Back in 2015, Bristol City Council Sports Team had a remit within a funding bid to get more people running within specific areas of the city, where there were traditionally less physical activity opportunities and correspondingly lower physical activity levels. The funder, Sport England, also requested that delivery was new, not a copycat of existing sessions, but different, so as to engage a different target market and also to experiment with technology including social media. A couple of years previously some very talented Run Leaders had tried exhaustively to get community running groups established in some of Bristol’s less active areas, but these hadn’t worked, so a new angle was needed. Females were also a priority target market.

Desktop research which included joining a very successful National Facebook group ‘Run Mummy Run’ revealed that women liked support, whether face to face or through social media, many women were also utilising the App Couch to 5k. A partnership with Run England included piloting two beginner running courses in Hengrove following a similar schedule to the App, there was some popularity so another course was piloted elsewhere in North Bristol with the view to investigating the feasibility of a multi-course roll-out across the city and a Facebook group was set up to provide support. The findings of the courses showed:

1 – the course was appealing – over 15 sign-ups were achieved through some small local marketing within 1 week for the North course

2 – Poster sharing through Facebook had picked up as many people as posters around the local park

3 – Registering with emailed electronic registration forms was time consuming and not reliable, therefore not scaleable to a city wide rollout.

4 – Half the participants used the Facebook group and it was much easier to communicate with participants about sessions than email and less time-consuming, it also started to create links between participants and a community.

5 – Over half completed the course

Following this and a Facebook consultation with close to 70 people responding, four sites were chosen to pilot a 9 week course, with 4 courses taking place at 7.30pm and 2 at 6.30pm, Eventbrite was used for registration.

The courses were well subscribed, retention rates were good, particularly with courses running over the Summer, and 30 people attended Graduation at Little Stoke parkrun.

Three years later, over 2000 people have registered to join our courses, over 60% have completed the courses, our courses has been tweaked several times responding to participants and is now a 12 week course – with an easier week 1, a more gradual step-up from session to session and a final target of reaching 35 minutes running without stopping – a major achievement which gives those who would like to try running a 5k a much better grounding to achieve this. We have a Taster session, so that people can try out the course before committing to the duration. We have separated the 12 week course into 2 parts, so participants don’t have to overcommit, can feel achievement by making it to the half way point and make their decision whether to continue or work on maintaining their achievement and we encourage people to come and re-join Part 2, as many people lose their momentum when holidays, illnesses, injuries, family or work take a bigger roll in their lives. We also encourage people to repeat courses, sometimes it takes two or three courses for participants to achieve the confidence to carry on running independently or with new running buddies. For us this is success because ‘behaviour change’ and formulating new habits takes time.

We also have introduced a new course: Walk to Jog, this helps those who haven’t exercised for a while to develop a thirty minute, three times a week walking routine and to introduce short jogs, preparing people to start our Zero to 35 course if they decide they would like to progress further.

We have over 1000 members of our Facebook group – which you can only join if you take part in a course or register with us, so that we can ensure it is a safe group. Members say:

“The main thing for me that I didn’t expect was how many friends I’ve made but also it’s great to find people that run the same speed as you, I’m the least likely person to join a running club but one of the best things I’ve ever done.” – Sarah

“Don’t stop after the first course. Find a group that suits you and get stuck in. No one gets left behind, everyone is welcoming and you’ll be amazed how much more you can achieve #runhappy” Julie

“I never believed that I could run, but I wanted to give it a go. I am so proud that I managed to complete the course that I wanted to cry the first time I ran parkrun without stopping. I think I can now call myself a runner!” Ann

We offer buddying opportunities for those who have taken part in the courses to come back and help support others, we offer Leader in Running Fitness training to those who would like to support others to complete courses and we have volunteers who coordinate and lead social runs. We even have several people leading courses or social runs who ran their very first step with us. However, Run4Life isn’t the success that it is without the hard work, positivity, motivation, dedication (and sweat) of it’s Leaders and volunteers. Some leaders have been with us since the very first pilots and have inspired and supported hundreds of people individually to find their love for running. Others are volunteers, without them we wouldn’t be able to offer as many courses or places. For all of this we are truly grateful. Our leaders were all nominated for Bristol Active City’s Sporting Hall of Fame ‘Name in Lights’ for their contribution towards getting people active and enjoying running.

Over 90% of our participants are female, this is helped by the 7.30pm timing which helps those with children or who have a long commute, but we also think that the group atmosphere is something that is more attractive to females. Our marketing is also all done through Facebook and there is an argument to say that females are more frequent Facebook users. The males who attend are fully integrated within groups and everyone supports each other, it’s just that we accept that not every male who would like to start running wishes to do so in a group format and probably finds their own way of getting out the door and started. “My husband comes on homework runs with me but would never attend the group.”

Our mantra is ‘RunHappy’ – always find something in your run that makes you happy, this could be anything from time away from life pressures, time outdoors, pride that you have done a run, pride that you have invested time in yourself and finally enjoying the simple act of one foot infront of another.

Run4Life courses start each January, April and September. Why not come and join us, we are very friendly, no one is ever too slow – the right running speed is the one that you enjoy.

To find out more about our courses head to our Run4Life webpage and like and follow our Facebook page.

Our beginner courses have always been Free. We have received National Lottery funding, Bristol City Council Sports Funding, This Girl Can Funding, Sport England Funding and Bristol City Council Public Health Funding. We believe offering free courses takes away a major barrier to participating, it’s not always whether someone can afford a course on paper, often it is about whether they can justify investing in themselves, or a financial commitment to something they don’t know if they will succeed at, is too much pressure/ a risk to take.