Joggers who put their best feet forward

Members of  Portsmouth Joggers  head off for a run. Picture: Sarah Standing (1331-506)
Members of Portsmouth Joggers head off for a run. Picture: Sarah Standing (1331-506)
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Does the idea of going out for a run sound like torture to you?

Maybe you’ve tried to go out on your own on a cold and dark night and found it hard to stay motivated with just yourself for company and muscles screaming at you to stop.

The walkers /runners group on the shoreline by the Mountbatten

The walkers /runners group on the shoreline by the Mountbatten

But there is another way...

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, when many others have finished work and are curled up on the sofa watching TV, more than 100 people in trainers and Lycra meet up at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth and go for a jog together.

For them it’s not about pushing their bodies to the limit. It’s about exercising with friends - and the time soon flies.

The gatherings are organised by Portsmouth Joggers. One of the oldest jogging clubs in the country, it began in 1976 after a government initiative called Sport For All was launched.

Now the club has nearly 400 members and regularly receive e-mails from people who are interested in joining, especially at this time of year. A tempting prospect for many is training to be able to take part in the BUPA Great South Run, one of the world’s most popular 10-mile running events that takes place in Portsmouth every October.

Alan Shons, who lives in Clanfield, has been involved with the club and the committee for the past 25 years and is club secretary.

The 63-year-old says: ‘I think anything that keeps you fit is important to people at this time of year. A lot of people put on a few pounds over Christmas, or maybe even before Christmas, and jogging is an obvious choice.

‘It’s a fun way of getting fit without spending £500 a year on a gym membership and putting yourself through hell on a running machine on your own.’

Alan says he was nearing 40 and decided to try and look after his body more, and thought joining the club was the best idea. He says: ‘I’m not sporty and I’m not interested in football or anything. I swim like a brick and jogging is something I can do, that I enjoy, to keep fit.

‘I love distance running and you can be 20 minutes slower and no-one will bat an eyelid. I’ve lost count of how many marathons I’ve ran, I’ve done about 60.’

But it’s not just the fitness side of it that he loves. One of the main reasons members stay on is because it’s surprisingly sociable.

Alan says: ‘Jogging keeps you fit, it gets you out into the fresh air and you know you’re doing your body some good. But I can’t run on my own because it’s a fun social atmosphere when I’m in a group.

‘If I’m on my own I get about a mile down the road and then turn back. Solitary running for a lot of people is very boring and you don’t do it at the right pace. When you’re in a group, you can fit into it.’

Portsmouth Joggers runs six different events each year – the Meon Valley Plod (21 miles of trails and roads), the Ladies 5 (five miles), the Summer XC (five-mile race around Queen Elizabeth Country Park), the Stansted Park Half (a half-marathon), the Denmead 10k and the Pub 2 Pub (varying distances).

Aside from this, it has group jogging on Tuesday and Thursday nights, marathon training on Saturday morning and off-road jogging on Sundays.

‘It’s not about if you can run five miles at a certain pace,’ explains Alan, ‘ it’s about joining in. We are particularly involved with the BUPA Great South Run. About 150 of our members work as marshals for the event.

‘We also do a lot of work with charity and with our Pub 2 Pub run all the proceeds go to charity. Last year we raisedmore than £3,000 for charities.’

With the membership fee only costing £6.25 (although this doesn’t include the special events) and members ranging from 18year-olds to some in their 70s, the club wants to help people reach their own personal goal.

Alan says: ‘It’s not about trying to be county champion or something, it’s about maintaining your

goal and enjoying jogging. Most people turn up simply to try and get fitter. I’m inundated with e-mails at this time of year from people wanting to get involved and take it up.

‘We have a small proportion of the membership who go on to achieve because they want to get better and better and we will be there to coach them. But 90 per cent of people turn up for a social run chat with their friends and then go home again.’

He adds: ‘I think it’s a lot better for people to run in groups because it’s hard work on your own to get out there and exercise.’

A lifelong member of the Portsmouth Joggers is 71-year-old David Byng, who lives in Stubbington.

David says: ‘I was part of the very first session with the club when it was started in 1976. That first time there must have been about 600 or 700 people there, and the following week there were still about 200. I was amazed at how many people were down there and I thoroughly enjoyed it.’

David always loved the sociable side of the club, and even met his wife through it. To date, he’s done around 40 marathons, with some in Paris and New York.

But far from having been a keen jogger throughout his life, David stumbled across the club quite by accident. He says: ‘I used to be the Portsmouth and Hampshire snooker secretary and some of those evenings would finish later. I would miss the bus, so end up running home.

‘The police stopped me once and they said you shouldn’t be running through the roads at this time of night. They suggested I head down to the Mountbatten Centre. That’s when I saw the advert in the Evening News about the jogging club.’

For more information about Portsmouth Joggers go to pjc.org.uk.