By Leon Popplewell
Athletics and running has been a largely male dominated sport with people able to mention Usian Bolt or Haile Gebrselassi at the drop of a hat but is it easy to mention the current women’s 100m Olympic champion or even what Paula Radcliffe’s record breaking marathon time is?
With the London Olympics just a matter of months away, the sporting legacy that is strived for is as important to include females as well as males but really what is being done to unearth and provide the support for the next generation of female athletes. Sport England and their Active People’s survey show that participation is on the increase and latent demand for running in females is one of the highest out of all sports, the Olympics will hopefully fuel this but within the community something different has sprung up, something that is made for women with the aim of supporting the participation barriers that have so far restricted participation.
Childcare, time of the day, cost and availability are all issues regarded as being contributing to the lack of uptake in sports and running. This is why over the next 3 years Sport England are funding projects up and down the country looking to support this and hopefully produce lasting legacies that will lead to sustaining community programmes with the emphasis on participation and not elite achievement (something often associated with sport) that will also contain a large volunteer element and a trained workforce that will be able to grow once the funding has finished. That is the aim anyway.
Aptly named ‘Active Women’ and identified through the distinctly pink and white uniforms of the coordinators has been up and running for over a year now with notable achievements seen in the uptake in Race for Life entrants as well as the establishment of other support networks including ‘Us Girls Games’, a type of mini sports festival hosted around International Women’s Day to encourage women to stop what they are doing and pick up their running shoes with t shirts, prizes all on offer to encourage running, with the emphasis on fun and meeting new people.
Running, largely seen as an individual past time and unsuitable for beginners with the fear of being left behind playing large on people’s minds has challenged this with local leisure centres offering women’s only sessions that consist of qualified ladies having passed their jog leaders award (a one day qualification provided by Run England) able to network, get fit and make new friends by encouraging all abilities to take part in a safe jog through a local environment known to all and even stop off for a coffee on the way back, giving everyone the chance to catch up on the latest edition of East Enders.
If you are inspired by the Olympics and keen to get involved in running but not sure the best place to turn then keep an eye out for Active Women projects near you or contact your local leisure centre or sports partnership to see what is running in a town near you, many of which will have specific run groups for Race for Life.