Run, Britannia!

Okay, full disclosure: I’m a bit of an Anglophile. Not the type who hears an accent and is all “OMG ARE YOU FROM ENGLAND? DO YOU KNOW THE QUEEN??” More like: part of my family is originally from Yorkshire so I’ve got a soft spot for that area (West Riding, represent!), and I studied for a semester in England so there’s a special place in my heart because of that as well, and I’m a nerd for British history, and I grew up watching Monty Python and Are You Being Served? and Blackadder and all the other classics (and I’m currently addicted to Gogglebox and Call the Midwife), and I tend to spend my weekend mornings watching Premier League matches (COYS), and… well okay, I am a bit of a dork about it all, but I try not to be obnoxious in my Anglophilia.

(Keyword is try.)

(The keyword in that last sentence is try.)

I know I’m biased, but I’ve noticed that – in my opinion, anyway – the UK tends to do many things better than the US. Generalizing here: portion sizes tend to be smaller (I call it “Dana-sized,” since I’ve always had a tiny stomach and am constantly unable to finish my super-sized meals when I eat out here), sweets and sugary drinks are made with real sugar and there’s not high-fructose corn syrup in everything, yummy things like creme eggs and mac & cheese aren’t made with known carcinogens like they are in the US, towns are generally more walkable, the Tube makes SO much more sense – and runs way better, no matter what people in London say – than the MBTA, socialized medicine… I could go on.

What do these admissions have to do with running? Well, since I started this blog and began getting lost down the rabbit hole that opens up when you find other running blogs, and click on links there that lead to other blogs, and so on, ad infinitum, I started noticing things about the running culture across the pond that seemed so awesome and that I wished we had here. The big one? Parkrun.

A few blogs I follow (The Crazy Runner Girl, Flake and Cake, Grundy Runs) have mentioned Parkrun – a free, timed 5k race that takes place weekly in “pleasant parkland surroundings” all around the UK and Ireland. They’re volunteer-run and open to all, and many seem to end with a post-run coffee at a local cafe, and I just love the idea of them. The more I read about Parkrun, the more I was wishing that there were something similar in the US. What I didn’t know until today, when I googled Parkrun to find out a little more about it, is that it does exist in the US… just nowhere near where I live, and it’s nowhere near as big a thing (no sponsors, etc.). For some perspective, here are the maps of weekly Parkrun events in the UK/Ireland versus those in the US (maps from Parkrun’s website):


Though the nearest Parkrun to me is, sadly, an 11-hour drive away, I was excited to learn that it does in fact exist over here! Hopefully word of its awesomeness will spread Stateside and there will be just as many events here as there are in the UK. In the meantime, my running club does sponsor something vaguely similar each summer – a free, weekly 5k every Thursday night – so I’ll have to make do with that.

Speaking of running clubs, that’s another thing I’ve noticed lately: it seems like if you close your eyes and point anywhere on a map of England, you’ll find a town with a running club. And not just a running club, but a running club that is chill and welcoming and open to everyone as well. (Note: I have not done exhaustive research on this, but preliminary searches show that this is a trend!)

I stumbled upon Grundy Runs a few days ago, and was nerdily excited to see that Grundy is a member of the Headington Roadrunners… Headington is where I lived for 4 months during my semester abroad.

Headington Hill. I had thighs of steel from walking up this every day. Imagine if I had run it? Thighs of titanium!

Headington Hill. I had thighs of steel from walking up this every day. Imagine if I had run it? Thighs of tungsten!

I have this dream I like to entertain that involves the Bodleian Library deciding to hire me and me packing up and moving to Headington (with Drew, of course!). After this week, my dream now involves my joining the Roadrunners and doing Parkruns at the weekend, and it’s all very happy. Then I had the thought that I might instead want to live in the Yorkshire town my family came from (I wouldn’t be working in Oxford if this were the case, obvi), and sure enough they have a running club too. So did every other town I had ever dreamed of moving to. And the website for each and every one mentioned that they welcome runners of all ages and abilities. I love that.

When I was first becoming really interested in running, I thought about joining a run club to keep myself motivated and to give myself a chance to learn from more experienced runners. The first club I looked into – which shall remain nameless – required that anyone interested in joining had to be able to run at a certain pace (one way faster than mine was at the time… and honestly even now it’s still quite a bit faster than mine!) and had to apply to join, but that membership wasn’t guaranteed. I assumed that most run clubs were exclusive like this, which is why almost a year went by before I joined the Shammies; I thought I’d be too slow and they wouldn’t let me in.

Luckily the Shammies are just like every UK run club I investigated online – open to runners of all ages and abilities and super welcoming. Granted, I haven’t investigated many US run clubs (to be honest I didn’t know just how many we had until I looked at a website mentioned at the end of the US edition of Running Like a Girl), but at least a few of the ones I’ve looked at either have membership requirements or don’t come across as welcoming as the Shammies or any of the ones I looked at in the UK.

(One random observation about UK run clubs… they sure like the name Harriers! About 75% of the clubs I looked up were called the [your town here] Harriers.)

And now it’s late and my brain is shutting down, and I’m not entirely sure where I meant to take this post, so I’ll stop myself here. Keep running, Britannia, and I hope that your awesome approaches to running get adopted on this side of the pond!


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