I became aware of the Join In campaign last summer when we looked for a parkrun local to our holiday in Devon and ended up meeting the lovely Chrissie Wellington in Barnstaple. Join In is all about encouraging people to volunteer at sports activities taking place in their local community and recognising the benefits for everyone, not just the people being supported by this generosity, but the boost to the general well-being of those who share their time to help others.
This is definitely something I can relate to, with my own experience through being Run Director at Hilly Fields parkrun (and now junior parkrun) and also coaching the girls’ group at my local running club. I will go as far as to say that volunteering in this way has changed my life – I can’t go far from my home now without stopping to talk to or being waved at by someone I have met through my involvement in local sport. On the few occasions where I have had to miss a session/event, I have realised how important it is for me to maintain this contact because it goes way beyond a functional organisational role and helps me to feel less isolated and to be a part of my community…we even have a book club as a result of getting together through running ;)
I was delighted, then, to attend an event in Hyde Park on Tuesday to launch Run It, a campaign to help existing clubs to get in touch with volunteers and to build on their success and to also encourage people to start running groups in their community, either through an event such as parkrun or even on a much smaller scale, like helping a friend go from couch to 5k over the summer months and sharing with them your own enthusiasm for being active and involved.
I arrived at the event with fellow runners Helen and Geraldine and we headed over to the Serpentine Lido to be greeted very casually by none other than former 5,000m world record holder David Moorcroft, I know! Looking around the room, I thought ‘I know that face too…’ when I spotted Mara Yamauchi chatting in the corner, what great company I keep!
Once Jo Pavey (yup!) had joined us around the table, Dave went on to outline what Join In and Run It are all about. We heard how running has grown and grown in the past few years and how research shows that joining in really does make us feel happier and boosts self-esteem. Sitting around talking about running is all very well, but it wouldn’t be a successful event without some *actual* running, so out we went into Hyde Park to warm up with a gentle jog, do some drills and attempt to keep up with Jo Pavey as she gave us a taste of her 5k and 10k race pace (my sprint)…
We then had a bit of fun with a 5k. Being committed run-geeks, we all had GPS bling on our wrists but, for once, we had to part with our digital crutches and go ‘on feel’, which is far harder than you might imagine. To add a bit of competitive spirit, we each had to give a predicted finish time, so the winner would not be the first to cross the line necessarily, but the runner who ran closest to their predicted time (this turned out to be Geraldine :) ). And off we went. I felt good running through Hyde Park, keeping pace with another runner, trying to catch the runners ahead and enjoying a flat 5k for once. Around the course were marshals (of course!) who encouraged and directed but this wasn’t enough for me and a few others, who went off course and sprinted in ahead of Jo (!) in around 18 minutes. Well, that’s the only time I’ll clock a time like that! We mapped the route and worked out we’d covered 4 instead of 5k but, based on the pace we were running at, I was heading straight towards a PB. Oh well, it was fun, gave me a little boost and made me think I need to take the opportunity to run in different places more often. Once we had had a drink and got our breath back, we had a chance to chat with the athletes and take some star-struck photos (which I shared with the girls’ group later that day at the track). Join In and Run It are great initiatives that can help existing clubs and run groups, but also hopefully inspire people to share something they love.