Valley Running Club in the Roe making huge strides

Valley Runng Club AC at the Roe valley Country Park.
Valley Runng Club AC at the Roe valley Country Park.

Ask Kieran Coyle to sum up Valley Running Club in Limavady and he’ll say the most important thing about it is having fun.

Ask Kieran Coyle to sum up Valley Running Club in Limavady and he’ll say the most important thing about it is having fun.

(L-R) Camilla Rodgers, Eithne Doherty, Cara Lowry, Peter Lowry, Jennifer McLaughlin and Siobhan Hartop.

(L-R) Camilla Rodgers, Eithne Doherty, Cara Lowry, Peter Lowry, Jennifer McLaughlin and Siobhan Hartop.

Sure, getting fit is the goal, but there’s no pressure on any of the runners. According to Kieran, most of the members don’t even wear watches.

“The fancy gear, the watches; that’s all out the window,” said Kieran. “There is no big emphasis on time, how far you can run, or what size you are. The club is really non-threatening and the people make everyone feel really welcome.”

Kieran, originally from Galway, has been running since he was a child. He said the main reason he started the Club in October 2012 was to dispel the myth that you don’t have to be of a certain build, or be a top athlete to be a runner.

“I really wanted to dispel the myths,” said Kieran, who is an Activity Lifestyle Officer at Limavady Borough Council, a position funded by the Public Health Agency.

The man behind Valley Running Club, Kieran Coyle.

The man behind Valley Running Club, Kieran Coyle.

In the past two years, membership at Valley Running Club has soared from 22 to 150, and continues to grow. Its success, which includes being awarded the prestigious ‘ClubMark NI’, said Kieran, is the dedicated members who range in age from eight to 60, and which includes a 30-strong junior section.

The Club has turned ‘couch potatoes’ into runners, and it has given confidence to people who never thought they could be a runner.

Limavady runner, Jennifer McLaughlin, is the first to admit she was never sporty at school, but now she can pound the pavements with the best of them.

Jennifer, nee Lowry, had always wanted to run but thought she wouldn’t be able to do it. It was only when she went along to cheer on her brother, Peter Lowry, at a Valley Club 5K when she started to think it just might be possible.

“I saw other people my age running and thought, ‘well, if they can do it, so can I’. I had always thought I was too old and wouldn’t be fit,” said Jennifer, who joined Valley Running Club in August 2014. Seven months on and running shoes are on Jennifer’s feet as often as her high heels. She completed her first 5k last October and she hasn’t looked back.

“Kieran was really ecnouraging and gave me a training plan. I kept at it and was determined to do it,” she says. “I really enjoy the group and the motivation and encouragement there. It’s part of my life now. It’s a great way to relieve stress and makes you feel good. I’d say to anyone to give it a try because it is addictive once you get the bug.”

Jennifer has several family connections in the Club, including her brother, Peter Lowry.

“Peter is brilliant and has been so supportive. I would really encourage people to join because it doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you are, the support is there,” said Jennifer.

Peter Lowry joined the Club in January 2014.

“When you bend down to tie your laces, and you can’t breathe, it’s time to do something,” said Peter. “I was a typical couch potato and was putting on weight. I had to do something.”

After a six-week course, of which running with the Club was a part of, Peter continued to run with the Club. Now, he’s on his way to becoming a running coach along with several other members.

“I’m enjoying it, and I’ve lost almost a stone and three quarters,” he said. “There is a great community spirit at the Club and you meet a lot of new friends. I would encourage people, especially men, to join. I’ve gone from couch potato to, hopefully, running coach. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you are. In the Club, you come on leaps and bounds, and there is great encouragement. I feel a lot fitter and healthier. Running is part of me and my life now.”

It’s the stories of people like Jennifer and Peter that Kieran is proud of, and admits he gets choked up when he sees a new runner complete their first goal, or runners progressing. He said everyone who has joined has their own special reason, and encourages anyone who has always wanted to run to give it a go.

“Just come along, have fun, get fit and be sociable,” he said.

Kieran has big hopes for the future and would love to see a half marathon and marathon in Limavady. With a new ‘Couch Potato to Runner Bean’ series about to start, Kieran is confident the support and demand for such events is there. He’s also excited about the Limavady Park Run, starting in the town on March 28th - a free weekly 5km event for runners of all standards, which takes place every Saturday at 9:30am in and around the Blackburn Park Path.

“These are worldwide. When I started the Club two years ago it was my mission to bring the Park Run here,” said Kieran.

Kieran said it’s not a race against other runners, but a 5k timed run “and it can really be whatever you want it to be, whether that’s for fun or as part of a training plan”.

The Club training sessions make the most of the natural beauty of the Roe Valley, from the Roe Valley Country Park, Benone beach and Ballykelly Forest. Kieran hopes to expand the Club into Dungiven.

For more information on Valley Running Club visit their Facebook page. For information and how to register for the free Park Run visit www.parkrun.org.uk/limavady/