I'm writing this with an equal dose of trepidation and excitement, as we start a phased return to running group. Deep breath. Here goes...
Sarah's Runners has been going for 17 years and I'm not about to allow a little thing like Covid-19 get in the way of getting started again. It is a huge part of my life and is a vital lifeline for many people - for social connection, friendships, running fitness, mental wellbeing and health. It's also a non-profit community group and we all do it for very little financial return.
So it's not been so easy.
I've spent hours working out how we can make it work, keep everyone happy and mitigate risk as much as possible. We've had Zoom coach meetings, endless chats and sleepless nights.
I'm desperate to get the group going again, but there have been some challenges. Because of the way we run the group (friendly, relaxed, social and flexible) it means that everything has to change. It seems we are not a very Covid-19 friendly set-up...
So I thought I'd share some of the challenges that I'm facing which will help you understand what goes on behind the scenes.
Challenge #1 - Group size
Following guidelines from England Athletics, we must only run in groups of 5 runners & 1 coach.
In the past we've had anything between 20-55 people turn up for a run. So this makes things a little tricky to say the least.
I've worked out a way that will maximise the number of runners we can have, but without compromising the 5 runners per group rule.
There will be 2 x 45 minute sessions. 2 small groups at each time. Therefore providing an opportunity for 20 runners to participate over a 90 minute session. Let's see if it works...
Challenge #2 - Cash, booking and costs.
We can't take cash and we can't operate as a 'drop in' group any more. We need to be far more organised, planned and structured. This means everyone will have to book and pay online before the session.
We lose our 'drop in' flexibility - which I've always been keen to maintain - but it can't work any other way.
Costs have also increased and income is reduced. The booking system, combined with the online forms and payment system costs around £25 per month - a cost I didn't have before. Costs at the new venue are also higher. So I've had to increase the cost slightly to runners at £3.50 per runner. Setting this up online via my website has tested my tech skills to the limit.
Bookings will open automatically 7 days ahead of each session, and I'm really sorry if you don't get the session you want or it fills up quickly. In time as we can offer bigger groups I'd hope this will change. But for now you'll have to be quick off the mark! we may also ask you only to book one session per week.. but we'll have to see how it goes.
Challenge #3 - Routes and location
Since the beginning of lockdown, runners have had a hard time when out running on pavements around the town. So I'm conscious that as we move out of lockdown we don't upset anyone, tarnish our reputation or put our runners in an awkward position.
Running 2m apart around the town as a group of 6 could be difficult and not something I feel comfortable with. So I've made the decision to keep us safe by finding a location where we can run privately and self contained. So we will NOT be running on the pavements and roads of the Town for the moment (maybe in time we can return to the roads).
Our new home will be TW Rugby Club at the top of Frant Road.
This means running around the perimeter of the grounds of the rugby club, but 4 laps is 3 miles, so it's not bad and it's safe and away from other people.
This of course meant finding a whole new 'home' and venue to run. And one with toilets. And parking.
A poll of the group told me that everyone still wanted to be in TW.
This meant doing research, visiting sites, doing a new risk assessment and liaising with the venue.
TW rugby club have been very kind and supportive and I think it'll be a great new home for us and hopefully it'll become permanent. It's very clean and they are very Covid-19 friendly already. And there are toilets. And parking.
Challenge #4 - Offering something for everyone
The group ethos was always to focus on beginner runners, however as the years have gone by, our ethos has become more about the 'philosophy' of the group rather than the ability of our runners.
So we now tend to offer something for everyone - from jog walkers up to 5 milers. But our focus is on offering a non-competitive, caring, compassionate and professional environment where people can learn to run, love running and re-shape their relationship with running.
In order to offer something for everyone I've introduced a new 'Intervals/Games and Drills' session which will cater for everyone (complete beginners may find this a little challenging, but they're still welcome as we can offer options for all). This will involve a range of skills, drills, speed intervals and games to help with technique, form and pace and will just be fun! everyone is welcome at these sessions and we plan to have it on both Tuesdays and Thursdays until it gets too dark/muddy.
Challenge #5 - Logistics and ever-changing 'guidelines'
The logistics and responsibility (for everyone's health and safety) weigh heavy on my mind especially in these mad times. So I'm doing my best. Please be patient as we work out how to make things work. I plan to re-assess every 2 weeks, so there may be changes (to everything).
And finally.. Thank you, thank you thank you! to my amazing team of coaches and buddies, who are prepared to continue to support the group and are willing to give up their time to help. We are all under the same stresses and strains as everyone else and our lives have all changed.
But hopefully, this is a little glimmer of hope and something to look forward to. Yes the group will be a little different, the sessions will be different and we have a new home... but our underlying ethos will never change.
We can't wait to see you again soon :-)