Jane Dennison unpacks her bag out onto a table in the Sale Waterside Plaza.
Out come the cones for the evening’s warm-up, each with ‘MileShyClub’ boldly written on in thick felt-tip. She’s there early, as she is every week, to set up for her cohort of runners that will be filtering in at any moment.
Unlike other coaches, Jane doesn’t have a catalogue of sporting achievements and medals to her name. That’s not to say she has not led an interesting life. Far from it.
Jane has a law degree, an English degree, a published novel and nominations for PA of the year. However, it is running where she has found her calling.
Trading in cigarettes for conditioning, Jane took to swimming before finding herself running.
“The closest I got to exercise was on the dancefloor at 4am,” she recounts. “At 26 I was smoking 22-a-day, but I knew it would kill me so I decided to quit, and quit I did.
“After I quit I decided to go to the pool and swim up to a mile, and then worked my way up to three miles a week. Then I thought that’s one thing done, I want to check out running. That was ten years ago now.”
So chuffed to announce that the #MileShyClub won Club of the Year 2018 and club founder Jane won Coach of the Year 2018 at the Trafford Sports Awards last night! We are so grateful to the wonderful members of the Trafford community who voted for us! https://t.co/y3bokSEP1i 🙂 pic.twitter.com/D1TWOzAcfU
— MileShyClub (@MileShyClub) September 15, 2018
Founding the MileShyClub was just the start for Jane. Today she leads this session for the first time as ‘Coach of the Year’, awarded at the Greater Manchester Sports Awards. It’s a fitting accolade for someone who gives so much to others.
“I couldn’t tell you how shocked I was,” she insists. “I just did not for one second think that I had a chance of winning that award.
“I don’t want to retire and look back and say I did really well at that job and made someone else a lot of money and that’s it. I want to look back and think that I did something really amazing and for the better of others so that’s what stemmed behind it.”
Among the first to join Jane at the Waterside Plaza is Mark Jolly, one of the volunteer coaches at the club. As a bubbly character, it’s easy to see why runners warm to him.
After all he started out where most do, on the couch, and more or less fell into coaching accidentally.
“For the Manchester half (marathon) that’s just been (in October), because of Jane’s injury, she said she needed someone to do long run training.
“I volunteered myself and said that I’ll be doing long runs if anyone wants to join me. A couple of people joined and enjoyed that and asked if they could do it more. It’s just naturally progressed from there, so I’ll be going for my coaching in January.”
Mark’s story is typical of the progress that runners at the club see. Tara Moss never did any running before joining, but after a year at the club, she’s now one of the more familiar faces at each session.
Though she puts pressure on herself to succeed, Jane and the coaching team have helped her develop at her own pace.
“It’s so welcoming, that’s why I keep coming week after week,” she said. “Jane is really supportive. I have some personal mental health issues and if I want to talk to her she’s there to listen and she’s really encouraging.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and she makes me realise that I don’t need to put all of this pressure on myself and be as fast as everyone else.”
That approach is a crucial aspect of the club. Runners here don’t feel the pressure to have to keep up with the pack if they don’t have to. It’s emphasised here so much because it’s such a wider problem in the running community.
Lucy Hickey has been running for almost 30 years, and though she believes that it’s positive to see more people running than ever before, she deems it to be a worrying trend for people to jump straight into half and full marathons without having any running experience.
“If there’s one thing that worries me about the popularity of running is the number of people that start running and then think that they have to do a marathon. In my opinion, you need to have a lot of miles under your belt before you even contemplate it.
“There’s loads of 5ks now, with free ones every Saturday, so they’re a great way of getting the time, challenging yourself, getting the competition and working hard. Whereas a marathon, even if you’ve got loads of time on your hands, you just need to put so much training in for it.”
While the club caters for experienced runners like Lucy, it also offers a pathway for people who want to get back into running. Natasha Smith stopped running three years ago, and has used the club as a springboard for getting her fitness back.
“I was running a few years back and just recently got back into it after three years. I was out following a couple of operations so just getting back into it now.
“I don’t like starting from scratch, I don’t like being at the back of the pack and I don’t like coming across as not being very good at something. The coaches have picked me up and made me confident again.”
As every runner sets about their own route, pace and distance, the variety in experience is not the only striking characteristic about the club.
Running down the damp path connecting Sale and Brooklands it becomes clear that this isn’t just a club for those middle-aged parents that want to get moving after work, but a group of all ages.
Rebecca Heslop used to have a gym membership that she sporadically used. Now, after joining the MileShyClub six months ago, she’s preparing for the Wilmslow 10k.
She’s in the top group, running a 7k to work on her endurance, though she’s not typical for a teenager. It’s not that young people are lazy, but so often that running groups are not aimed at them.
“I think there’s something out there for younger people but for me it was about mental health. There was a point where I couldn’t really do much. I was putting on weight, sitting at home and had just stopped doing activities.
“For young people, I think there’s a big gap for people to promote this kind of thing and say go try it if you’re feeling this way.”
For young and old alike, the MileShyClub seems to have a place for everyone.
It’s this inclusive attitude to running that is catching on. Within two years of its creation, it has sister clubs springing up in Newcastle, Nottingham and Urmston, as well as being awarded Trafford’s Club of the Year.
It’s been a journey for the runners, the coaches and the club itself. Manchester can count itself lucky to have it on its doorstep.