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Walk2Run: What’s it all about? - Sofia Ali

I started Walk2Run in July five years ago because I wanted to create a space where older women who wanted to get into running could do so in a stress free environment. I particularly wanted to be inclusive of women who felt intimidated by super-fast runners in local clubs or at parkrun but who wanted to give running a go but perhaps didn’t think they were good enough. Many of the women when they started had never run 5km in their lives, none had done parkrun and both things seemed a goal too far.

So, my plan was to start slowly and build up confidence working up to a 3km as the first goal. First, I needed the people, so I started running around Gladstone Park sidling up to any woman I saw running alone (I am not recommending this, dear Reader), and asking them if they would like to run with me in a small group instead. That’s how we started, and we were a small group of about 5 or 6 for quite a long time until word spread, they invited their friends to join and so on.

We became a familiar fixture in the park every Tuesday at 8am and we followed pretty much the same routine as at track with some warmup exercises, drills, a 5k run and core at the end. I varied the route each week to keep them on the toes! All our routes have names such as: the crossroads route, hello ducky route, the Banshee’s comb route, take it to the bridge route etc. We also do a three week block of ‘hills and thrills’ when we just attack the hills.

I kept the group going through lockdown by posting the sessions on our Walk2Run Facebook page so that members could go and do the session alone. Then, when we had the Joy of Six times, they did the session in groups. This proved to be a real lifesaver during those lonely lockdown days of solo running and ensured that the little community of runners kept going.

I had dreams of developing what was on offer and began to introduce #walk2runleavesthepark on the third Sunday of every month because many of the runners had only run in Gladstone and not yet braved further afield. The long Sunday runs took us on a number of mystery tours (I have terrible map reading skills), to Hampstead Heath, Wembley, Rickmansworth, Buckingham Palace and down by the Thames. Each time a slightly longer route, chatty pace, always ending in coffee.

We then looked at #walk2runleavesthe country to introduce the idea of running while abroad and had our first trip last year, five days in Mallorca with running by the sea, and Pilates4Runners on the patio every day. A second trip this year to do the Palma half marathon was a great success.

I wanted to have a sense of unity as a team so last year we hosted a walk2run summer party and with the funds raised, were able to buy T shirts, vests and walk2run hoodies so we could turn up to races in our colours. I can’t tell you how wonderful it looks to see a sea of electric pink walk2run t-shirts come charging down killer hill on Tuesday mornings!

We now have a regular turnout of 17/18 women and one brave man every Tuesday and they just won’t stop turning up! We are out all 52 Tuesdays of the year in all weathers and they all love running.

There are many plans in the pipeline for future running adventures including ‘persuading’ them to do their first trail runs, getting them into cross country and hopefully more of them joining the Hoops.

I was deeply moved when they nominated me, and I was shortlisted for the England Athletics Contribution to Running Volunteer Award, and by the wonderful little video they made to support the application that they did not allow me to see. I saw it for the first time on the night of the awards. A tear may have been shed. To actual win the thing was the icing on the cake.

I am so incredibly proud of what everyone in walk2run has achieved so far, supporting their journey from tentative jogger to half marathon success has been a huge privilege and a joy and each Tuesday is a gift that keeps on giving.

We are definitely #initforthelongrun.

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