Chairman’s Statement




AGM – 20 MARCH 2023

I was unsure about taking on the role of Chairman in the year of Croft’s 40th Anniversary. Having been at the club for a little over a year I was conscious that I had little knowledge of the club’s history and knew only a small number of members.

In the event it turned out to be the perfect opportunity to understand the history of Croft and try to understand what has helped the club survive for 4 decades when many other clubs have fallen by the wayside.

We’re fortunate to still have many of the club’s founders and early leading lights actively involved in the club. Sitting in Peter Faulkner’s kitchen going through old photos and club notices was a particular highlight; but all my conversations – with Bryan, Guy, Mike, Tom and his brother Brian were all fascinating and invaluable in being able to piece together the history of Croft.

The ‘Running and Life’ profiles started as a way for me to get to know runners that I might not get to meet at training sessions. They have proved invaluable in providing an excuse to chat to members that it might otherwise take months or years to get to know.  Along the way I’ve got to understand a lot more about what motivates runners to start running and how, for many of us, it turns into a life-long love and healthy addiction.

Sometimes we forget what a difference running can make to someone’s life. How important it can become.  I’ve had two new members tell me this year that joining Croft has been the best thing they’ve ever done. In my opinion there are two main motivations to start running and jojn a club – to loose weight and get fit or to run an organised race for the first time – usually a 10k or half marathon. Some of these stay, friendships are built and running becomes a part of their life.

The role of Chairman is to help guide the club to ensure it fulfils the needs of its members and continues to thrive. Having spent a year considering the challenges and opportunities at Croft, it’s probably the right time to give my thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that I feel lay head.

1) Our Elite Runners

The first challenge and opportunity is our elite runners.  

This year and last, Croft has punched above its weight; winning the Men’s Winter Cross Country League in 2021-22 followed by the Mike Blenkinsop Summer League and then the Men’s Winter Cross Country League again this year. We’re fortunate to have some very talented, hard working athletes, wins like these don’t come easily and success can’t be taken for granted.

Many clubs run peer group sessions – allowing faster runners to train more intensely or run further. Croft has not adopted this approach … preferring to keep runners together as a single group with faster runners doing more reps or looping back. The desire not to have peer groups is partly down to the size of the club (and the number of coaches), but also a feeling, largely by faster runners, that this would undermine the inclusive, one family nature of the club.

Our approach to training certainly benefits the feeling of having a cohesive, inclusive club – but it does compromise our ability to provide higher-level sessions for the most able athletes. Fortunately we have great runners who, for the large part, train on their own but turn up to represent the club in competitions. This has served us well, but, without conscious effort, the purple patch the club is going through now is likely to change in the future.

One avenue might be to work with other clubs to offer some coaching at a higher level for faster runners. Hereford Couriers have the same issue of faster runners not attending the clubs normal training sessions. One thought might be to use joint track sessions for this purpose.

2) Attracting new Members

The second challenge is attracting new members and growing the club

Croft is unique. In many ways this is shaped by the environment it inhabits. Located in a rural area and without a regular public meeting place such as a sports centre, it’s always going to have a smaller pool of potential runners than a club based in Ludlow or Hereford.

Moving a training night into Leominster would probably attract more runners but change the nature of the session in a way that wouldn’t appeal to many existing members.

The appeal of Running, and the diversity of people it attracts has changed immeasurably since it first became mainstream in the 1980s.  Croft is now close to 50/50 between men and women in terms of its membership. On an average training night there are more women than men.

The other major change is the ability of the runners. When Croft Ambrey Running Club was formed in 1982 there was a notice in the Kingsland Village Newsletter inviting ‘serious enquiries’ to join the new formed club. When I joined my first club 30 years ago there was a requirement that those joining were able to run continuously for at least 6 miles. Running was a serious business.

In October 2004 a free 5k  ‘Time Trial’ took place in Bushey Park, London. It was the forerunner of  parkrun. Today around a quarter of a million people take part in a parkrun every Saturday.

Paul Sinton Stewart, who started parkrun, was once asked why it had become the success it was. His reply might surprise you.

He said that, for the early parkruns, the average finish time was around 20 minutes. It attracted very good runners. Today the average time is closer to 30 minutes.  This, Paul said, was at the heart of why parkrun was a success. If it had stayed as a timed run for elite runners it would have remained as a small, niche event. The slower the average time; and the bigger the number of runners taking part – the easier it is to attract more runners who can see ‘people like them’ taking part.

A similar thing happened with Nike – the mega sportswear brand.  Three decades ago its marketing focus was on performance backed up by endorsements from well-known athletes.  A new President took over who had a background in marketing and was presented with the new TV campaign.

