Things I did in the middle of my run last week:
– sprint drills – check
– jogged on the spot waiting for the traffic lights to change – check
– chatted to my friend – check
– shovelled some compost – check
Yep, you didn’t read that wrong: I joined up with 30 other people to pound the streets of Hackney for a short run. We split into two groups halfway through, and, while the other lot went to clean and maintain some playground facilities, we filled the back of the van with compost from the council, drove it round the corner to a community garden, and then unloaded it all again.
Then we ran around the corner and met the rest of the group for some intervals around a local square, did a final cool down and stretch, and dispersed into the night.
“You get a bit sweaty, usually a bit dirty, and you feel good on the way home,” says Ivo Gormley about GoodGym, the charity he founded that combines community work with running. The idea was to combine adventure, teamwork and community engagement, getting people out of the gym, off the treadmill and into the real world.
Each week, in more than 20 boroughs or towns in the UK, hundreds of people turn out for GoodGym. Every session is taken by a qualified personal trainer or run coach, who keeps everyone safe, oversees the manual labour and pushes everyone through the drills.
On other days we might have been ripping up flooring at a local social enterprise, odd jobs at a hostel and counselling service, or gardening at a local school. GoodGym also organises ‘Coach Runs’ – where members commit to visiting a vulnerable or isolated elderly person on their run once a week – and missions – last minute shout-outs calling for a single person to run to complete a one-off task.
Our leader was called Joel Wiles. He grew up in the London borough of Hackney, where our GoodGym run took place, and now travels back to lead the Hackney GoodGym group. “It’s almost like a family duty,” he said, continuing: “How often do we talk to our neighbours these days – or do we just walk past them?”
This brings like-minded people together to do something positive for the community.
Joel was a former health club personal trainer, and strong youth athlete at sprint distances and triple jump, who had come to distance running after a knee injury. He had been leading Hackney GoodGym since December. While there were a few seriously handy runners there, all GoodGym asked of participants was the ability to run 15 minutes without stopping, and to be willing to pitch in – it was an important part of GoodGym to inspire and motivate people to get better.
Our Tuesday night run was only 5km, but GoodGym runners could rely on their local leaders for help and advice hitting bigger targets. More than 80, for example, had signed up to the Hackney Half Marathon, where Joel was going to be the 1h45min pacer.
“It’s enchanting seeing how people progress in just a few short months,” Joel said, and added that sharing their love of running and teaching skills was just as motivating for the coaches: “You’re building a community, you’re part of a community. You’re at the epicentre of it and you’re driving it. It’s a highlight of my week.”
The running, however, was just a part of it: the job also involves a lot of planning and organisation, working with the council and local groups to find and run the tasks. “So much always needs doing, you can always make spaces better,” Ivo told Strava when we talked to him. There are also plans to start GoodGym fitness coaching for disabled people, to take the benefits to the wider audience.
It’s safe to say that we all went home a bit sweaty, a bit dirty and, yes, feeling good.
Click the link to find out more about GoodGym.
Do you have a similar organization or service component to your athletic routine? Share stories and activity links below.