I’d like to share my story about running at work. I know many runners are not able to train during office hours due to various work schedules, travel or lack of facilities, but I have been really fortunate to be able to make use of my lunch times to do my regular weekly training (or ‘runching’ as it is sometimes known). Here’s my story about forming a strong running community at work, and how we manage our lunch time runs. There might be something to take away from it and for others to try out….
A number of years ago I agreed to take a break away from my computer one lunch time as one of my managers had promised to take a couple of us out for a run. At the time I was barely a casual runner and only really running for a couple of months a year. I remember that run really well. We headed out along a quiet country side road in Winchester for a 5k. I found it utterly exhausting and extremely hilly (I didn’t realise what a real hill was back then). After that run I never ran again at work for quite some time. Not because I was put off by it – I enjoyed it, but I remained at my desk most lunch times, in front of my computer screen as I had done over many years. A comfortable routine. It’s so easy just to do that. I am sure many can relate to large portions of their working career spent doing this during lunch.
I don’t know how or why but about about a year later I found myself running another 5k around that same area during my lunch break. I was probably training for the Great South Run which at the time I raced casually each year. During that activity I encountered another runner who worked at the same place. He asked if I’d like to join him and go a bit further and as always, I agreed. That chance encounter has led to the most incredible growth of a healthy and happy running community at work. And here’s the tale of how it all happened and what we get up to each week.
My friend Russell was the runner who I met on route that day. It turned out he was a good runner and regular cyclist. Before long I was joining Russell and another runner Andy on some more runs and from there we occasionally were met by other solo runners passing by. It seemed there were other employees at work who were doing the same thing every lunch time. At work we use a number of useful social tools to keep in touch with each other. I reached out to Russell and we discussed forming a non official runners group which would be optional for people to join. We both thought it would be a great idea to have somewhere to advertise daily runs and routes so that people could opt into join in and run together.
We created a social network channel and we ended up having over 100 people join. It was amazing how word quickly spread and people began being able to organise runs together. Each morning someone would put a post up stating an intended start time, route and pace and include any other useful details. Interested runners could receive notifications from these social network channels, and then post comments to ‘opt in’ so that the person who created the original post could see who to expect at the start of the run (and wait a few minutes if needed). If changes were made to any details, those who opted in would know via an update notification. It really helped keep runners motivated to get out and run at lunch. Start times varied depending on everyone’s calendar, and while some could make the advertised start times, later or earlier groups began forming and soon there were more than one option to go running each day. It worked really well and soon we all had a large and friendly network of runners. Good friendships formed from there and soon we were entering races together and training began to evolve and take on all sorts of various forms. Since then we have moved onto other social tools like Slack for example, which provides a real time chat server (similar to old mIRC channels for those ‘young’ enough to remember). Making the most of the social technology we have at work has been instrumental in making this work so well.
Structured Training Sessions?
Much of the running at work is social, meaning we all run together no matter what pace. Well, kind of. If runners want to go faster or want to add a bit more mileage to the run then we loop back or work out extended meeting points in the runs. But over the past years some more structured training weeks have emerged at work mainly because many have entered races or just want to run faster. A few of us in the group tend to keep up quite structured training patterns. These usually include a couple of days of intensity sessions which can take on the form of tempo runs, intervals of varying lengths and also threshold running sessions. The days differ from person to person however most of the time we try to find a small group who want some quality running.
We do not have a running track to make use of on site and so we have to rely on the roads. We have some flat portions of road near Winchester that we can go to, however anything over a 800 – 1200m and you need to include some small climbs, or be stepping out over drive ways or even resorting to running around some grassy fields instead. We are not short of hills where we work. If we want to do some of the fast sessions on hills we have a number to select from. Some favourites are infamous for their length and vert! One of the reasons I myself started more structured training was due to one of the social media like tools we all started using. A tool common to most runners and cyclists now, called Strava.
Enter Strava – Hello Segments!
In order to heat things up a bit on some of our standard routes, we began creating a number of Strava segments in the area. For those who don’t know what those are, go and google it. We created so many segments around the area at work and many of those became targets for lunch time runs. I recall when I was still casually running at the time with the groups at work, that I started taking an interest in attempting some of these segment efforts and chasing my times to try and get a segment crown (become the fastest runner on the segment). In effect, what was happening was that our bodies were getting used to almost interval training efforts. We’d run two or three short to long segments in a run and go all out. Doing that for weeks really picked up the running and from there I remember myself becoming a lot more interested in attempting to get faster. Some of our most popular segments are here :
- See Sign Sprint to It – yep, one of the few I’ve managed to keep hold of ….. for now!
- Pig Farm to Crest – a spicy one requiring much speed, going slightly uphill for a fair amount of time.
