Sport has historically played a significant role in society, giving groups the opportunity to creatively express themselves, uniting people from diverse backgrounds and serving as a focal point for community development.
There can be no escaping the benefits of being actively involved in sport – from health and social aspects to developing skills and discipline.
In recent years, Scotland has seen the growth of LGBTI participation in sport – espeically within LGBTI-specific clubs, who recognise that in many sports there remains a culture often unfriendly to LGBTI people. Clubs such as Glasgow Frontrunners aim to offer a supportive and welcoming environment to runners of all ages and abilities, providing social opportunities as well as regular races to challenge even the most competitive runners.
Two members of Glasgow Frontrunners, Heather Noller and Paul Traynor, have agreed to share with KaleidoScot their stories of how joining an LGBTI running club has had positive effects on their lives – no doubt in the hope that they inspire others to do the same!
Heather’s story: How I got to the half-marathon start-line
I have a strange relationship with running.
I struggle at persevering with things that I’m not very good at. Skiing, playing the clarinet, driving and gardening are all things that I’ve tried and mostly failed at, and have given up unless it’s an emergency (well, that’s driving. There’s never been a clarinet emergency yet.)
So when I first turned up at Glasgow Frontrunners a couple of years ago and couldn’t run more than 50 metres without thinking my lungs were going to explode, I didn’t think I would stick with it. However, I’ve recently run the Edinburgh Half Marathon, and I’m not sure quite how I got here but Frontrunners and the people I’ve met through the club are a major part of my transition from someone who couldn’t run down the road to someone who can run that 13.1 miles. I know that the club’s been a huge part of it because my running didn’t really start to improve until I started attending regularly, pushing myself to go faster and further with the help of the jog leaders, and most importantly gaining the confidence to believe that yes, I was a runner; and yes I could run outside by myself without people pointing and laughing.
Training for the Edinburgh half has been mostly enjoyable. I knew I could comfortably run about 15k but had never had much success with going further than that. I could never get into The Zone and feeling tired, bored and sore would always stop me. A training group with Frontunners, with others who were attempting their first half marathon and a baby-steps approach of increasing the distance by about a mile a week worked wonders. Learning from more experienced runners about nutrition, pacing and the best inspirational running music also made a huge difference. I proudly wear my club t-shirt, which is rather different to a couple of years ago when I was too embarrassed to enter races as a club member because I thought I was too slow.
I still have bad days; tired days and ‘meh’ days when I think I can’t be bothered or that I will be slower than everyone else. But I always surprise myself when I put my trainers on and get out there, and I finally get the role that your mind plays in running any kind of distance. I do agree with Alex Heminsley that if you have legs and lungs, you can run: I just have a great group of pals to run with too.
Paul’s story: Couch potato to Jog Leader
Sport – and particularly running – is an integral part of my identity and who I want to be. I spend a lot of time thinking about sport, planning for it and when I am not able to take part, I miss it. I am a Glasgow FrontRunner Jog Leader, cyclist, hill walker, swimmer and all-around fitness enthusiast. People may presume that I have had a lifelong passion for fitness, but actually my relationship with sport is one that has only really developed over the last few years.
I had many fitness influences growing up: my Dad ran marathons; my Mum was a gym enthusiast and hill walker; and my sister had a natural flair for karate. But for me, as a person who has never been very confident in group situations, I couldn’t think of much worse than being involved in sporting activities. I was an avid horse rider and member of my local horse-riding school for a number of years but adolescent bullying resulted in me giving this up and to date I have never truly embarked again in this once-loved hobby. The easily accessible sporting activities deemed socially acceptable by my peers were grounded in hyper-masculinity which filled me with dread. I also showed little talent for these types of sporting activities. I thus successfully managed to have a non-existent relationship with sport for many years.
A few years ago I had my pivotal Bridget Jones moment. I remember one morning standing on weighing scales, fussy head from the night before, my stomach still churning from takeaway food, taste of cigarettes lingering in my mouth and realising that I was a little overweight. Looking in the mirror, I realised that I had to make changes in my life.
I would really like to say that after my epiphany I found Glasgow FrontRunners and that’s the end of my story. But the truth is that I knew about Glasgow FrontRunners for a while before I joined. My own fear of thinking that it was a club for elitist runners and I would go and not be able to run for more than 30 seconds, which would ultimately have a horrific and embarrassing ending, was enough to put me off. But shortly after my Bridget moment, I was chatting about setting fitness and diet goals to some friends. Then one friend asked me to join them to try out Glasgow Frontrunners which I reluctantly agreed to. I would also like to say that I felt an immediate connection to running – but for me this relationship took time to mature.
I eventually got to the stage where I could comfortably jog 5K, then I plateaued here for some time, mainly because I thought better the devil you know and I still wasn’t quite devoted to running yet. But then I started to set myself personal challenges, signing up for races and charity obstacle courses, and these focused me into taking my fitness and diet much more seriously and it was through this that my appreciation and love for sport started to truly blossom.
I then set myself new personal goals and challenges. One of these was to become a Glasgow FrontRunner Jog Leader and to help those, who like me, started with little confidence in their running ability. I want to help others reach their personal goals, taking an active role in the developmental programmes such as Couch to 5K and 10K to Half Marathon. It’s extremely rewarding to help others progress and meet their own personal goals; knowing that I played even the smallest part on their journey is so gratifying.
I have never experienced any regret after completing a run (sometimes during, but never after). As a result of sport, I am a more confident person overall and it has benefitted me personally in so many ways. In the last few years during my journey of sport my life has completely changed. I have lost weight, I’m a much healthier person and I reached personal targets, as well as smashing some aspirational ones too. I have met new friends at Glasgow FrontRunners and found my love of (and slight addiction to) running and sport.
Anyone interested in pulling on their trainers and meeting other LGBTI runners would be made very welcome at either of Scotland’s Frontrunners clubs.
Glasgow Frontrunners organises runs on Thursdays (6.30pm) and Sundays (10.45am). Further information can be found on their website. The club is also organising the 5-mile OUTrun, which will take place in Kelvingrove Park on 22nd August.
Edinburgh Frontrunners will also extend a very warm welcome to LGBTI runners. Information on their activities can be found here. A list of Frontrunners clubs across the world can be found on the International Frontrunners website.