Keep on running!

Words by:
Barbara Young
Featured in:
March 2022

Barbara Young meets The Woodhall Spa Steamers, a friendly local running group which aims to inspire members while supporting the local community.

If you’re out and about in Woodhall Spa early on a Monday morning, look out for a dedicated group of runners wearing hi vis with smiles on their faces come rain or shine, as they set out from the Royal Square, beginning their week with a five-mile run around local roads and tracks.

Aptly named the ‘Sunrise Steamers’, these are just a handful of members from the Woodhall Spa Steamers group, who choose to start their day with an invigorating workout led by a UK Athletics registered run leader.

For those who can’t make early mornings, there are also evening sessions twice a week offering a choice of training intensity, with the group’s motto of “support, socialise, succeed” shining through in everything this fun and informal club offers, including beginners’ and back to basics groups.

Launched in 2017 by Helen Fletcher, a “non-sporty” neonatal intensive care nurse and busy mother of three, with a long established passion for running, the Woodhall Spa Steamers (winners of last year’s England Athletics Regional Volunteer Awards’ RunTogether Group of the Year) welcome all ages and abilities.

“Most of our members are either within running distance of our meeting place, or a 5-10 minute drive away, with the most eclectic mix of members, from farmers to Radio City Rockettes,” explains Helen, who moved to Woodhall Spa from Yorkshire with husband Henry in 2013.

“As a fully inclusive group, we are a team of individuals with a joint love for running – well, we say ‘love’, but we absolutely 100% moan about running when we are doing it! However, on reflection, it’s always worth dragging yourself out of a warm cosy home to run in the cold and rain with mates and you never regret a run. If you can keep going in the winter, then you’re on to a winner with your summer training!”

Helen believes that since the pandemic, the world in general has become more aware of the importance and health benefits of exercise and being outside in nature.

“Running is a great way to improve your quality of life. You get fit both physically and mentally and meet new people. Vast amounts of evidence-based research shows the physical and mental health benefits of improving your fitness. Exercise, including running, releases endorphins in the brain, which then make you more energetic, alert and most important of all, happier!”

Helen, who grew up on the edge of the Pennines, first started running at the age of 8 with her twin sister Kathryn and older sister Louise, and says that she “can’t remember ever not running”.

“Running gave us so many wonderful opportunities, memories and lifelong friends. We joined the Hallamshire Harriers based in Hillsborough, Sheffield [where Seb Coe was once a member] and I ran for my club and represented Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and Yorkshire.

“We were lucky enough to travel the length and breadth of the UK competing in various running meetings and meeting many of our running heroes. I still fit into my Yorkshire vest now and on occasion I whip it out for a run!”

Community spirit
The Woodhall Spa Steamers (named after the historic railway station constructed in 1855, which led to the village becoming established as a popular health destination, thanks to the Spa) currently boasts 40-50 regular members and to date has nearly 500 supporters and followers.

Maintaining community spirit and working to keep the environment green and clean has long been the key aim of Woodhall Spa Steamers.

During the Covid lockdowns, a WSS group known as the ‘Solo Steamers’ helped inspire other local runners by leaving positive messages of hope and encouragement chalked on pavements around their running routes – an initiative that won praise from the local police.

In addition, many took up ‘plogging’, while others committed to run green by ‘doorstep running’ (running from their own front door rather than driving to a running route).

According to Helen, ‘plogging’ (picking up litter while jogging) was first invented in Sweden, but its importance and value is fast being championed throughout the UK.

“We live in a rural community and it’s vitally important for us to keep our countryside litter-free. As we are surrounded by beautiful farmland, the impact of plastics and litter on this land is potentially very dangerous, not just for animals and wildlife but also for us too,” Helen explains.

“Our members are local, or have relocated here and made Woodhall their home, as well as military families from overseas.

“We learn from each other, support one another, and thrive because each member has something wonderful to add. We love to share wisdom and knowledge and are constantly learning from each other.

We all have past lives and experiences that we share, to develop and benefit the club.”

