Socially Connected Leeds: Farsley Flyers, Yorkshire Virtual Relay

This post is part of a series of blogs sharing good news stories, positive practice and the range of innovative ways communities in Leeds are remaining connected through neighbourliness.

On Thursday March 12th, as I led a group of runners around the streets of Farsley and Bramley on one of our weekly club nights, little did I know that this would be the last time I would do something that I have done pretty much every Thursday night for the past 3 years.

Following guidance from England Athletics, social running clubs across the country decided to stop their usual meetings; something which I’m not sure at the time, any of us quite realised would last so long or have such a big impact on our lives.

Of course, the following couple of weeks saw every person in the UK see drastic changes to their lifestyles, which put social running to the very back of most of our minds. As is typical of our club, and many others through the country, the Farsley Flyers family feeling was still there – a secret team of ‘elves’ delivered treats to those of us who were having to isolate or were alone for whatever reason. People offered to help each other out in so many amazing ways and Zoom quizzes helped to take our minds off the wider world for a short time.

However, as the weeks went by and we all begun to become accustomed to our ‘new normal’, the gaping hole left in our lives by the cessation of social running became increasingly apparent. Our club’s Facebook group page – normally buzzing with discussion of race plans, photos of groups venturing out on trails and to parkruns, shared successes and encouragements – had become a social media ghost town. At a time when the impact of running on people’s mental and physical health was most needed, a group of people who had come together because of their need for that social side of running, had begun to lose their motivation.

As a team of run leaders, we met virtually (a change from our usual pub-based meet ups!) and discussed idea for ways to keep our community of over 600 runners connected and motivated. Scavenger hunts, Strava-based challenges and a local, real-life version of Monopoly were among the many ideas which have helped to get our members out and about.

For me, however, the challenge was slightly different. I had received a letter from the NHS on the 26th March to inform me that I was to ‘shield’ for the next 12 weeks – working from home, ok, I’m a teacher so that was a given anyway. No going to the shops, again, I can live with that, and my friends at Farsley Flyers were quick to offer their support with this. No outdoor exercise – that was a different matter. Running and being active has been a big part of my life for the past 4 years, and joining Farsley Flyers in 2017 and meeting so many great people had led to much of my social life revolving around running too.

Not being able to participate in the challenges offered, which I would normally have loved to take part in, hit me hard. So when I saw that someone from another Yorkshire running club (Samantha Taylor of Kirkstall Harriers) wanted to set up a friendly ‘Yorkshire Virtual Relay’ competition between clubs I leapt at the chance to get Farsley Flyers involved.

The idea was simple; teams of 12 would each take turns to run for (Covid) 19 minutes and then pass on a virtual baton to the next runner. The aim was to complete the highest cumulative distance in the 12 legs. Initially hoping we could maybe get 2 teams of 12 together, I was delighted when 72 members signed up giving us a full 6 teams. Farsley Flyers is an inclusive, free, social running club, which caters for runners of all abilities – on Thursday nights we usually offer 6 groups which range from absolute beginners to those who can run 10ks in under 35 minutes. From the 72 people wanting to take part, we created 6 mixed-ability teams and brought them together in Facebook Messenger groups to plan their tactics and choose their ‘batons’. The batons were probably my favourite part of the event and included carrots, bottles of bleach, alcoholic drinks and decorated wooden spoons.

It was clear that while that competitive edge was there between the different teams, the main things that people enjoyed about the competition were the motivation it gave them to get out and run, the ability to connect with other runners socially again, and for many, the chance to get to know those people who they might not see much of on our usual Thursday night sessions due to being in different groups. The support and encouragement people had for every member of their team – regardless of pace – was overwhelming, as was people’s desire to do the best for their team. Many of our runners achieved some of their fastest ever times during the event and every single person put in an incredible effort to do their best for their team.

For me personally, the chance to be involved in something despite not being able to go outside, was invaluable and made the hours of updating spreadsheets and managing the teams more than worthwhile.

The immediate future of social running is unclear; it could be a long time before we are able to go back to the things which we are used to doing as a club. However, the camaraderie, friendship and support which is at the heart of Farsley Flyers, isn’t going anywhere.

This post was written by

Carol Newton

One of many great volunteer Run Leaders at Farsley Flyers running club

#TogetherLeeds

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