I am lucky to be part of a support network of some amazing women, who I work and train with, so I thought, on International Women’s Day, I would celebrate some of the women who have had a positive impact on my life over the last year or so.

During lockdown, not much changed for me (apart from having my daughter at home to do her schoolwork). I have been a self-employed, largely online-based, running coach for quite a few years now, so am used to working at home on my own and speaking to clients on the phone. While my running groups have been forced to stop, it has been particularly isolating, so it has been so important for me to connect with other people in similar situations. Chatting, and training, with a supportive group of women has honestly been my lifeline through lockdown, so thank you to all the ladies below for your wisdom and support, and encouraging me to be the best version of myself. This piece is to celebrate you all!

Andrea Evans – Sports Massage Therapist, Leader of Running Circles, and Running Coach in training

www.andreaevans.co.uk

I know Andrea via social media, and we’ve actually only met in real life once at the Hathersage Hurtle event in the Peak District a few years ago. However, Andrea and I share the same passion of helping people, especially those who don’t feel confident enough to run on their own, to start their running journeys, and find enjoyment in a sport we both love. Andrea’s zest for life is catching, and I wish her all the best in her coaching qualification.

How did you get into sports massage?

Sports Massage is something that has always fascinated me. I had dreams when I was younger of going into physiotherapy, but instead went down the route of PE teaching. I’ve always loved sports and the way being active makes you feel – so it was quite a natural progression to want to help others to find that feeling too. I have been treated with Sports Massage myself for very many years – I love the benefits that you feel from a hands-on approach. It certainly has its place in helping people on their fitness journeys whether it be from a physical or psychological point of view. I decided to train in Sports Massage as I left the teaching profession and set up my own business.

Alongside the sports massage, I am loving becoming a running coach too. Again, a background in physical education, with a passion for athletics and gymnastics led me along this path. I’ve always been a runner – not to any amazing standard; a bit of a sprinter, a bit of a fell-runner (you’ve got to be if you were born in the Peak District!) and in more recent years, a local club runner and now just a running nerd! My dad used to organise Castleton Fell race back in the days and as a former PE teacher himself, always encouraged me in that way that dad’s do! I remember one of my brother’s taking part in the junior fell race with his arm in plaster! He might even have won it!?! Being involved in Athletics and encouraging teenagers into local clubs and competitions was a part of teaching and coaching that I loved but when the time came for me to move on – run coaching is something that I’m getting my teeth firmly stuck in to.

What achievement are you most proud of?

I’m really proud to have set up small running groups in the local area (Kingswinford) called Running Circles. Initially I wanted to bridge the gap between the Couch to 5k’ers who go it alone, and the local established running clubs; after all, joining a ‘running club’ can feel quite daunting. It took me 2 years to approach Stourbridge Running club to realise that the running community is a friendly and inclusive one – although if you are a beginner, sometimes you need a little more encouragement and nurturing. So Running Circles was founded. I now lead four groups a week, from absolute beginners to an intermediate level; sometimes on the roads, but on the trails as often as we can. I pride myself on building Running Circles as a supportive community rather than on gaining PBs (that can come with the coaching) – the emphasis is getting out, having a good chat and meeting and running with different people. It’s growing, and I love it!

How can we get more women active?

There is a huge ‘drop off’ in secondary school and in the teenage years as to girls wanting to take part in physical activity. I believe that there is a time when women recognise that being active is something that they ‘should’ do for themselves; not for weight-loss purposes, but more for their own sanity and mental well-being. Running Circles encourages that sentiment: you don’t have to be an incredible runner; it doesn’t matter if you miss a week; it doesn’t matter if you feel like you are on a ‘go slow’ because of your cycle; what matters is that you are out in the fresh air, moving. 

