Saturday, September 27, 2008

Running clubs

Thomas's wife Silke posted recently on her blog that Thomas had joined a local running club, Greenock Glenpark Harriers. I think that is a great move for Thomas. I've spoken to a lot of people who run on their own and who are apprehensive about joining a club, normally saying things like "Oh no, I just run for fun, these people in clubs are much too serious, I'm not good enough to be in a club" and so on. From my experience nothing could be further from the truth. I have been a member of a number of different clubs over the years and have always found they are made up of great people with a shared love of running. Joining a club adds hugely to the whole running experience - you have people to train with, you can go to races together, there is normally a good social scene, and it adds a bit of friendly competition. Every club I have been in has had a wide variety of runners - some fast and some not so fast - but that doesn't matter at all: everyone is made to feel welcome regardless of where they are in the pack. So if you are reading this and are not currently a member of a club - go and join one soon!

My first club was Troon Tortoises, which I joined in 1990. At the time I joined there were still a fair number of youngsters who came along regularly, but they started drifting away and within a few years it was more or less an adult road and cross country endurance running club. Troon Tortoises has a history of producing some top quality athletes - Brian Whittle and Vikki McPherson both started their running careers at the Tortoises before going on to represent GB at the Olympics; others like Hazel Melville and Marsela Robertson represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Games. However the vast majority of runners at Troon were non elite plodders like me, but that didn't stop us having some brilliant training runs and races over the years. It was (and is) a great club and I was really sorry to have to leave when we moved away from Troon in 2003. I still try and get back in May each year for the club's 10k race - one of the best 10k races in Scotland and one which manages to attract more than 1,000 runners to the west coast on a Wednesday night. I still see a lot of the Troon guys fairly regularly, particularly George who has done my WHW backup every year and recently helped me out at the 24 hour race. Quite a few of its members have been involved in events like the WHW race, the Devil O, the Highland Fling and the River Ayr Way, to such an extent that the club proudly claims to be 'Ayrshire's premier ultra running club"!

When we were living in Troon we had a holiday place in Arran, so I joined Arran Runners for a couple of years as a 2nd claim member. That is another good wee club that organises a few high quality races, including the Goat Fell hill race (which I have never done - steep hills scare me), the Isle of Arran Half Marathon (which I have done a number of times) and the Arran 10k (ditto).

In 2003 we moved to Falkirk. I tried out the local club, Falkirk Victoria Harriers, but there were not many endurance runners there the night I went along. So instead I joined Stirling based Central AC. (I also joined Carnethy for a year as a 2nd claim member, but didn't get much chance to go along, and didn't renew my membership the following year). Central AC is one of Scotland's top clubs -it has some real quality athletes, both seniors and juniors, and also has a large number of runners like me who would never call themselves 'elite' but just enjoy getting out running on the roads, hills, trails or countryside. There are a lot of fantastic, high quality people who are involved with Central - runners, coaches, officials, and committee members - and like my ex clubmates at Troon, I still see a lot of the Central guys fairly regularly at various events.

We moved further north to Perthshire in 2006. Although I could have stayed with Central - Stirling is only 25 minutes down the road - I thought it made more sense to join the local club, Strathearn Harriers. Strathearn is a much smaller club than Central and is made up of adult runners only. I would describe it as a friendly, non elite club - although in case anyone is insulted by that, I should quickly point out that there are some very good hill runners within the membership, and should also mention that the club's first team won the Comrie Hills relay in 2006 and 2007 and finished a close second this year. The number of members has grown from less than 20 a few years ago to more than 50 now, and it has been especially pleasing to see that a lot of this growth has been due to women who only started running relatively recently. Like all of my previous clubs it is made up of some great (if slightly eccentric) people. In addition to the Comrie Hills relay that I mentioned earlier, the club also organises the hugely popular Crieff 10k in July each year for which my wife allybea is currently the race director.

I suppose I am a bit of a 'running club tart' - if you have been counting you may have noticed that I have been a member of 5 different clubs since I started running way back in 1990. Over the years I have probably come into contact with the vast majority of Scottish clubs, either through taking part in their races, or because I've met people who are members of those clubs at various events, or through my scottishathletics and sportscotland involvement. I wouldn't hear a bad word said about any of them. The CEO of scottishathletics, Geoff Wightman, is currently on a programme to visit every athletics club in Scotland. It would be interesting to know his thoughts on the various clubs, but I would be surprised if he did not echo what I have said here - Scottish clubs come in all shapes and sizes - some elite, some not so elite; some large, some small - but they are all made up of great people who have a genuine love of the sport. If you are reading this and are still not a member of a club, I hope I have managed to persuade you to join one; if you are still not sure give me a shout and I will try and put you in touch with someone from your local club. Come on, you know it makes sense. What are you waiting for? :)


Davie said...

Couldn't agree more. I still see guys running with whom I ran as a boy at Irvine AC (Andy Rennie and John Surgenor amongst others).And every part of the sport in which I have participated, as coach, volunteer, runner and sometimes even as an official, has allowed me to meet people who have remained friends even when I have moved on. Thomas will find his running life enriched by membership at Greenock.
At my current club, there are no superstars and many who will always be towards the back of any field and enjoy their running for running's sake and the fitnes benefits they gain. They make a valuable contribution to the club organisation and it's social side.I can't imagine being anywhere else on club nights.

John Kynaston said...

Great post Ian - always worth waiting for!!

I fully agree on being part of a club. I have ran for the best part of 30 years but it is only when I moved up to Paisley that I've joined a club. I have really benefitted from being part of Kilbarchan AAC over the last 7 years. I train regularly on a Monday night doing a hard fartlek session. I would never be able to work as hard on my own.

Also Donald and Stevie, members of Kilbarchan, have been great support runners for me on the whw. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them.

So I would encourage everyone to join a club and I, too, was pleased to see that Thomas has joined a local club.