I have a sedentary job at a computer, and apart from a quick walk in my lunch-break, and yoga once a week, I took no regular exercise. I was a tom-boy in childhood and knocked around with my brothers, going for bike rides, climbing trees, tadpoling, fighting - that kind of thing! But I didn't take to sports at school, in fact I was a sports-avoider generally. We walk and go swimming on our annual holiday, but I was feeling, more and more, that in my mid-50s, the body-clock was ticking. Plus I saw on the faces of those runners that day something of their sheer exuberant pleasure in what they were doing.
Anyhow, my friend told me that she belonged to a very friendly group called Sarah's Runners, which met twice a week. I went along the next week. There's no regular sub - you just pay £2.50 a week whenever you turn up. The first time before you go out running you have an initial chat with Sarah Russell, its founder and guiding light, about your health and sport history etc. Sarah's Runners is the exact opposite of my youthful sporting experiences. Sarah, a seasoned competitive athlete and trainer herself, set this group up over 9 years ago specifically to encourage people from all walks of life to come along and run 'for fitness and fun'. She has recently been honoured for her contribution to others' lives. She is helped by a team of experienced volunteers who come along and run with newcomers and regulars alike, offering friendly support and encouragement. If you're new you can join the 3 mile walk and jog group - going at a very gentle pace and running for short distances before slowing to a walk, then another short run etc. After a while, if you like, you can choose to move on to the mostly-running 3 miles, then 4 miles and 5.
In September last year I ran the Tonbridge 5K organised by Tunbridge Wells Mental Health Resource, an enjoyable easy course round the flat grassy playing-fields of Tonbridge School, and a few months back I signed up for the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon, downloaded a training programme for beginners from Sarah's website, bought myself some more high-vis running gear and a headlight from the Running Hub, and got out there in the evenings. Sarah's Runners initiated a regular Sunday morning long slow run to build up stamina for distance, and we had some great runs in Bedgebury Forest (great tea rooms) and the Groombridge Trail (tea rooms in the planning!).
These gave me the confidence to believe that I could actually keep going, if I paced myself, and didn't attack hills as if they were the enemy. I missed the last practice run of 10 -12 miles two weeks before the Half Marathon as I was in bed with a virus for several days, but I was still very much looking forward to something that a year ago seemed a very distant possibility!
The joy of running has become a part of my life: the getting out of breath in the fresh air, giving my body the exercise it was born for, and watching the world go by as I run are huge pleasures. The Half-Marathon was exhilarating - the route itself, through Bidborough, Penshurst, Fordcombe and Langton Green, is part of the High Weald I love so much, and the kindness and enthusiasm of those volunteer marshalls and onlookers who came out on an extremely cold winter day was heartening.
After the first couple of miles my 'posse' from Thursday nights run was beginning to draw away from me, but the experience of the last year and the wisdom and advice of Sarah Russell and her helpers was in my mind. I knew I needed to run for myself, not listen to my ego or try and compete with others at the expense of what my own body could reasonably take to get round the course. Occasionally someone would run alongside or overtake, or I would overtake them again, and we'd have a few friendly words, but generally I was concentrating on keeping those legs going! I probably dropped to a walk for several miles all in all, including the famous Spring Hill, and by the time I got to Langton I had already run further than my previous longest distance of 9 miles. My legs were beginning to hurt and I was running out of energy, and thought I might have to walk the last 3 miles or so. At this point another of Sarah's Runners, around my age, who had been following me in my bright yellow beany up till then caught up with me, and it was thanks to her companionship and encouragement that I ran/walked the rest of the race. I got in at 2hrs 39 minutes 25 seconds chip-time, which was good enough for me! I'll be 57 years old shortly, but I fully intend to keep going as long as I can. The oldest competitor in the Half was a gentleman of 81, who ran the first TW Half 30 years ago!
Tunbridge Wells is a running town - there are always runners out on the streets here - and up until last year I thought running was only for compulsive exercise nuts, but now I know better. It's fun! I'm looking forward to having another go at the Half Marathon next year, and perhaps knocking a few minutes off that finishing time!
Thanks, Sarah's Runners!