Ellie Preece, Triathlete, Swimming and Triathlon Coach at First Hurdle Coaching

I know Ellie through our wonderful running community on Twitter, and we share similar values in helping women find the confidence to be active. Ellie has set up First Hurdle Coaching as a female coach who understands what its like to have lost confidence, and want to find a sense of belonging. She says: “I understand the constraints that are placed on us with work hours, family and caring responsibilities and lets not forget female physiology too – yes, our periods, menopause, perimenopause or endometriosis – which should be talked about and addressed in training and racing; it is a natural occurrence, along with our hormonal fluctuations, that need to be thought about. That rubbish session you thought you had about a week before your period, yep that’ll be the hormones, because the next week you’re on top form. Talk to your coaches about your natural circadian rhythms, they should take those matters into account when planning your sessions to get the best out of you as an athlete – and yes, you are an athlete!” It’s so great to see female coaches doing such great work to say, “Yes, we women ARE different to men in the way that we train, and we should embrace that!”.

How did you get into sport, and triathlon coaching?

I was a fairly active child, athletics and swimming mainly, but that pretty much ceased when things started to progress. I had a younger brother and unless timings could work to suit both of us something had to give. I didn’t partake in school, it was almost ridiculed by my peers. The usual “I hate PE” or “I’ve got a note to get out of sport today”; it’s amazing how those negative connotations in secondary school, along with a desire to fall in line with your friends, made taking part in PE uncool. Lets flash forward a good 17 years, I had just bought my own house after a divorce, at 27, and was struggling with my identity. I was going out for a walk and thought to myself, I’ll get around this quicker if I run a bit. My first 5km was 46 minutes and that was me sold. I’ve been involved in triathlon for around 5 years now and it’s given me a sense of purpose, confidence and identity, all of what I thought I’d lost. When the triathlon club was first set up I undertook my qualifications to be a swimming teaching assistant and also a swimming coach. Around 6 months later I saw a call for people to undertake training to become technical officials for the sport, to ensure safety of participants in events and promote fair play through application of the rules. COVID threw up a curve ball for our club, as we had single discipline coaches (like myself for swimming specific) but no triathlon coaches, I stepped forward to do my qualifications and have found a linked passion in the technical officials role and coaching role, there is no better feeling than seeing participants at a new-to-triathlon level complete their first, second, third, fourth – whatever number – triathlon and finish with a smile on their faces, or achieve something in training and smile about what their body can do.

What achievement are you most proud of?

This is tough to answer, I’d have to say becoming Wales’ first female National Technical Official. I cannot wait to put my new skills into use at World Triathlon Series Leeds and hopefully some British Championships, whilst its great that I will be witness to elite racing I still want to be at and officiate other events like novice triathlon events that are pool based, or in my coaching capacity cheer all the athletes over that finish line.

How can we get more women involved in triathlon?

I would like to see more women in triathlon. Due to time constraints on a woman with all the unpaid work and caring responsibilities we have, triathlon (three sports) is something that people see as being time consuming, but it really doesn’t have to be. Just because you want to try triathlon doesn’t mean it has to take up all your spare time, there are ways to incorporate family into training too. I think there is also a perception that triathlon is expensive, it doesn’t have to be. You don’t NEED a triathlon specific bike, in fact my first try was done on a step-through hybrid. You don’t need to do a long-distance (sometimes referred to as Ironman – Ironman is the branding not the distance – I will die on this hill!) triathlon as your first; sprint distance triathlons are brilliant events that require effort. I remember getting back from my first sprint triathlon and going to bed. I woke up the next day and then wanted all the food. Also, and this is a very important point, just because we say Triathlon doesn’t mean you have to do a triathlon especially if you don’t like one of the disciplines. There are things like cross-triathlon if you’re into your mountain bike/cyclocross and trail running; there’s winter triathlon to look up too; don’t forget duathlons (run bike run) or aquathlons (usually swim and run in the UK); you can do aquabike too. These kinds of events are shooting up all over the place, the world is your oyster.

Cat Johnson, Swinger of kettlebells, Leader in Running Fitness, and PT in training

I’ve been doing regular online fitness classes with Cat since the beginning of the year, and her kettlebells and resistance bands sessions are helping me enormously. You can read more about my experience of Fitamin C classes here.

