Why join a running club?

Being a ‘newbie’ – My first 6 months as a Harrier (Or, ‘Should I join a running club’)

By Tony Cross

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock over the last couple of years, you’ll have noticed that you can’t go anywhere without passing runners, of all shapes, sizes and ages, going about their lycra-clad business. Running, it seems, is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance, and as more and more people don their kit after catching the highly contagious ‘running bug’, there’s a question on all of their lips; Should I join a club or not? Am I good enough? Won’t it be a bit ‘cliquey’?

Then there’s the self-doubt; ‘I’m too old/young/fat/thin/tall/short/slow to join’, or ‘I can’t commit to doing things every week’. Plus, the guy at work who runs all the time looks a bit weird, and he talks about ‘negative splits’ and ‘hydration’ like it’s normal. He’s a bit of a knob, if I’m honest.

Most people talk themselves out of it before they’ve even spoken to any club runners.

A sea of Red at the Brantingham Hill Race
A sea of Red at the Brantingham Hill Race

I know this, because that was me, at the end of last year. Then, after getting dragged out of a perfectly warm and comfy bed on a Saturday morning in October to run around some fields in Lincolnshire with Daz Knowles, my journey to becoming a ‘proper runner’ had begun.

Now, I was by no means a complete novice when I joined in January; I’d caught the ‘bug’ several years previously, after drunkenly agreeing to take a spot in the Great North Run in 2009. In some very testing times at home, it had acted as a fantastic therapy, so by the time I’d paid my membership fee to Nippy, I’d completed 2 London Marathons, 4 Hull 10k’s, 5 GNR’s, 3 Silverstone Halfs, 2 Humber Bridge Halfs, and 2 East Hull 20’s. That said, I very much felt I’d got as far as I could get on my own. If I wanted to hit my own personal goals, I’d need some support.

Before the Manchester Marathon
Before the Manchester Marathon

It started with Daz dragging me along to the Cross Country championship. 8 miles of mud and wind, taking in Longhill and a lot of fields. Cosmic. I was convinced we were trespassing and that farmers would be waiting to get us with guns and dogs that were little more than a row of teeth and an arsehole. I got lost, had to cross a ditch that smelled of cack, I ran really slowly and got abused by some toe-rags in the woods who picked on my hat and my tights. And I loved every minute of it. It turned out that, like most things the Harriers do, the race was steeped in history, and had been going on for years. After the race, the sense of inclusiveness, the friendly faces, the laughing and joking, the immediate sense I got from all of the members that they were committed to, and part of, something special, had me signing on the dotted line that afternoon.

Straight away, just the fact that I was training with other people regularly saw me improve my speed within a couple of weeks. I used to run home from work, and I’d never thought it was possible to run the 8 and a bit miles down Hedon Road in anywhere near an hour. The ‘Harriers effect’ had me doing it in 58 minutes almost immediately.

After putting in a couple of decent training shifts, I got to see what it was like to run REALLY fast, when our erstwhile capitano Mr Matthew Smith Esq. suggested I try and keep up with him, Alec Gibbo and Chris Adams on one of their steady runs. I’ll be honest, after 7 miles with them, my legs, lungs, heart, arms, and parts of the fibre of my very soul felt like they’d been done over by the three baddies out of Superman II, but in the process, according to my trusty watch, I’d ran a 5km PB, a 10km PB, my fastest mile, and my fastest KM.

So, I’d been a member less than a month. I’d been invited out with ‘the elite’. I’d met a load of great members, old and new. I could train as little or as often as I wanted, and I was getting faster. All of the worries I’d had about joining about cliques, and not being good enough, were all completely unfounded. And there was free cake after every training session too.

My first race in Harriers colours was at my fourth Silverstone Half Marathon in March. I’d run my previous best of 1hr 40 the previous year, and at the time I felt like only Mo Farah and ‘The Flash’ could possibly run faster. Turns out I was wrong about that, too. I came in in 1hr 32. Still nowhere near the fast lads at the front, but the personal gains I’d made were already way beyond what I’d thought I could ever do.

All these years being a Star Wars fan, it wasn’t until I became a Harrier that I got to meet a real Storm Trooper ;-)
All these years being a Star Wars fan, it wasn’t until I became a Harrier that I got to meet a real Storm Trooper 😉

Following that, I took 15 minutes off my East Hull 20 PB, and, probably my favourite moment to date, took 28 minutes off my marathon best, clocking a 3hr 15 at the Manchester Marathon in April. I’ve run a marathon across the Yorkshire Dales, in the Northern 12 stage team relay against some of the fastest guys in the North, and found some amazing routes around the area that I never knew existed. I’ve had some fantastic nights out with the club, made some good mates, and all of this is down to biting the bullet and joining the mighty East Hull Harriers!

Having spent the majority of my life playing Saturday and Sunday football at a decent standard, I didn’t think there’d be anything to compare to the changing room banter and camaraderie that came with it, especially in something that appeared so ‘individual’ as competitive running. I couldn’t have been much further from the mark! The piss-taking is Premier League standard, whether you’re a 5 or a 12 minute miler. But so too is the encouragement and support. If you just want to get round your first 10k, or you’re after smashing a sub-3hr marathon, the support network within the club is second to none. In Matty and Ali, the Harriers have two fantastic captains, and all of those that work hard to keep the club and its events running, do so tirelessly and brilliantly.

Although it’s only been six months for me, it’s clear that when you stick a red vest on, you’re part of something special. There’s a great sense of history and pride that runs through the clubhouse and is in all of the members, and there’s a reason for its longevity. You can be as involved as you want, with no aspersions cast if you turn out one or one-hundred times in a year, and no matter what shape, size, age or speed you are.

Joining the club has been like joining a big family. So, if you’re wondering whether or not to take the plunge, whether it’s us or anyone else, JUST DO IT! (FYI, I’m not officially sponsored by Nike, but if they’d like to give me some free things for using their slogan, I’m a size 9 and wear medium stuff).