12:00PM, Friday 17 March 2017
Tara sets off with the Running Sisters.
A sea of fluorescent clad women can be seen making its way through the town centre three times a week.
The Maidenhead Running Sisters group has been running for about 30 years and is made up of women of all ages and abilities coming together for a bit of exercise and socialising.
Having never run properly before, I joined the group for a Monday night session earlier this month and was struck by how friendly everyone was.
The women gather at the Maidenhead Athletic Club clubhouse for a quick briefing before heading off on a three, four or five-mile run.
The pace is slow enough to have a chat with your neighbouring runners and one person tells me they can be heard passing houses like a flock of birds.
We make our way out of Braywick Park and down Stafferton Way where there is a brief stop for some stretching.
The rest of the run is at a manageable pace with bouts of walking.
A system of ‘peeling back’ ensures that no runners are left behind; if a break emerges in the group the faster runners at the front will go to the back.
Mandy Finch has been a member of the group for the past 20 years and is now in charge of organising the runners.
The group has about 150 members in total with between 30-50 turning up to each session.
Women from 18 years old can join and there are members in their 70s.
“It is a social thing, you could be running along next to someone and having a good old chin wag, you’re putting the world to rights and you just feel so much better at the end of it,” said Mandy.
Member of seven years Dawn Ford, 61, said she enjoys the flexibility of the club.
With the three distances anyone can choose on the night which one they want to join.
The routes are decided in advance and stick to the main roads in the winter but in the summer the group sometimes meets elsewhere for a run by the river or in the countryside.
Speaking to runners as we make our way through Maidenhead, the recurring theme is that it is the friendly nature of the group that keeps them coming back.
There is no judgement and everyone seems supportive of one another, I don't think I would have managed three miles alone. Having people to talk to on the way round really takes your mind off how difficult it can be.
The group is one of the six Chiltern Running Sisters groups, including Windsor.
They were set up in 1986 by Alison Turnbull, who was assistant editor at Runner’s World magazine after receiving letters from women who did not want to run alone and were intimidated by the idea of joining a running club dominated by men.
Tessa O’Neill from the Windsor group said: “It is a chance for women to get together and have a bit of a laugh while exercising.
“Especially in the winter when it is dark, you feel safe running together.”
Both the Maidenhead and Windsor groups are getting ready to start their annual six-week beginners course on Monday, March 27.
The course is to get people who ‘can’t run to the end of their garden’ running three miles without stopping by the end of the course.
The course costs £15 with the Maidenhead group meeting at Maidenhead Athletic Club, Braywick Park and the Windsor group at the Datchet Dashers clubhouse in Home Park.
Member Karen Antinoro started on the beginners course five years ago.
She said: “When I started I had never run before and I can now run four or five miles from nothing.
“It is a really nice social thing too.”
Visit www.runningsisters.com for more information.
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