How did you get into PT and running your own business?

I first got into teaching fitness classes 9 years ago.  I was attending some fitness classes at a local ladies fitness centre and the owners approached me and asked me if I’d like to be an instructor.  This led to me taking my Bokwa & kettlercise qualifications, as well as my Leader in Running Fitness (LiRF) qualification.  I then started a social running group alongside working full time.  I then qualified in Hcore Lean, HCore kettlercise and Kettercise Combat.  I am two-thirds of the way through my Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) qualification too, awaiting my practical exam. Two years ago I was approached by Snap Fitness who were opening a gym near me, so I took the leap and joined them.  In July 2019 they asked if I would like to become a PT if they put me through my qualifications, so I quit my job in August 2019 and started teaching full time and working on my Level 2 & 3 PT qualifications.  Just before a pandemic hit the world!  Great timing! Thankfully online classes have worked out so well for me, so lockdown has become a major positive for me in some respects, as I can now spread the love of my workouts to the masses!

What achievement are you most proud of?

My proudest fitness achievements have to be Race to the Stones 100k straight through in 14 hours, and Snowdon marathon – two epic races I would run again in a heartbeat.

Personally, the fact that I quit my job just before a global pandemic could have been the end for Fitamin C when I was just starting out. Online classes have made my lockdown a very busy one and I’m so very grateful to everyone who turns up every week.  You guys saved my business!

How can we get more women involved in being active? 

We need to get over the stigma of having to be brilliant at everything – we all have days when we feel like we ‘fail’ whether it’s because we’re tired, over-working, menopausal or having our periods.

Having to look a certain way according to magazines and social media, too.  The media needs to show more ‘real life’ women, instead of filtered images that are unrealistic. We all have rolls when we sit down, wrinkles, and bits we don’t like but despite that, our bodies are incredible and we don’t need rippling muscles to achieve these goals.

More real life women in fitness. Fitness is for everyone, no matter what age, shape or size you are.  With the right coaches giving out motivation & showing empathy (we all have our bad days), any woman can do anything they put their mind to. 

More women’s forums, talking about the issues that arise on our journey through life.  Periods, Menopause, Pregnancy etc.  We need to show more women that you can train through tougher times in your life, things can be adapted to suit and help ease these symptoms. 

Skinny is not necessarily healthy.  Get rid of the ‘fad diets’, eat well, have what you fancy whether it be the bar of chocolate or the chicken and vegetables.

Lara Trewin, DogFit canicross instructor in Cornwall

www.letsgocanicross.co.uk

Lara is the lady who is responsible for introducing me to DogFit when I was struggling to tame my rescue dog Poppy’s prey drive, so Lara unwittingly steered my coaching career onto a new path as I trained to become a canicross instructor, and I cannot thank her enough for that. We live at different ends of the country, Lara in Cornwall, and me in Greater Manchester, but we met up in real life a few years ago to canicross with the dogs up Pen-Y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales, which was such a fun, memorable day, and we chat regularly online, supporting one another in our businesses. Thank you Lara for all your encouragement and support.

How did you get into canicross?

Canicross came into my life through a combination of two passions – trail running and dogs.

I found the sport through adopting my first rescue dog from Spain who, with high prey drive and a very nervous disposition, couldn’t be let off the lead and needed to learn to trust and bond with me.

I was already a passionate trail runner, enjoying the trails around North Cornwall and wanted to share it all with Tilly. With no chance of letting her off, I needed to run with her attached to me. Fast-forward to finding DogFit, getting introduced to canicross and finding a whole new sport to take part in.

What’s the achievement you are most proud of?

I’m most proud of my boys. I have two sons, who I have steered through life so far! They are 16 and 13 years old, so the teenage years are upon us! I have to say, I’m in awe of them as they grow into the kind of young men I feel hugely proud of. They have such a great understanding of the contributions that both men and women make to society and are clearly very respectful of the women around them.

How can we get more women involved in being active? 

