I am not a runner. Last time I tried to run any further than for a bus was probably when I was about 13 years old. Don’t get me wrong – I love to exercise. But for most of my adult life I have stuck to low impact pursuits such as swimming and spinning, yoga and body balance. I was quite happy to leave the Race for Lifes, Park Runs, 10ks, half marathons, adventure racing and marathons to others. I even looked on a little smugly as over the years my running friends succumbed to sore Achilles, pulled hamstrings, dodgy knees and expensive physiotherapy bills, knowing that I wouldn’t be the one hobbling around in old age with arthritis from pounding my joints.
But I was a little envious of them too. The camaraderie of running with friends, the sense of achievement of doing something like a half marathon, their superior fitness (slimness!) and the chance to exercise outdoors rather than in a sweaty gym. running8
So when one of my running friends put a post on her Facebook page about an “Introduction to Recreational Running” course run by Bristol & West Athletic Club, I was curious. I took a look and decided the 8 week schedule didn’t sound too daunting – lots of options to walk rather than jog – with the target nothing more challenging than a continuous 10 minute run.
The husband was still sceptical, “Is that wise at your age?” was his only comment when I announced my intention. But when I thought about it I can walk perfectly well so why can’t I increase that to a bit more of a trot? I can do this, I thought and set myself a target of doing a 5k Park Run by the end of the course.
So one cold, blowy, wet Monday evening (ah the joys of exercising outdoors!) I found myself shivering and nervous at the Whitehall Athletic track (near St George’s), being inducted into the world of running by the club’s enthusiastic Running Leaders. Anyone can turn up and run with the club on Mondays for a modest fee of £2 (there’s no ongoing commitment) and runners are organised into groups depending on numbers and ability.
Each week the training session began with a gentle jog once or twice round the 400 metre athletics track. That felt a bit daunting at first – who knew 400 metres could feel so long! But you can do a walk/jog combination if you need to. The Running Leaders are evangelical in their desire to get you to love running as much as they do so they are always very positive and encouraging. I was never made to feel pathetic, even if my running at times felt pretty pathetic – most people could probably have walked quicker.

After the warm up all the runners, including the beginners, would do 15 minutes of dynamic stretching – a series of moves that made us look like we were auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks with lunges, high knee walking, crab-like squatting and “the karoake”, a sideways run crossing your feet in front of each other that would do one proud on Strictly (if one could do it without falling over!).
The running sessions themselves varied each week but usually we were aiming at running between one and two miles. One of the Run Leaders would blow a whistle every two minutes or so and you could stop and walk for a minute if you needed to. In fact you can stop and walk whenever you need to. There was no pressure to keep going, but I did find that I didn’t want to be the one to stop first and that helped me to run further than I thought I was capable of.
Over the weeks the distance I have been able to run continuously has gradually increased so that in my final week I did manage to puff my way through 5k in just over half an hour – not bad for someone well in their 50s who’s never run before.
So now I am ready to tackle my first Park Run. Bring it on!

For further information about recreational running with Bristol & West Athletic Club visit their website:

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