We hear from ZAAZEE founder Deborah Todd on setting up a local run club during the pandemic.
Why did I set up a run club in a pandemic?
During the first lockdown it was all change, the weather was amazing and as a sporty family, we soon realised to maintain our fitness and sanity, we would need to get out and about. We decided to start running as a family and explore the City. It was unreal, no cars anywhere, you could run on the busiest streets of Manchester, it was like something from the film 28 Days Later. A ghost town and empty, to be honest it was pretty special for running safely and fantastic for cycling. So we started to get into it..... However, like most things with kids, it soon became a chore. It was not easy to get everyone to agree on times and weather and multiple factors. Eating times, where we were going, how far etc.
Keeping fit and active
By second lockdown, the family running had ceased, as other sports were still going on, so the kids weren’t as keen and by the end of the summer, I was running on my own and didn’t really feel that motivated. My husband would go out but it would be different times and who was staying with the kids and mixing up everything. Parents can relate to this.
I do enjoy running and getting out of the house and I like socialising, it is who I am, living in the community of Royal Mills I HAD considered and talked about setting up a Run Club. However, before covid it was just a pipe dream. (Thinking ... finishing outside a coffee shop and having some cake or a croissant with likeminded people / chit chat etc. and socialising.)
One day in August, I was awake super early and needed some motivation, (runners know what I mean) I literally was thinking who could I message to run with me. I bottled it and in the end about 35 mins later got up, put my shoes on and got out the door.
You don't have to run alone
Living in a City Centre building we have a Facebook group, so decided to start there with a quick memo to gauge interest. Interest was good and I was keen to reach out and communicate to the wider area and started an Instagram. Ancoats is a young fashionable part of the City and there’s lots of interesting people, so wanted to share the connections. In addition I started a Facebook group and the inaugural run was on Monday 14th August.
Meeting neighbours and growing the community
On the first day, about 6 turned up and that’s where we started. In August when we started, we will still allowed to run in groups. The first run was the City Loop, it’s a gentle 5k and great to take in a couple of the sights like the library and the NEW pedestrianised section at the end of Deansgate. Runners love a good closed road.
Finding new routes with like-minded people
Over the next few weeks, more people came and joined in. There was a core group of about 6-10 people, all regulars, people didn’t know each other to start with, but we soon became a great little community during trying times. Running together became a way of socialising, keeping fit as well as passing the time and being a great distraction from the crazy world of the pandemic. Everyone had suggestions for the types of routes and before long there was a run every day all different distances covering and exploring secret nooks and crannies across the whole of the City. A WhatsApp was created and people could plan on what / when and who was free.
Making new friends and improving fitness
We stuck to a regular plan of 7am start times, which would be on Monday / Wed / Friday with evening running sessions initiated s quite quickly afterwards. Some of our favourites include The Canal Loop up to the Etihad and back; Clayton Vale 10k; and for the longer distance runners to Kersal Wetlands, which is an absolutely fantastic run along the canal through Peel Park and into the site which was used for flooding. To be honest any of the routes are amazing with a friend, it makes the distance easier, the rubbish on the floor less noticeable to the eye and different members often have interesting history and factual information to share, so we get to know “more” about our home town.
Over the next few weeks it became like a small community - there are lots of times we when we would have coffee in the local cafe and get to know each other. After evening runs people would get a beer during eat out to help out. The people coming along were from all different sectors, and lots of new friendships were formed. It’s been joyous!
Dealing with lockdowns
As the pandemic worsened the rules seemed to change every day, so we never know who we could run with and when. But we adapted over time and have managed to remain active throughout whilst staying safe – most recently running in pairs, the what’s app group has become a key part of keeping us all motived and sane.
The core group is now about 30 runners strong and growing. These are regular runners who get out week in week out, regardless of the Manchester weather conditions. Within this group there’s now some serious speed too, but given that we are in a pandemic, it’s nice to just go out and have a natter. I’ve been so impressed with how encouraging having other people to run with has motivated me during dark, tedious, boring days.
I set up Ancoats Run Club and made tons of new friends and everyone improved and really enjoyed running. Here's some feedback from a few members...
Catherine, 29 I’ve been running for a few years now, including becoming a park run geek – pre covid of course – and racking up a few 10k runs along the way too. But after a few falls out running on my own during the first lockdown, I’d lost my confidence and hadn’t run for a few months, mainly sticking to daily walks. When I saw there was a local run group being set up, especially during a pandemic, I thought it was great timing and great motivation to get back into running and building my fitness back up. I was able to run on the first day which was great too. I only moved to the area in the Christmas before lockdown.1 so hadn’t really met anyone, so it was also a great chance to meet new people. The run club community is great! Everyone is really friendly and welcoming and while it was a bit daunting at first, with not having ran for a while, I was quickly put at ease and there’s no pressure to run at a certain speed. It’s been a great support mechanism through these tough times as well as finding lots of new routes and green spaces around the city. Come and say hi if you want to start your running journey or get back on the running horse!
Alison, 46 Before the pandemic I would have said I was an introvert, classic geeky type who found meeting new people very difficult and to be honest energy zapping. That said, I have always enjoyed running with people, just generally people I have known for many years. With all the lockdown rules I was missing my normal run friends and decided to leap in as soon as Debs suggested a club. Definitely the best thing that has happened to me in 2020! Everyone was so friendly and I was soon meeting new people all the time and my confidence improved as did my running speed trying to keep up with the fast guys and girls! I’m now not so sure of my introvert status and I credit ARC with getting me through what otherwise might have been a lonely time.
Chris, 37 I tried early on in lockdown to get out and run on my own, but I’ve never been a fan of exercise for exercise sake. I was really active before the pandemic, my main regular exercise was climbing. The social side of it was a big motivation for me – meeting new people whilst physically challenging myself and ‘accidentally’ keeping fit too! As lockdown went on I found myself being less and less motivated running alone and eventually chucked it in entirely. But when I saw that someone from the building where I live was getting a group together I jumped straight on it! Since then I’ve met lots of lovely people who live right on my doorstep, but who I would probs have never even spoken to. Morning runs end with a coffee.. evening runs (used to, before the bars shut!) end with a beer. I’m running faster and further than I ever managed before. I can’t wait for everything to reopen again so we can get back to group runs.
Ravi, 25 I had only just moved to Royal Mills a few weeks before the run club was set up, so it was the perfect opportunity to meet my new neighbours! Being a doctor, I'm lucky to be able to go to work with lots of other people. Whilst work can be stressful at the minute (for obvious reasons), at least there’s always people to chat to in person, something that many people working from home have missed out on. ARC is a great way to maintain some level of social life during the pandemic! It's great to meet people with all different jobs and interests, who I may never have otherwise met, and not have COVID dominate conversations as it often can do at work. Plus it’s been brilliant having other keen runners around who have pushed me to improve my distances and times!