A year with Wallsend Harriers – Rob Strettle

I’ve been a member of Wallsend Harriers for just over a year, having joined in August 2017. I thought I’d write down my experiences with the club as I think it’s a generally fantastic thing to get involved in (just don’t get me started on the Bogie Chain, I hate the Bogie Chain).

To understand my time with the Harriers so far it’s probably worth explaining how I got started. I’ve had all sorts of problems as a runner on my own but since joining the Harriers, running with the club has been an incredibly positive experience.

Turns out it’s not just for your Mo Farah’s of the world. People of all sorts of ages and abilities are involved. As long as you can run a bit there’s a group in the club for you, and if you’re not quite there yet there’s other ways to get involved, such as parkruns. I found I can just about keep up with some of them, mostly!

Couch Potato

My long path to joining Wallsend Harriers started in 2010. I was 20 stone and couldn’t run for the bus but I still told myself I was alright. I was 30 years old with a young daughter and not a lot of energy.

I had always hated running and exercise. One night I was sat watching Supersize vs Superskinny on the telly. I thought how can I sit watching people lose weight but not do anything myself, that was the proverbial light bulb moment.

A proper runner right?

So I chose running; it’s accessible, I could go when I had a spare hour, I still hated it but not quite as much. I started in the gym then went out and did plodding run/walks. I eventually plucked up the courage to enter a 10k run, then my first big challenge was the Great North Run. I followed a proper training schedule and first time round did great.

I did events like the North Tyneside 10k, flying past other people (that may be an exaggeration) en route to the Lighthouse and the famous Blaydon Race, where I devoured beer, tripe and pickled onions at the finish line. I think that might be my favourite run.

So now I was a proper runner, right?

Yoyo Runner

Well no not really; my consistency was terrible, the slightest niggle would stop me for weeks and I’d pile the pounds back on. I was now what you could describe as a yoyo runner, on the up one week, down in the dumps the next.

I reached a running high point in 2015. I’d been running with a pal who was faster than me and I was improving week on week and lost weight and did the GNR again.Then in quick succession I broke my wrist playing rugby and sprained my ankle badly on a rather stupid run in the dark, clever me.

Back down in the dumps again, as I recovered I found I always ran the same 5k route and it was really boring. I was kind of stuck in a running rut right up until last summer.

Joining the Green and Gold

I knew people in running clubs and had chatted to them but hadn’t plucked up the courage to give it a go. So it’s now summer 2017, I made an excellent decision and had a proper look at all the local clubs.

Wallsend Harriers is probably my closest club and their website looked friendly. I thought ‘I’ll try training, if I don’t like it I’ll go back to the safety of my 5k plod’.

I emailed the club and I got a reply from Elaine, the secretary of the Harriers Committee, ‘Come down on Tuesday and see if you like it’. I sheepishly turn up not knowing anyone, to find a queue of people ready to rock around the Rising Sun. Little did I know Tuesday was the club’s Summer Grand Prix, a two mile race!

First question ‘What time can you run a mile in Rob?’ to which I guest-imated something like nine and a half minutes. ‘Great, you can try and do it in 17 minutes. You’re running round with Gary so try and stick with him’. Which of course I could not, but get round I did and I think to myself ‘this seems like a canny bunch, I’ll come next time’.

The next Tuesday is normal training, turns out the time setter from the Grand Prix was Kev, stalwart of the club, chief curry night arranger and the run leader of the group that I was put into.

£50 a year including curry – bargain!

A month on and I’m turning up every week, so it’s decision time. I carefully worked out that £50 for the year subs is only about £1 a week. I had learnt that I would gain a number of benefits for this princely sum:

  • Races: A whole calendar of harrier grand prix races, there’s even one on New Year’s Day, although that may actually be a disincentive.
  • Training: Training is always on, including during the Beast from the East!
  • Events: Should you wish to do so there are all sorts of runs you never knew existed. ‘Hetton le Hole Relays’ anyone?
  • Awards: The chance to win at the clubs annual awards, I’m a shoe in for the award for ‘The most improved male with a beard in the age 38-39 category’.
  • Trendy kit: race vest and a wardrobe of green and gold kit if you want it.
  • Banter: Good craic, mostly about injuries
  • New pals: car shares, people to cheer you on and trips to the pub and the curry house are all pretty standard
  • Discounts: England athletics discount off ‘proper’ races, start fitness 10% off for club members too.

It’s fair to say they had me at curry. I’ve had ups and downs in my first year but it’s one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. I’m not much faster but I’m certainly a better runner.

What’s next? Anything apart from the Bogie Chain

I simply want to get out regularly and keep fit. When you realise you can run a lot faster or further than you thought you could it’s a great feeling.

Since I first started back in 2010 I’m now about three and a half stone lighter overall and my health is loads better. I run three to four times a week between 3-10 miles per run. I’ve ran grand prixs, relays, 10ks, and half marathons with the club. Whether my ankle anxiety will ever let me run cross country remains to be seen and perhaps I will do the famous Toby one day (the club’s annual charity run).

It’s a family affair now, my sister Zahra joined soon after me. After badgering her to come along she then only went and did her first marathon, a fantastic achievement.

One year into my time with the Harriers and I’m still finding my feet really. My top observation for what it’s worth is that running with other people, some of whom are quietly (or in some cases very loudly) inspirational is definitely the way to go. It provides a wonderful support network around you and it really can’t be faulted. All the people involved are volunteers and they have literally decades of running know-how between them.

The only downside to being a Wallsend Harrier is the Bogie Chain, which I genuinely detest. What’s the Bogie Chain I hear you ask? I guess you’ll have to come down and find out!

Rob Strettle

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