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Our Runners

Be inspired.

Andrew Smith aka 'Grundy'

“You will get bad knees”
“You must be mad”
“At least you can eat loads of cake!”
“Why bother?”

These are just four things that I have heard more times than I can actually count when I discuss my passion for running. I’m sure other people who tell their friends and family that they are going for a run will have heard the same thing, as well as some of the other classics (“Isn’t it boring?”, “How fast are you” etc).

First, a bit of background. Back in 2010 I was working at HMV in Oxford, and my colleague Chris came into work on the Monday and told me he had run a 7km event around the grounds of Blenheim Palace. My first comment was probably “You must be mad”. I was as guilty as many people when someone dares mention running! After hearing more about the event I told him that I would do it the following year. Early in 2011 the Blenheim 7k for that year was announced, and true to my word I signed up to take part along with Chris and his fiancé Verity. Complete with a new set of trainers I started to train around the streets of East Oxford, and something odd happened; I started to enjoy it. The day of the event was soon here, and I lined up with many others on a warm May morning and ran the race without stopping. Achieving this was something that I didn’t know I could do. Since my first event I have since gone on to run the Blenheim 7k five times, and I am looking forward to being back there this year. On top of this, I joined Headington Road Runners in 2013 and have completed four marathons, with five planned for 2018 including my first international marathon in Berlin.

You may be reading this as a non-runner and the thought of going for a run takes you back to your secondary school PE lessons where you are sent out to run laps and laps of the largest field whilst a teacher bellows at you from the distance to keep going (Mr Roberts, I’m looking at you here). I won’t blame you if you are thinking of these awful cross country lessons. I don’t know a runner who isn’t still haunted by the dreaded cross country sessions from their schooldays. Back when I was at school running was often taught incorrectly, and having spoken to some younger people this still appears to be the case. Children are told to just run, without much education into the techniques and the benefits of the sport. Admittedly, we are not all built to be the next Mo Farah or Jo Pavey, but learning how to run to help prevent injuries, and to help ensure the highest benefits are gained is very important.

So why do we bother running? The most obvious answer would be “because it’s healthy”. But what does that actually mean? The reality is that it means that benefits to all health, both physical and mental, can be massive. Most people focus on using running to lose weight, and it is a fantastic way to burn calories, but it can also help with cardiovascular health, creating a stronger body core and help build and tone muscle. Mentally, running helps release endorphins and boost your mood, an effect often named as the “runners high”. This can then be linked to gaining a clearer state of mind and help relieve stress. One of my favourite quotes is from a lady named Nicky Lopez, who said that “running is a celebration of the good times, and the therapy for the bad”, and this is very true.

If you are reading this and feel that you might not be a runner, I would like you to challenge yourself and give it a go. I am not going to hide from the fact that your first few runs might feel hard. The hardest run is the first. Getting on your trainers and heading out your door can take a lot of courage, and I have first hand experience of the feelings that you will feel. Once home though, you can class yourself as a runner. It’s not about how far you go, it’s not about how fast you go. You are not in competition with anyone at all. It will not matter if you walk a lot to begin with either. With each run you will get stronger, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it. Even the top athletes in the world sometimes don’t think that they have met their potential during a run, and many have been heard in interviews post-race saying that ”it didn’t go to plan” or “something didn’t feel right about the run” and having a bad run is entirely natural regardless of how long you have been running for.

The Blenheim 7k is a fantastic event, and one that I would highly recommend using as a target race to keep you motivated. The event is extremely well organised, located in stunning surroundings, with hundreds of people just like you running the course with you. No one will judge you on your time, and each entrant is celebrated at the finish line. You don’t have to do it alone either. Get a team together and work to reach your goals. One of the greatest benefits that I have gained from being a member of Headington Road Runners is the spirit of togetherness. Our club motto is “Running Together”, and having a team spirit creates a fantastic atmosphere to motivate you. Having people who are part of your team on the side-lines cheering you on really does help ensure that you reach your potential, and I spent a fantastic morning watching the Big Half in London cheering on my friends during the tough half marathon.

