Once upon a time running was the preserve of the superfit chasing times but the last decade has seen a revolution in ‘recreational’ running, which is about the fun of taking part rather than beating the competition.
Nowhere is that more evident that in the runaway success of St Andrews Adventure Running Team (STAART), which has embraced the ethos of inclusiveness but taken it to a whole new level.
In just three years it has welcomed more than 200 members - of all levels of fitness - and become one of Scotland’s fastest growing running clubs, albeit one that does not fit the traditional mould.
It all started accidentally after St Andrews PE teacher Neil Stewart was asked to help some friends train for a fun run and before they knew it, STAART was up and running.
“About three years ago a few of us started to train for together for an event we’d signed up for,” recalled Ricky Murray. “When it finished, everyone was buzzing. Word started to spread about the group and that’s when it evolved into STAART.”
“Turn up to one of STAART’s training sessions and you’ll find all ages, shapes and sizes,” said Chris Willard.
“Sure, you’ll find more than a few skinny, speedy racers in their ranks but you’re just as likely to find first-time runners and novices who haven’t worn a pair of trainers for years.
“Everyone’s welcome, everyone’s equal.”
At STAART, it is about the adventure of running and becoming fitter, not so much how quickly you get from A to B more how much fun you have getting there as part of a big, supportive, encouraging team.
That’s what attracted Lorna McClymont, from St Andrews, to join.
If it wasn’t for the group I would never get past my own doorstep. The group gives me the motivation to keep going and to aim towards many of my challenges.Diane Wilson
“I saw a friend of mine running in the sea last year with others - they all looked like they were having an amazing time - so I got involved,” Lorna said.
Neil Stewart has never lost sight of the founding philosophy that friends can achieve more as a team than on their own and it is the kind of teamwork that can change lives.
The club recently had a “Biggest Loser” competition, where 50 members took part in a team-based challenge to lose weight through healthy eating and regular training.
The results were staggering – 300lb lost in just over a month.
Jackie Reid, who joined STAART two years ago, said: “I have a heart condition and diabetes and this was just the push I needed
“It’s changed my life as these people are like family - very caring and encouraging. I’ve never been made to feel less of a runner than the ones who can run a half marathon.
“I’ve now progressed to 10k and hope to just get better and better”.
STAART members are grouped into squads based on experience and fitness, ranging from first-time runners to those who have completed multiple marathons.
Local triathlete Tone Brennan said: “The most important difference it has made is getting to know many more people from in and around St Andrews.
“The sense of belonging I feel as part of STAART within the group and around the rest of St Andrews has been a revelation.”
“I remember turning up at my first session dreading spending 90 minutes with a bunch of super-serious ‘athletes’. I couldn’t have been more wrong.” Chris Wallard.
“If it wasn’t for the group I would never get past my own doorstep. The group gives me the motivation to keep going and to aim towards many of my challenges.” Diane Wilson.
“STAART has altered my life in many ways. Not only have I shed over 4.5 stone but I have become a jog leader and this has helped rebuild my confidence after a few turbulent years,” Chris Tulleth.
30,000 runners and counting
One of the reasons for the growth in running is the word-of-mouth success of jogscotland, which, as part of Scottish Athletics, was set up in 2002 to encourage people who had seldom, if ever, been active before.
Now it has 500 groups across the country, led by 2800 trained jog leaders and around 30,000 people have joined - including 2000 new members since the start of 2015.
“It’s all about being in the company of people who celebrate achievement at every level, whether that’s finishing your first race, or simply jogging for five minutes without a break,” said head of jogscotland Billy Mitchell. “The changes that we see in people are wonderful. For some it’s a matter of losing weight, or keeping up with their children or grandchildren, or just generally feeling healthier and more confident.”
For more see www.jogscotland.org.uk