The new ad was beautifully shot. A running track with rain bouncing off it. An athlete lacing up a pair of Nike Trainers. I’m not sure exactly what the ad line was … let’s say ‘Performance is Everything’.

The President rejected the ad. His logic was that he didn’t want to say that Nike was all about elite performance. To grow Nike had to appeal to as many people as possible.

The ad agency was told to go away and think again. How could Nike appeal to as many people as possible? How could they make their market much bigger?

The creative campaign that came back transformed the company.

Just do it.

Whoever you are. Whether you’re young or old. Whether you’re fast or slow or want to run 500 metres or 5 miles – you can pull on a pair of Nike Trainers and just do it.

I include these examples as a way of illustrating the challenge that faces running clubs – including Croft. The best way to grow is to attract the large number of people that are going to running slowly – not quickly.

Clubs should be grateful for parkrun as, for many, it provides a stepping stone to club running. Joining a Running Club still feels intimidating for many. We need to be proactive to break down this barrier.

I’m always heartened by how many Croft runners turn up at Ludlow Parkrun in club colours. There are so few places where the club can raise its profile outside of the club running community.  We have attracted new members this year simply by being seen and being friendly at Ludlow parkrun.

We ran one ‘couch to 5k’ course this year which we called ‘Prepare for Parkrun’. It takes time and commitment and we might attract a couple of new members from it. It’s something that we need to consider building on in the summer.

In summary, the easiest way for Croft to grow is to attract the large number of people looking to get into (or return to) running. We’ll do this by raising our profile and being proactive in reaching out to those that will value support in starting their running journey.

3)  Freshness and variety

Croft has a head start in this area. Changing our training venue every Tuesday and Thursday means that we don’t suffer the routine of meeting at a leisure centre or club house and having to start every run jogging down the same roads. Such clubs will change venues but it requires far more organisation and effort. For Croft it’s a part of the club’s weekly routine.

However a challenge still remains to keep club sessions interesting. Running is inherently simple. It requires minimal kit and no need for anything complicated like a swimming pool or tennis court or golf course. We can do it in the light and the dark, in sunshine and rain. And we can run pretty much anywhere.

One of the great things about a club training session is that, as a runner, it’s likely that you’ll do something that you wouldn’t do on your own. It might be something as simple as hill reps – but in a group, led by a coach, it becomes an enjoyable challenge rather than a daunting task.

It’s this aspect of running – doing something that you either wouldn’t, or couldn’t do on your own, that makes club sessions so valuable. All you have to do is turn up. Everything else happens simply because you chose to put your trainers on and leave the house.

But the club has to offer variety. To give runners new and interesting things that make running fun and being a member worthwhile. Not everything appeals to everyone. But the more variety there is the more likely it is that members will find something that they really enjoy.

For some it will be the Tuesday and Thursday training sessions, others will want to compete in the Winter and Summer Cross Countries or the Leinthall Starkes and Bircher handicap series.

Training sessions in defined areas make it easier to accommodate the wide range of abilities that the club has. Most clubs would have one training session and one social run. For many this allows them to get a 7 or 8 mile social run in to help build a base for longer runs.

Croft runners tend to do their longer runs on their own or in small groups at weekends. This is certainly an area that the club should be offering more support. This could be through more organised weekend social runs or possibly a monthly run away from the clubs usual haunts with a few run leaders to support different paces.

This year we’ve added Urban Orienteering, Hash Running and run the First Training Camp, held in the Brecons. Each of these have appealed to groups of runners.

The challenge is to try new things. To keep the ones that are popular and drop those that aren’t. We’re fortunate in having very engaged and supportive members. Suggest anything and it’s likely that it will be well attended.

Hereford Couriers were genuinely surprised when we pitched up with as many runners as they had for a Wednesday night track session. When you know people are going to turn up it makes it very easy to give new things a go.

New things take effort though and this effort needs to be shared throughout the club.

4) Juniors

The final challenge I would like to talk about is juniors

There is a lot of enthusiasm for the return of Croft’s Juniors. Much of is from parents who can see why their son or daughter would enjoy being part of a running club – especially if group sports such as football or hockey or netball haven’t suited them. I’ve little doubt that it will prove popular.

The challenge I feel is to ensure that there is sufficient support from the club for Kelly and Eric. It’s all too easy for a something that starts as a pleasure to become an onerous obligation if you feel that you’re being left to get on with it yourself. It’s something that the committee – and the club more generally needs to consider.

5) In conclusion

So at the end of the club’s 40th year, it’s fair to say that the club is in good health. This is the result of hard work by the committee and coaching team – but also because the club as a whole is overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging.

Everyone likes to win now and then – but if you gain pleasure from watching other people succeed, you’ll enjoy every race.

Huw Williams

Chairman Croft Ambrey Running Club

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