From the early days of launch, the club has remained loyal to its Woodhall Spa village roots.

“As a club dedicated to improving and promoting health and wellbeing, it seemed fitting to retrace and re-establish this part of Woodhall’s history and call our running club the Steamers. The railway line benefitted both locals and visitors alike, and 166 years later we hope we are doing the same by promoting health through running and socialising.

“For example, our club kit is maroon and grey. The grey colour representing the metal of the railway tracks and maroon representing the colour of the trail which now exists where the railway line once was and where we often run.”

As many of the group’s members have young children, a ‘Snack-sized Steamer’ branch of the running club has also been established.

“We are a real family orientated club, with our mini running buddies showing support as chief cheer squad and club kit wearers. They also come ‘plogging’ with us, and can be seen whizzing past in running buggies, bikes or running alongside Mum and Dad on their training runs.

“Our Boxing Day ‘Sprout Sprint’ is when our mini Steamers really shine, as they get the chance to run a 1k fun run and enjoy a festive treat at the end!”

Running for fun
According to Helen, running not only increases physical fitness, but also relieves stress and improves mood.

“If you do this with a group, you also have fun, make new friends, and develop accountability, whereby you will not want to let your running buddy down, so become a more consistent runner by attending the week’s sessions – before you know it you’ve entered a race that you need to keep training for!

“As a fully inclusive running group, you just have to have a love-hate relationship with running, and being able to run at least 5k with ease helps for our usual training sessions.

“The first step of joining a running club is the hardest, you’ve just got to put yourself out there and turn up!”

For those new to running, Helen points out that WSS members love to share information with like-minded people and welcome new runners of all abilities and experience.

“Runners in clubs are typically very passionate and informed on everything running, from techy gadgets to anatomy and physiology – someone will advise you on anything you need to know or don’t! We can guarantee that by the time your first session is over, you’ll have been offered some kind of inspirational running book to borrow, or a podcast to listen to!

“Our aim is to give everyone the chance to run and be part of a team. We have runners of all abilities: super fast and super steady but we all share a love of running and friendship.

“All our sessions can be modified to suit all abilities, our top priority is to be inclusive and support each member with individual training goals. No one is left behind.

“As a super friendly club with an age range as vast as our personalities, we recognise that each runner is unique with individual goals and reasons why to run. Fast or slow, it doesn’t matter, you just must enjoy it!”

Helen is currently training for the Windemere marathon in May this year: “I run to be a positive role model for my children and hope that they find enjoyment in exercise and being outdoors in nature. Knowing that my children will join me on some of my training runs and see me progress motivates me to keep going and be the best that I can be.

“I run to keep fit, healthy and to inspire and motivate my children. Running is a part of me and how I want to live my life. For me running teaches you how to win and how to lose, how to learn from the losses and to never give up, be proud of yourself and happy with the success of others. And of course, most importantly, running teaches you how to be resilient in all weather conditions!”

For more information on the Woodhall Spa Steamers find them on Facebook and Instagram:

WSS advice on taking up running
• Join a local club/group to support, motivate and keep you consistent. Don’t be shy, we love new members!
• Reach out and seek local runners who may help you. Find a running buddy
• Start with a Couch to 5k (c25k) – the NHS provides a plan (WSS also do). Join a club’s c25k/beginner’s running programme.
• Stick to road running in the beginning, or easy surface running
• Empower and fuel your body with good nutritional intake. Drink lots of water
• Take it steady, your body needs to work its magic to get your muscles in top shape. Make sure your runs are at conversational pace. You can build up speed and distance after a couple of months conditioning your body to running. Injury prevention is key
• Cross train – try yoga for runners. Don’t run on consecutive days, cross train on non-running days instead
• Select the right pair of trainers for you
• Take care of your warm up and cool down to avoid injury
• Be consistent with training
• Set yourself a goal. Enter a race!
• Write a running journal and record runs, times, how you felt etc
• Go for it and enjoy!

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