James Illsley is a jog leader with Jog Derbyshire group AAJ (All About Jogging). His inspirational journey from running novice to leader has inspired a whole new wave of beginners through a couch to 5k programme.
We were lucky enough to join the group on their ‘graduation’ parkrun, watching everyone gather in nervous but excited anticipation. After a cheer and a clap they were off, accompanied by some of the group’s regular joggers and cheered over the finish line by others.
The supportive atmosphere was topped off by the AAJ mobile café. People could enjoy hot drinks and Christmas cake along with receiving their certificates and medals.
James tells us about his journey and how he’s got to this point.
‘I never thought I’d be able to run’
I started running 12 months ago. I’ve been on a weight loss journey for the last few years and never thought I’d be a runner. I started, like many people, running on my own. Running groups, I thought, were for ‘proper’ runners. They certainly weren’t the sorts of places that people like me, i.e. slower, would be welcomed.
I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I started using the Couch to 5K app a while before, but was trying to lose weight at the time. It moved on a bit fast for those trying to lose weight. I actually started jogging in wellies whilst walking the dog – what a sight I must have been! My confidence was so low. I could only run for 30 seconds or so at a time and would pretend I was out walking the dog if I saw anyone else coming the other way!
Finding Jog Derbyshire
In December 2017 – with only a handful of parkruns under my belt – I plucked up the courage to send an email to Ian Travers, leader of Jog Derbyshire group Jog Crich. After a brief email exchange he assured me not everyone was super-fast and I’d be very welcome to join the group. When I went to my first meeting I was delighted at the warm welcome I received and was instantly made to feel part of the group. All abilities were catered for and I really started to enjoy the group runs.
In early 2018 I decided I wanted to do more than one run a week, so I returned to the Jog Derbyshire website and looked what else was on offer. From there I discovered All About Jogging (AAJ) in Heanor. I made contact with AAJ’s leader, the effervescent Daniel Coleman (if you’ve met him you’ll know what I mean!) and attended my first AAJ group run in February 2018.
Since then, and with the encouragement of the awesome membership of both groups, I’ve progressed even more. The Derby 10k in April 2018 was my first ever race of any description and I loved it. That inspired me to do more and more and I completed my first half marathon in August 2018. I’ve entered more races as I’ve been completely bitten by the running bug!
My journey to co-leader and leader
Jog Derbyshire has been a big part of my running journey over the last 12 months. I’ve found the two groups I’ve been part of to be incredibly supportive. They contain some incredible runners, but more importantly incredible people. I quickly learnt Jog Derbyshire groups genuinely cater for runners of all abilities and nobody is left out.
Initially I thought co-leaders had to be the better runners, but now know that’s not the case. I felt my experience could be used to help others get into running and get themselves healthier and more active.
I trained as a co-leader and passed my Leadership in Running Fitness qualification. That enabled me to take the lead on AAJ’s Couch to 5k program which started in September 2018.
Before our first session, I imagined myself stood in a drafty car park with two or three others. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when 68 turned up to our first meeting! I was amazed at the numbers we attracted, but it just shows there is a demand for beginners’ programs such as this. It’ll also hopefully provide a conveyor belt of new members who will progress from the Couch to 5k program on to AAJ’s other evening runs. I’m very proud to be able to lead this and hope I can inspire others in some small way while sticking to our club motto ‘Run with Fun’.
What’s up next?
In 2019 I’m planning on running my first marathon. I’m also completing a number of challenges to raise money for the British Lung Foundation, in memory of my father who suffered with lung disease and passed away in December 2016. Any donations, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.
Who James has inspired…
Some of the participants from James’ couch to 5k explain how it’s helped them…
Natalie Ebler joined to help her friend and son get into jogging whilst helping her get back into it after injury.
She said: “The group seems absolutely lovely very encouraging and friendly but very helpful and kind. James was lovely and very enthusiastic and encouraging. I have enjoyed running with a really nice bunch of people, who are very friendly. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of doing a 5k to do it. You can achieve more than you think!”
Carly Rothwell was inspired to join after having her daughter and putting on weight. In the past she’d tried to give jogging a go, but had struggled going out on her own.
She said: “I’ve seen a huge difference in my body shape. I’ve toned up and lost nearly two stone in weight in such a short space of time. I’ve also made new friends and introduced my sister in law to the group. Most importantly to me though is I can now jog. I’m so determined to keep going I very rarely feel the urge to stop. To be able to run for one minute at a time on week one was hard work. To now be able to run for around 40-50 minutes is an incredible feeling.”
Anita Hicks used the couch to 5k as a way to get back into running after some time out due to an injury on her foot.
She said: “I was shopping in Tesco and noticed a flyer for couch to 5k so thought it may be good way to get back in slowly. James and Dan ran the group well and catered for all abilities and the mobile cafe made it all worthwhile at the end of the sessions. Going forward I’m continuing to jog/run with AAJ and looking to run the Derby 10K with some of the other members of the group. Would encourage anyone wanting to get in to exercise to join AAJ and not to be frightened that they cannot take part because it really can be couch to 5k”