- Climb Towards Farley Mount – an evil climb, end of!
We have a number of Strava groups/clubs set up now which include a global group spanning our company worldwide. It’s been really great chatting and following fellow employees and comparing some of the different work site photos and how everyone trains. We’ve also created more of a global Slack channel for runners all over the world to join and chat too. This sport is so social. I don’t think runners exist who don’t like to chat about running Do they?
We’ve since taken the Strava use at work to new heights. Some of the runners came up with an idea which is now called the Monthly Challenge, and here is how it works. Each month a runner will pick a route. This route can be short or long, and include hills, road, trails – whatever. There are only a few loose rules we give in that it can’t be too long, and it needs to start and finish within reasonable distance from work so that everyone can give it a good bash. That month runners head out whenever they want to see how fast they can run the segment. Some are easier than others and many have been really tough routes. The winner at the end of the month gets to pick the next monthly challenge route – that’s it! To keep it fair, if you have picked a route before you cannot pick one again until all runners have had a chance to pick. Naturally, this list is still being worked through and will take a while to come around, however there is also a yearly leader board that starts in January and ends in December. A points system similar to Formula 1 has been developed and it used to keep a table.
It’s been a fantastic way to motivate people to get out and improve. We’ve had a number of personal bests hit for runners who have really challenged themselves. This monthly challenge, mixed with the Strava segments and also the structured training is the perfect cooking pot for improvement. Here’s an example of a recent monthly challenge route – December 2018 Challenge
The Office Stinker?
Not here luckily! All these hard runs at lunch. All that sweat. We are also lucky to have a number of facilities at work to help keep us smelling fresh. We have about four different locations on site with showers, including a new state of the art gym area with great new showers. Some of these showers are in need of some tender loving care but they are functional and also apparently getting revamped very soon too! After some of our summer runs I think everyone else in the office is glad that we get to wash. Like, really glad.
The gym I mentioned is another great bonus we get working at our site. It was a project taken on by some of the employees, led by runner Jon Tilt who happens to be a world champion track athlete for his age category. He knows his stuff and managed to get some really good equipment. He worked hard to get this new gym built and installed which also replaced a tired old gym which had been rotting away for years. Most of the equipment in that old gym had been loaned or donated. It was all in terrible condition and had no windows. The equipment and the space we are lucky enough to have now is amazing. We have the option to hit the treadmill if we so wish, or do some rowing or cycling or even strength training. It’s been a godsend for runners who have been injured and off of the running. We are all extremely lucky to have these and other facilities around site! I count my blessings each day.
There have been so many healthy advantages to forming this lovely group at work. Firstly, it’s just so beneficial to escape the office environment for that hour between each of the half days. It really clears your mind, and perhaps not so much the legs and body sometimes! No really – I’ve found that I’m more awake during the day even after a hard session. I might not walk around as quickly but I’m definitely more alert. Another natural formation from these runs is the friendships. I would like to say I’ve made some great new friendships through running and get to speak and share stories with other people I may not necessarily have had the chance to normally. I’ve learned so much from our runs and had some really detailed discussions about everything from office issues and work all the way to alien life in the universe. When I run talking becomes a lot easier and conversation flows so easy. Lots of these friendships go beyond running and I’ve been lucky enough to get some great career advice and help on a number of issues.
Mental health is a big discussion topic these days. A lot of it is centred around talking to each other. A lot of the junk we keep inside has come out during running and it has been a great outlet for some of this ugly stuff that sits on your shoulders all day to come out. I think our work runs continue to be a great way to discuss things if ever needed. When you are out in the middle of the peaceful countryside, moving freely on foot and enjoying the air, it’s far simpler to lay a lot of these things on the table and discuss them.
Our running group became a bit of a focus when we had our health and well being week at work last year. We ended up putting a lot of the photos you’ve seen on this page onto a board which gave people a chance to see what we got up to each day. A few of us stood at a stall and were there to answer questions and try to encourage people to join in with us. We’re a very welcoming and inclusive group and offer a number of weekly ‘recovery’ runs where new runners can join us. They don’t have to run too far or fast for these and it’s a great way to get into it all. New runners to the area can turn back and easily navigate back to work – it’s not far. I must admit, it can be daunting seeing our discussions on the various social tools we use like Slack. We do get into some discussions at times about intervals and threshold sessions – bla bla bla. People probably shy away at times, but we’re always very welcoming and many of the runners are super supportive and willing to help others start their running journey by offering their time to discuss their own experiences with training, clothing, shoes etc. Such is like most of the running community around.
I’m always interested in hearing if others have similar groups at work? Do you work in the same way or have ways of competing with each other? If so, how about a cross-company challenge some time ?
Happy running everyone! xxx