I promise that inside you is some unlocked potential, and one of the joys will be discovering just what you are capable of. You are not expected to be lining up for Team GB at the Beijing 2020 Olympics, but reaching a goal, however small and however you want to measure it, is deserving of a gold medal.

I look forward to seeing you, running with you, and supporting you at Blenheim this year.

How can I get into running?

I would recommend looking at a tailored programme for beginners. The NHS Couch to 5k programme is a tailored programme for beginners:

parkrun: These are weekly, FREE 5km events that take place each Saturday at 9am. You can run, jog or walk and bring your children or dog to join in. Here you will be part of a community who will encourage each step. Events take place across the UK, and in Oxfordshire you can run at Oxford, Harcourt Hill, Abingdon, Didcot, Bicester and Witney.

Local running clubs: Many running clubs host beginners groups where you can progress as a group over a well structured weekly programme. Sessions are led by qualified coaches, with club members joining in to run and support you each week. An example from Headington Road Runners can be found at

JTAFit/Riot Club

Special mention goes to members of the JTA/Riot Club from Carterton. This year there will be around 100 runners on the team.

Jayne Attwood started JTAFit in 2012 and now offers  27 classes, 4 Run Club sessions & 4 courses per week, with 13 people making it all happen. She says: "I started our Run Club in late 2013 basically because I don’t like running on my own. We now have 38 members, 9 qualified Run Leaders & 1 Assistant Run Leader that cover 4 runs per week, plus 2 absolute beginner 10 week run courses per year.  

"One of our Run Leaders is a Mental Health Ambassador and offers running companionship and an ear for local people who may be suffering from the early stages of a mental health issue.

"We also offer a free Social Cycle events where we go out as a group for a ride around the countryside with a cycle leader, usually stopping for refreshments somewhere along the route, at a cafe specially selected for the variety of cake!

"Quite a few of our runners go out with RIOT on a Sunday as it’s a nice off road route and a very welcoming group (there is often cake involved….), and quite a few members of RIOT also come to some of JTAFit classes, plus plenty of joint social/sporting events (we have a mixed JTA/RIOT team doing the Henley Club to Pub swim in July, plus several OCRs), so there is a great cross-over, and no pressure either way - except to do Blenheim 7km!!

"So we should be a sea of black t-shirts with gold sparkles when we see you at the end of April & we’re all rather excited about it!" Can't wait to see you all Jayne!

JTAFit are coming with the Riot Club, set up by Matty Sanders and his wife 2 years ago. He says: "It's fun! It's free! It's local! We started with 2 then to 8, and now the numbers are over 20 each week, and 400 in the group - we're a group of like minded guys and gals just wanting to get fit and have some fun 🙂 bring your dogs, bring your kids, it's completely inclusive. There's no pressure, and all you need is a smile and some suitable shoes 🙂 all standards, all ages - run as short or as far as you like. But bring a smile, and have some fun. The only person you wanna try and beat is yourself - no egos here 🙂

We meet on Sundays at 9.30am in the carpark at the Country Park on Shilton Park in Carterton.

We also like a lot of cake :)"

So, if you live near Carterton. go join in the fun!

Amy and Sam Thomas

In 2018 Amy & Sam ran for IMPS - they plan to be back for 2019

I.M.P.S. (Injury Minimization Programme for Schools) teaches first aid, resuscitation skills, risk awareness and injury prevention to over 5000 Oxfordshire school children every year. Help us to empower children how to cope in an emergency by raising funds for this unique and vital programme.

Sam said: "I wanted to run the Blenheim 7k in April because I thought it would be a good challenge. It is the furthest I have run in one go. I did some training with my mum and I was going out for 2 or 3 runs a week.
I thought it would be a good idea to fundraise and I thought of I.M.P.S.
I know that they need to raise lots of money so that they can keep going. It’s really important that I.M.P.S. doesn’t run out of money because who would teach children how to stay safe? And what to do in an emergency?
The run was quite hard work but I kept running all the way round. I got a medal which is hanging in my bedroom.
I feel really proud to have raised over £300 for I.M.P.S. from all of the people who have sponsored me."