I’m hugely keen to ensure that more women feel more confident about getting active through whichever activity means they find lifts their self-esteem, mental-health as well as gets them fitter.

From my own experiences, it’s ensuring that the barriers for women to be introduced to the sport of their choice is without misconceptions of what a person within that sport “looks like”. The amount of times I have heard from women this statement; “but I’m not a runner”. This is where the work I do alongside DogFit comes in. I thoroughly enjoy championing beginners within the sport of canicross and I find once they have had their first session and jogged/walked alongside their canine buddy, the smile on their faces says it all. They leave their misconceptions where they belong and realise they can do this and, more importantly, they feel good for doing this.

Louise Humphrey, Pilates and canicross instructor

www.studio44pilates.com

Louise has become a very good friend, despite the fact we have yet to meet up for a run together, and I really value the mentoring she gives me in my coaching, when I’m suffering from a lack of confidence, which we all do from time to time. Louise is also my regular Pilates instructor – I joined her 6 weeks Pilates for Runners course in January, and now do 3 sessions a week online with her. You can read more about my experiences of Pilates here, and how it’s helping my running.

How did you get into Pilates and canicross?

I have been teaching Pilates for 20 years. I started in the fitness industry with aerobics. A physio friend convinced me to try Pilates. As soon as I started teaching, I loved it! It made complete sense as it’s such a functional exercise to keep you mobile, flexible & strong. All the things we should be focusing on as we age!  So whether you garden, run or cycle, it’s great to add to your training. Oh yes, and running of course and that’s how in my mid fifties I started a new business. Maybe I should be slowing down or focusing on one thing! 

Canicross came into my life about 2 years ago when it became clear that my black lab Pickle had a prey drive and couldn’t be let off the lead. I hadn’t run properly for a few years, but Pickle gave me the focus to run again. Who knew I was still competitive! 

Now I love the fact that I can bring both of my businesses together with Pilates for Runners courses suitable for both solo & canicross runners. 

How can we get more women involved in being active? 

I love the fact that age doesn’t discriminate and as a female I feel confident to get out there and do what I love. We, as women, need faith in what we can do.  The excuses I hear the most with women starting Pilates or canicross: “I’m too old, I’m too inflexible, I can’t run”. They’re all just excuses – find a teacher you gel with and they will help you overcome your fears! 

Rav Billan, Runstreaker, Assistant Coach with The Six Pack Revolution, and Wonderwoman

Rav Billan

Rav is one of those people that every woman needs by her side, as she is the biggest cheerleader I know for encouraging you to challenge yourself. As well as running several businesses, she finds time to run every single day, and is also an assistant coach with the Six Pack Revolution, helping people transform their bodies and their confidence with the fitness programme. Thanks for being one of my cheerleaders, Rav!

How did you get into running?

My journey from someone who hated PE and didn’t even own a pair of flat shoes, let alone trainers, 3 years ago, to someone who is now at almost at 1,100 consecutive days of running a minimum of 5k a day and has run 8 marathons and countless half marathons within that time period too!

I’m not ashamed to admit that I avoided all forms of exercise for most of my life, it just wasn’t something I really wanted to do or if I’m really honest, wanted to put the effort into. It always felt far easier to binge diet and get to a goal weight. But that only ever worked short term as the weight always piled back on. After almost starving myself for most of my teenage years, I don’t believe in fad diets at all anymore. The impact of daily exercise and healthy eating has a far wider reaching impact than just the physical changes.

I had 3 kids by the time I was 30 and it wasn’t until I was almost 37 that I finally decided to reclaim back my body and I joined a gym. I started to strength train and was attempting to run on a treadmill about 3 times a week. After a few months, I could see my body was starting to change shape, my clothes started to fit better and my self confidence started to make a come back too.

On the 7th May 2016 I took the plunge and decided to do my first run outside in over 15 years. I’ve struggled with body confidence my entire life so I wore a baseball cap, an oversized loose T shirt and running leggings and prayed that no one in my village would recognise me and mock my silly attempt at running. To my surprise no one batted an eyelid. I was slow, I was full of nerves leaving the house but I enjoyed it so much! There’s not many things that can beat the post run buzz!

