, we’ve all had that scenario. We know how shit it can be, but we also know that going home they’ll be calmer, better and more ready to deal with tomorrow. You feel an awful lot better.

But then you’ll also get people who can’t come – maybe their husband’s stuck on the train or whatever it might be. Then you might get one of our other runners saying: “Hang on, can you fit a run in tomorrow? I’ll come and meet you then.” We’ve all been through motherhood and there’s a lot of people that will try their best to help another person out if they’re at a difficult stage, which is lovely. Two random people might get together and have a lovely time.

Because we’re not about pace, people recognize that our runs might not be ideal. They might be too slow or even a little bit fast, but it’s still time out having a run.

Sometimes, if people are really training for an event, they might take themselves off and run on their own, but that’s almost always the ones who know that they’re too fast for some of the groups. But they don’t necessarily want to go to another running club. Often running clubs have a different vibe.

S – Certainly I always found running clubs intimidating. I’m actually a member of another club and I do my speed training there, but previously I would have found it far too intimidating, far too scary. I’m one of the slowest people there.

What we want to do is give people who probably wouldn’t have the confidence to go to a club like that, something different. We don’t really compete with other clubs. Our club is less structured. We don’t have as many numbers.

C – It’s just less intimidating. You don’t want to be sitting there before a run thinking how am I feeling today? Will I be going at a 5:55 pace? Most of our girls don’t know until they get going. Quite frankly, some of them have only just managed to get their kit on and get out the door. The last thing they’ve even thought about is how they feel. They’re just pleased to be there.

© Copyright Arthur Knaggs 2019

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