Run to get fit, run to make friends, run for your mental health – whatever your reason, just run. That’s the message from the co-founder of North Bristol Running Group, Alan Wilcox. Editor, Suzie, talked to him about his passion…
When Alan Wilcox and his wife Sheila decided to set up a running group five years ago it’s fair to say they had no idea how phenomenally successful it would become. They didn’t look into the future and foresee hundreds of people running at different levels, speeds and ability, all united through running. They just thought it would a good thing to do.
“We didn’t want to set up a running club, because we thought people might feel there was pressure to run in a club, but a group is just a nice collection of people enjoying getting outside together,” Alan explained.
So, the journey to becoming a hugely successful running group – that’s completely free of charge to join – began one evening as Alan and Sheila put leaflets on cars and started a Facebook group.
“Around 100 people turned up for the very first session. We couldn’t believe it, there were so many of us. We thought to ourselves ‘where are they all coming from’, but it was fantastic,” Alan recalled.
The North Bristol Running Group currently has in excess of 1,000 members. More than 80 are signed up for this year’s Christmas party and 122 took part in the last Bradley Stoke run.
Alan explained why they’ve never tried to make a profit from what is clearly a hugely successful group. “We like to give something back. We enjoy supporting the community. If someone gets a personal best in a race or a marathon, we like to think we helped in their development. I’m a mental health ambassador and some people come along to talk things out, or even not to talk, just to clear their minds,” he said.
Given that Alan runs every single evening and has a busy job that means he’s on the road travelling around the country on a regular basis, fitting in time for running isn’t always easy.
“Sometimes when I come home I think ‘I can’t be bothered’, but then I know that people are waiting for me and after I’ve run, I get such a buzz. I’m always pleased that I made myself get out there and go for a run. Sheila runs groups at different speeds so we can support people at all levels.”
As I talked to Alan about the group and his own passion for running, I explained that for some people – including myself – joining a club or a group with lots of other people who are great at running can seem overwhelming. Especially considering the snail’s pace at which I run myself!
“I promise you there’s nothing to be nervous about,” said Alan reassuringly. “We have pacers it different points in the group. So, someone will be leading up front, another person will be in the middle and someone will be at the back, that way no-one feels like they can’t keep up.
“There are eight, nine, 10 and 11-minute mile pacers; there are even groups for people who want to run at 13 or 14 minute miles – or walk for a minute, run for a minute. The most important thing is to get out and be active, the speed at which you run is never an issue.”
As well as encouraging those who’re nervous about running, or running fast, Alan and Sheila love to encourage those who are looking to improve their speed. The fastest member of the group can run five kilometres in 18 minutes, with the slowest taking over an hour.
“Our youngest member is 15-years-old and runs 5k in 19.10 minutes,” said Alan proudly.
Regardless of the weather, time of year or seasons, the group is always out and about in North Bristol.
Alan said: “We run about the nature reserve, up to Filton Airport, around Winterbourne. In the darker months we’ll go wherever it’s well lit. Whenever the local stores have deal on head torches, we’ll go and buy up a load of them so we can lend them to members.”
The group raises money for things like head torches and training for team leaders in areas such as first aid and Leader Fitness. By volunteering as marshals for races such as the Bristol half marathon, the members get paid a fee, which goes into the pot for the benefit of all the members.
North Bristol Running Group has won awards for its efforts to encourage people into fitness and wellbeing and Alan’s confident that he’s created a very special community. “If we were to ever stop there are enough people involved now to keep it going for a long time to come, although that won’t happen any time soon,” he laughs.
If you’d like to join the group, search for North Bristol Running Group on Facebook.