It’s 6:15 pm on a cold Tuesday evening in November and most people are leaving Nottingham city centre by bus, tram, car or train after a hard day’s work or a spot of shopping. They’re probably heading home for an evening meal or maybe for a night in front of the TV.
What they’re probably not doing, is running the mile and a half to the city’s Forest Recreation Ground for a combination of hill running, squat thrusts, press ups and a range of other exercises. But that’s precisely what the members of Formula One Circuit Crew are doing, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Formula One, the latest club to be visited as part of England Athletics’ series of club visits, is one of the few running clubs in the country to be based in a city centre, a fact which presents both challenges and distinct advantages. “The club has been going since 1998.” explains Matt Nutt, the club Chair. “It very much started out of a bunch of people who were all in their mid to late twenties, who’d stopped playing football, rugby or whatever and had decided to do something else because we’d all had a few too many beers.”
On the night of our visit, coach Jeff Rainbow was waiting by the ‘Forest Rec’s’ pavilion, ready to put the group of runners from the club through their paces. “Jeff invented military fitness about twenty years ago,” laughs Matt. “We were down here for two hours twice a week in the freezing cold doing squat thrusts!” Simon Marks, who has also been a member from the start, agrees: “He used to do circuits twice a week before the running club even started and it just morphed into a running club. It was a mixture of speed and strength work.”
As the runners arrive, Jeff sends them on to run repeats of a short hill loop, with each effort interspersed with a series of circuit-type exercises. “Myself and Jeff were founder members and the onus has always been on encouraging people to get back into doing some kind of sport,” Matt says. “Health and fitness and enjoyment are our primary aims. We started out and created our own club because the 15-20 of us at the time wanted to do our own thing. The established running clubs were in their own areas and we wanted to have a go, as an experiment, at setting up our own club.”
16 years later, that experiment can only be deemed a huge success, with approximately 60 members and a mixture of abilities. Yet while the club is all about enjoyment, competition has also always been part of its ethos.
“As the club progressed, we joined the various cross country leagues after a couple of years,” says Matt. “Initially, we wanted our own vest to wear, so that when we went en masse to races we were running as a group or team. We do the East Midlands Cross Country League, the North Mids and the Notts AAA Summer Road League.”
Formula One also promotes its own race, the popular Jagermeister 10k, that takes place on the University of Nottingham’s campus. “The race does three things,” Matt explains. “It raises our profile and gets some new members. It generates a surplus that allows us to make a charitable donation, which is something that is a core part of our beliefs as a club and allows us to give something back and It also allows us to put something back into the club and ensures we can hold our subs at a low level.”
Sarah Vernau, a member for the past 15 years, is in little doubt as to the value of being part of Formula One: “It’s great fun. I used to go to Formula One gym and joined the club about 15 years ago. What I like about it is sessions like tonight and that we can go to loads of different places and do things where we all stick together. It’s a good laugh. You wouldn’t do a session on your own like the one we did tonight and you wouldn’t get to go to the pub afterwards!”
New members, too, are enthusiastic about the opportunities that being a member of the club brings. Hannah Eastaff had been running on her own in preparation for events like the Robin Hood Marathon before joining earlier this year. “I joined to give me something different,” she confirms. “Formula one was easy to get to and I came along to a session and I liked how we did it together and the team relays at the end.”
Yet being based in a city centre presents a unique set of challenges. “Part of the problem we have is that we are great at organising sessions at places like this, but we’re restricted in the winter months to where we can go,” Matt comments. “It’s just a challenge of being in the city centre. The other challenge is that city centre people are transient, with students and the like. We have people who come for a year, two years and then move on. It’s fine, they get out of the club what they want to get out of it, but in terms of building a club with longevity, that’s what gives us difficulties. We attract most of our members through word of mouth.”
The club soon plan to start a beginner running group under Sarah’s leadership, something that Matt feels is much needed: “We’ve had difficulties when people have come along and have said that they can’t run for more than a mile or for more than 15 minutes, because we’ve struggled to cater for them. Particularly on organised runs.”
Having attended a Leadership in Running Fitness course, Sarah hopes to be able to work with beginners in the very near future and with a hard-working club committee, committed coaches like Jeff and a group of enthusiastic runners, the beginners at Formula One Circuit Crew couldn’t ask for a better induction to the sport.
Chris Jones, England Athletics CEO, explains the importance of the club visit series:
“It is important to see a range of clubs in action on a ‘normal’ club night and to be able to talk to the members and volunteers of those clubs in a more informal environment. Over recent years we have been working hard to ensure our strategy and delivery are more closely aligned to the needs of clubs and that we can respond as these evolve.”
"Our National and Regional Councils, as well as club representatives on the England Athletics Board do a very important job. We meet many clubs through our consultation events, and can, for example, catch up with coaches and officials at conferences that are specific to them. Our Club and Coach Support Officers also work closely with clubs. Many of us are also members of our local clubs and know about their day-to-day activities. But these less formal opportunities with clubs give us a chance to take time to see how different clubs work, discuss the issues they face and also show that we are receptive to hearing their views and comments.”