How Joining a Running Club Helped Me Feel Safer in the Winter
Posted: Sat, 25 Nov 2023 12:00
When I started running, I was definitely what you would call a 'fair weather runner'. I'd be out and about running three times a week in the spring and summer, setting parkrun PB's on the hottest day of the year. But as soon as the chillier and wetter weather, and darker mornings and evenings arrived, and with my busy, stressful, and unpredictable job making opportunities for running during daylight hours unlikely, I quickly became a non-runner for much of the year through the autumn and winter. Don't get me wrong, I don't live in an area that makes me feel unsafe running on my own, but there's something about running on my own in the dark that really puts me off.
In the darker months I tried to substitute running for training in the gym, or swimming, but I just did not get the same positive feeling that I got from running. For me, that 'runners high' is very difficult to find in any other sports (believe me I've tried). So, I found that it was having quite a profound impact on my mental health and emotional wellbeing. I felt lethargic all the time, walking through the days where it was dark when I went to work, and dark when I got home from work, like a zombie. I had brain fog, and it was really tough because I was in a job that requires you to be performing at your very best at all times, off days were not an option. I realised that I couldn't keep spending almost half of the year feeling like that.
Approaching autumn 2021, I decided that things were going to be different, and I needed to find a way to keep up my running consistently through the autumn and winter. As a female, with a husband that runs A LOT faster (and further) than I can, I knew that whilst running with him would make me feel safe in the dark mornings or evenings, but I felt certain he would not be getting anything other than the pleasure of my company out of it, so thought he'd be likely to feel quite frustrated and possibly end up resenting running with me. At this point, I want to point out that he is fantastic, and I always feel that he is my greatest cheerleader in my running and fitness journey, but understandably he wants to be able to run at his own pace and do the distances that he needs to improve his running. Running with me at my, at my plodding pace, was definitely not going to achieve that for him. So, I needed to get creative. Firstly, I started doing parkruns consistently every Saturday morning at 9am. Even if it was rainy, muddy, windy, and stormy, I'd be at parkrun. This meant I always had one run where there would be lots of other people and it would (mostly) be daylight. But that only sorted me out for one run per week, and I wanted to be running at least twice a week.
My 'runner friends' had always recommended joining a running club to keep going through the winter months and I'd always felt that I was too much of a 'plodder' to join a running club. I felt like I didn't run fast enough or far enough or do enough races to be considered a 'runner', and so surely I couldn't be part of a running club. I viewed those in running clubs as being these insane elite athletes who ran as fast as Mo Farah and would have no interest in someone like me joining their running club. I know a lot of people who have expressed feeling the same way!
One night in autumn 2021, I registered as a new member and turned up on my own to the Wednesday club run night with Shinfield Running Club, near Reading. It sounds very cliché to say, but that is where everything changed for me. Being a newbie can be quite scary, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming. They were interested in hearing about me as a person and I didn't feel pigeon-holed based on how fast or far I could run, or what races I had coming up (although, good-naturedly, this is a discussion that comes up on our runs quite a lot). The Wednesday club runs are split into groups so that runners can choose the distance and pace they would like to run, catering to all running abilities and supporting those recovering from injury. The runs I do are always at a slower pace, so we can chat whilst running. The groups I run with tend to mostly be made up of women, and we keep each other motivated to keep turning up to run each week and we know that there will always be someone leading the run, who is tasked with making sure everyone stays together and gets back safely. Torches are a must this time of year and everyone is expected to be wearing one for all runs in autumn and winter. There's also a website, where runners can post runs outside of the club runs, so that runners can be out together in groups. The club has recently supported a large cohort of runners through the 'Couch to 5k' programme, and they've continued running on our club run nights. There was a very long list of volunteers who wanted to lead and support on these 'Couch to 5k' runs. There remains a real sense of pride in the club that we've all been part of their journey into running and we love seeing them coming back every week.
The sense of community and safety that I get from being a part of the club means that even when it is freezing cold, blowing a gale, or Storm Ciarán is upon us, I keep turning up each week and running with other people who also keep turning up.
If you're interested in joining a running club, why not try one of these Berkshire based clubs?
- Bracknell Athletic Club
- Bracknell Forest Runners
- Burnham Joggers AC
- Compton Harriers Running Club
- Datchet Dashers
- Eton Tri Club
- Evolution Running Club (Windsor)
- Finch Coasters Running Club
- Hungerford Hares
- Maidenhead Athletic Club
- Maidenhead Running Sisters
- Newbury AC
- Reading AC
- Reading Joggers
- Reading Roadrunners
- Royal Berkshire Hash Hound Harriers
- Sandhurst Joggers
- Slough Running Sisters
- Shinfield Running Club
- Team Kennet
- Wargrave Runners
- Windsor Running Sisters
- Windsor Slough Eton & Hounslow AC