Run Leeds – from an idea or two to 200 runners – by Bob Jackson – July 2011


I’m sure the majority of athletics / running clubs around the country have a problem recruiting new members, particularly “social” runners.  Many of those people that pluck up courage to come and try it out, find that they are a bit off the pace and don’t come back.


But if you could get 10 or 20 beginners and/or social runners all coming on the same date, you’d get a group that you could hold together …


This was discussed at the October 2010 meeting of the Leeds Athletics Network which has 15 active clubs.  Many clubs had a few recently qualified LiRFs but mainly to give structure to their existing club sessions.  But then put together a few apparently disconnected facts - Run in England was actively promoting beginners and improvers groups - one of our committee members is race director for Jane Tomlinson Leeds Run for All 10k - the Run for All has approximately 95% unattached runners - Run for All is in June - most training plans are 10 or 12 weeks – it’s easier to run training sessions in daylight - the clocks go back at the end of March.


So the plan would be to start Run in England groups within as many Leeds clubs as possible all at the end of March.


Just after Christmas we informally met with Run for All publicity and they in principle agreed to support us.  Six of our clubs, spread fairly evenly round the city suburbs, signed up.  Some clubs needed extra LiRFs and 12 people went on a course organised jointly by the Bradford Network. We came up with the name “Run in Leeds” to brand all the groups.    We deliberately decided to refer to the location of the group rather than the club so for example the Valley Striders group became “Run in Leeds @ Alwoodley”.  And although the groups took place at club venues, they were at a different time (and in some cases on a different day) from the normal club session.  We set up a web page . On the web page we gave email addresses for people to contact.


And at the beginning of March, Run for All put out an email to 5000 entrants for Leeds 10k advertising “Run in Leeds groups”.


“With only 12 weeks to go until this year's 5th Anniversary Leeds 10K, now is the time to pull on your running shoes, and if you've not already started, to get some training in.

“As we build up to the 19th June, Run in Leeds are offering participants in the Leeds 10K the opportunity to attend training sessions across the city to help with your event day preparations.

“With running groups meeting every week it will be the perfect opportunity for you to meet your fellow runners and join in a sociable training session led by athletics club runners.

“For £1 or £1.50 per week you can join in one of the sessions below. Whether you are looking to build on your training plan, improve your 10K time or simply meet fellow runners ahead of race day, these training sessions will be built to suit the participants.”


With 5000 on the mailing list we weren’t sure whether to expect a few or to be overwhelmed.  What happened next?  One of the clubs (who’d also put out some posters locally) received over 40 enquiries in the first 3 weeks and declared themselves full.  The other clubs received between 10 and 25. 


I would say that about 60% to 70% of those that enquired joined the group and continued for the full 12 weeks.  I’m vague here because you will remember that Run in England folded the same month that we started so we had no facilities for clubs or individuals to register!


At the end of May, the participating clubs plus 2 other interested clubs met together to discuss experience to date and how to take the groups forward.  All 6 original clubs decided to continue and 3 extra clubs decided to set up groups.  Another club who already had a group under “Race for Life” joined to make 10.


Just under 100 of our group members ran Run for All 10k on 19 June.


We re-branded to “Run Leeds” in line with the new “Run England” and printed 7,000 flyers of which about 3,000 were handed out at the Run for All race and the others distributed at sports centres, running shops, parkruns and other races.


The clubs started their new “season” at the beginning of July.  Clubs are typically getting 10 to 15 new enquiries and are retaining 75% of their original groups.  These are rough figures because at the time of writing we are only one week into the new season.


Louise Purdy (network co-ordinator), Lucy Birkenshaw (CCSO) and myself met with Craig Blain, the new Run England co-ordinator for the North and we discussed methods of working, how to get new members into the groups and how to get members registered with Run England.  There is the possibility of the Network receiving funding based on the number of new members recruited. We’re also seeking advertising and promotion of Run Leeds through Leeds Gold (Peter Smith)


The clubs themselves are working in different ways (as you might expect).  Some clubs are charging per session, some per season. Some are incentivising the group members to join the host club as soon as possible, some keep a clearer distinction between group and club.  Some clubs have actually converted their club slow session to a Run Leeds group, some clubs have their Run Leeds group and are now trying to attract back their slower / older members to train regularly. 


Look at our webpage for more information!


Bob Jackson

Leeds Athletics Network