As well as being a mum to three girls, and a journalist, on Friday morning I coach. It’s the best day of the week for me, and a chance to give back to my sport. I set up my Friday group years ago, whilst I was going through divorce. As a single mum I was unable to train in the evenings with my club. Living in a military area, there were lots of women like me who didn’t have partners at home to look after their children. I soon found out I could only train when my three girls were at school, or if I stuck them in the middle of a field and ran around them.
Mums supporting each other
A morning run group, that meets as soon as the kids were dropped off, meant that I could offer lots of women in the same position as I was in, a quality speed session. Men are welcome, too! But we are mostly mums, coming together for one hour a week, working hard during the session, but, just as importantly, chatting as we warm up and cool down. And supporting each other in all that we do, whether that means in training or racing, or coping with the ups and downs of life.
For a long time, there were only a few of us. Many winter mornings it would be myself, Sandra and David, who’ve run with me the longest. Slowly, the group grew, though there’s a core of dedicated runners who will come out all year round, when the weather is atrocious and we all moan as much as we run. Many others dip in and dip out, especially in the build-up to spring marathons and our big racing event of the year on the south coast, the Great South Run. Which makes for a constantly evolving running experience for all of us.
The beach is our gym
We are an incredibly lucky run group, as it’s only one mile to jog to the beach, where we find an amazing gym for our weekly workout. We have the shingle, sand and groynes for strength work, a stunning prom for speed, as well as ramps/steps/benches to make each session unique. Yes, we are so fortunate. Most weeks we take a moment to appreciate this. Windy days, like today, much less so! I’ve had my eye on a stretch of the prom that has recently been rebuilt and reinforced, due to erosion. It’s a very short, smooth stretch, beach huts on one side, shingle on the other… and at 9am on a Friday morning we only encounter the odd dog-walker.
I’m an organic coach, constantly adapting and evolving sessions. Keeping each workout different provides intellectual stimulation, as well as changing your training load. Some weeks we focus more on strength, some solely on speed, most on both.
We had a few Friday first-timers this week – Graham, Tiffany and Tina. It was quite a tough session so I was impressed with their level of work and commitment. My normal group are used to my sessions and me shouting at them. You always have a moment when a new member turns up when you worry you may scare them away or offend them. Most come back, though.
We jogged to the beach as our warm-up, did some joint mobilisation (so important to ease your body into the zone), then coordination drills. These were the grapevine, fast hopscotch on alternative legs, then jogging backwards. If you struggle with any of these, practise them! Don’t neglect the areas of your fitness you struggle with.
This took up to our sprint section of the prom, about 150m long. We worked up from one sprint effort, followed by about 60-seconds rest, to two, three, four, five, four, three, two and one again. To make the session more interesting, we did our short recovery along the length of one sprint, but on the shingle, giving us active recovery. Front runners who got back to the start first did some squat jumps until the back runners caught up. This ensured their heart rate stayed high and recoveries weren’t too long. At the top of the pyramid we had a two-minute recovery (I can be kind), but we decided to do a mini-strength circuit of 15 seconds of wall squats, 15 seconds of rest, 15 seconds of squat jumps, 15 seconds of rest, twice. Going down the pyramid felt hard after this, but everyone stayed committed to pushing themselves until the end, with the last sprint being a handicap. It was great to see everyone charging down the prom!
Then we jogged back, and stretched out, before heading to Costas. We earnt it! There’s no doubt that I set tough sessions. We’re a mixed ability group though, and I try to offer easy/medium/hard levels so that everyone finishes feeling they’ve achieved what they wanted from the session. Not everyone runs hard every week. There’s always someone doing a recovery run, return run, easy plod; everyone is always welcome, everyone in the group supports each other (and me at times). This is the magic of running together.