As I paced up the stairs, trying to recover some pride after taking an ungainly 3 attempts to force open the door, never a good first impression… the slick new office, all wooden floors, white walls and shiny desks spread before me. I was hoping to get in and out as quick as possible, but the sales women glided over, easing effortlessly into small chat, “Posters look good… so how you going to distribute them?” Ever the opportunist and not looking to miss a beat, “we have a…”. “No, you’re ok. We’ll have no problem getting numbers”, a little male arrogance cutting her off mid-flow and a desire to return quickly to the illegally - and sloppily - parked car outside. It was only back in the car, did I take out the first glossy Jog Belfast poster and consider how the heck are we going to get 150 people to sign up to JogBelfast!
Two weeks in to the spring 2014 programme and there’s already over 500 people signed up online for JogBelfast, with over 100 participants turning up to individual training sessions in parts of the city.
So what exactly is JogBelfast?
It’s a FREE 10 week programme that trains absolute beginner runners to run 5km. There are similar programmes, often referred to as ‘Couch to 5k’ run throughout the UK. Jog Belfast is based on a successful model in Scotland (JogScotland) which has helped 20,000 people complete 5km since 2002. It was piloted in early 2013 in North Belfast and has since spread to clubs across Belfast, and even nine clubs outside Belfast.
Who is it for?
It is for anyone who wants to run 5km or just get back to running. The majority of the participants are women but there are people from 8 to almost 80 there. It is held in a supportive environment with people going at whatever pace suits them. People are friendly and non-competitive and it all takes place outside, with no specialist equipment needed. Training as part of a larger group helps motivate people, with coaches on hand to answer queries.
How does it work?
JogBelfast provides a programme in East, West, North & South Belfast. Programmes are provided by running clubs and sports organisations. People register online and choose which area they would like to train in, normally the one closest to them. Each area provides two hour long sessions per week with experienced coaches and volunteers on hand to deliver the session. Training is fun, friendly and gradually builds up people’s running fitness and endurance to the point where they can run 5km.
At the end of the ten week course, all the participants come together to run Ormeau parkrun (5km). This is a celebration, with all the participants wearing ‘JogBelfast’ sports t-shirts and a carnival atmosphere in place. For many this is the first time they have ever entered a run and completed 5km. Beyond that many keep up running often going on to join clubs and take part in parkruns. In South Belfast it lead to the creation of a new running club, ‘Belfast Running Club’. Evaluations show that many go on to 10km and half-marathons, with others continuing to run regularly with other participants from the course. Further proof of the social dimension to it all.
Why should anyone do it?
Apart from it being a free social and fun opportunity to get outside in the fresh air, results from the last evaluation show:
- 94.4% will definitely continue running afterwards (with 4.4% probably continue running)
- 100% said they would recommend it to a friend.
Stats only show one side the best way is to visit a parkrun and notice how many people are running who wouldn't have been running 3 or 4 months ago, or look at the testimonials to really see the life changing impact. As for recommendations, JogBelfast’s target was 150-200 people… and we were unsure how we would reach that. We haven’t advertised yet word of mouth has created interest and demand in the programme. Increasingly we are seeing whole families sign up with training becoming a family occasion/evening out.
How has it grown?
The best example is using South Belfast. For the first Belfast wide pilot, South Belfast didn’t have a running club. LORAG/Shaftsbury Recreation Centre as organisers of the Ormeau parkrun decided to take it on in October 2013. At the first saturday session 8 people turned up. Move forward 3 months and on a very wet Saturday in January, over 70 people turned up for the first session of 2014. To prove this wasn’t a one-off on an even wetter Tuesday evening that followed over 100 people turned up for the second session.
Where does Jog Belfast go from here?
The aim is to replicate the best bits of Jog Scotland and Jog Belfast and create a Jog NI model. To do this requires clubs, coaches and volunteers. We also want to ensure that Jog Belfast participants continue to enjoy running and have opportunities to develop that further. Firstly we have to manage the huge demand at present and create a strong sustainable platform to build on. This is an exciting phase and Belfast Running is proud to be an official sponsor of Jog Belfast and look forward to seeing many more people out running in their distinctive blue t-shirts and possibly avoiding a return trip up some steps for more posters :)