If there was one abiding memory of the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon for viewers across the globe, it was the sight of Swansea Harriers’ Matthew Rees assisting David Wyeth of Chorlton Runners along the finishing straight. It was an act of sportsmanship towards a stricken fellow-runner on the part of the welsh athlete that touched the hearts of millions and, perhaps, brought the clubs to which the two runners belonged into focus.
While many may have immediately recognised the white and green vest of Swansea, the black and yellow of Chorlton may have been a new sight to some, albeit one that they won’t now forget, particularly following the generous offer from the club to pay for Rees’s travel and entry into next year’s race as a thank you for his selfless acts.
Yet for those active in the sport across the North West of England, the Chorlton singlet has become an increasingly regular sight at local and regional races and parkruns and beyond. As coincidence would have it, we at England Athletics visited the club to see them in action on the Tuesday immediately prior to London and received a typically warm Mancunian welcome.
Upon arrival at the Bowling Green pub in the Manchester suburb of Chorlton, we were met with a bustling room packed with men and women of all shapes and sizes preparing to go for a range of group runs.
At 6:45, runners were welcomed and news was disseminated, including congratulations to those who had raced the previous weekend’s Boston Marathon, before 5 friendly group leaders introduced themselves and explained the night’s routes for those running at paces between 9 and 12+ minutes per mile.
As the groups departed, more runners arrived to hear about the group runs for the sub 7 minute milers through to those looking to cover 6-7 miles at 8-9 minute mile pace. Having opted to join the 7:30 min/mile group, we accompanied run leader Will Reekie on an enjoyable 7 mile foray around the banks of the river Mersey for a chat with some of the runners, before heading back to the pub for chips, sandwiches and a drink or two.
With over 500 registered athletes, the club has grown considerably since its origins as a running group 12 years ago, as club Chair Neal Wainwright explains: “The club has developed from a simple advert placed in the local newspaper some 12 years ago looking for people to go out for a run on a Sunday morning, to a club with over 500 affiliated members today.” And the secret of that success? “The growth has been down to a number of things - our great coaches, run leaders and volunteers; our belief that runners of all abilities should be well catered for; and having a friendly ethos (having a pub as your clubhouse helps!)” says Neal.
Neal’s own story is typical within a club that seems to hook its members in with a welcoming approach to the sport. “I first joined the club in 2013, having seen the club have a presence at our local parkrun,” he recalls. “I went down to one of the Tuesday night training sessions, and it's fair to say that I've not looked back since. Having been a regular member for a couple of years, an opportunity arose to stand for committee and being as I work with numbers for a living, Treasurer ticked that box really well.” “I really enjoyed giving something back to the club, after a year in that role I then stood for Chair of the club. I've been Chair for 8 months now, and whilst at times it can be difficult with such a large club, it's massively rewarding. When I see just how well our runners progress and the good things they do, it makes me hugely proud the club I help manage makes these things possible.”
That pride in the club and the community spirit it engenders was the main attraction for Sadia Haq, too: “The club has really helped my running. In fact it’s totally transformed it. My times have gone down and it’s made me enjoy running.” As a novice runner three years ago, Sadia used to run and walk at parkrun, but thanks to “the club’s support”, her times have tumbled by more than 6 minutes over 5k, down to 21 minutes.
Run leader Will agrees that the social aspect of the club and the support on offer are what makes Chorlton the success that they are. “I’ve been a member for three and a half years,” he explains. “I wanted to start running more consistently, after running Manchester Marathon a couple of times. I saw a lot of Chorlton runners doing it and was persuaded to come down with friends.” Will then took the decision to become a run leader, a choice he doesn’t regret. “You feel like you’re doing your bit for the club. When I started, nobody paid for anything and it was all done on a volunteer basis and I was very much of the opinion that if other people were providing their services, I should too.”
“The best thing about the club is the general community aspect – it’s a real social organisation. It’s not just a club where people come running, it’s a place where people make friends.”
Following the 2017 London Marathon and the club’s generous and heartfelt response to the assistance one of their members received, friends certainly won’t be in short supply for Chorlton as they continue to go from strength to strength.