What’s your proudest achievement?

This one is a tough one as there’s so many running highlights I’ve had since I took it up. There are a few that stick in my mind. The day I ran a full 5k without stopping is one! I felt so proud of myself for persisting the entire distance. I wasn’t fast but I didn’t care. I had just run a whole 5k without stopping and no one could have taken the smile off my face that day. The other memory that sticks in my mind was the day I ran my first ever marathon distance, the virtual London marathon on 4th October 2020. I was meant to run the real event but due to COVID, this obviously didn’t happen. It was the most surreal experience. I was overcome with emotion at the end like I’ve never felt. I real sense of pride in myself and that I was now part of the ever growing 1% club. I finally felt like I’d graduated from “running school” however silly that may sound.

How can we get more women involved in being active?

Representation Matters.

We need to showcase more “normal” everyday women that are active and how they fit it into their lives. We need to see that we don’t need to be a certain shape, be a certain size, age or colour. I know so many amazing women online who are teachers, carers, business women etc that have all found that taking that hour out of their day to do some yoga, kettlebells, battle ropes, go to the gym or go for a walk or run actually helps them focus better.

As women, we are role models to our children and to each other.

Breaking The Stereotype

As women, I think we have a natural inclination to put our own health and fitness as a secondary priority to everything else that is happening in our lives. Whether you are a mum or not we all seem to have a crazy amount of pressure on our time. We have an inner feeling of guilt and selfish if we use this time on something like working out or self care.

However, there are many amazing achievements by women – both at a professional level to every day runner level that break down the stereotypes of what we think is possible. Over the last few years we have seen mothers running ultra marathons and stopping to breast feed their babies, we have seen professional athletes take breaks to have children and come back to dominate their sporting fields and we have seen females dominate in sports that are typically dominated by men. It is all possible. We need to celebrate these individuals as each one of them helps other women see that nothing is impossible. 

Feeling Safe

As much as I think I am equal to men, there are instances that remind me that this isn’t always the case and that I am different. For example, running in the dark. I love running very late at night or very early in the morning. It is very peaceful, you see no one and I can zone out into my run with no distractions. But, before I leave the house on a dark morning or night, there are many things I need to do that a male runner would not. I wear my personal alarm, I let someone know about my route,  I don’t listen to music so I can be constantly aware of my surroundings, I have been approached by men, I have been had comments shouted at me out of cars driving past, I have had cars follow me slowly, I have had to hide in the driveways of houses I have passed until I’ve felt safe and I am constantly changing the time I run and my routes so I don’t develop a pattern. My male friends don’t this same experience with running in the dark. Feeling safe whilst out running / working shouldn’t be a privilege, it’s a fundamental right. More needs to be done around making women feel safer when exercising alone. I don’t have the answers but it’s a conversation that needs more thought.

Strong Not Skinny

Like many through lockdown, I ate too much, drank too much and assumed that my runstreak and marathon training escapades would fix everything. It didn’t and I piled the weight on over the summer of 2020.

I decided to do something about it and saw that my running friend had just come off a fitness programme that made her look completely different. I bit the bullet and signed up to Six Pack Revolution too. 10.5 weeks later, through a mixture of clean eating, strength and hit training, I was 8kgs lighter and was a much stronger, leaner and faster runner than I’d ever been! I broke a PB almost every time I went out for a long run!

As I’ve mentioned above, I have suffered from body confidence issues most of my life but finally at the age of 40, I love how I look. The icing on the cake happened recently when I got a call asking me if I’d like to be an Assistant Coach on the Six Pack Revolution, the very programme that had transformed me. I was a bit overcome with emotion as I didn’t even think I was good enough to take part in the programme in September 2020. I said yes and now I am helping others to become better versions of themselves too. I always said I didn’t want my old body back, I am creating a much better one. An opportunity to #payitforward and to be Leaner. Fitter. Stronger. If I can do it, literally any one can.


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