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The secret of Rita's runaway success

Aug 20, 2004, 11:20

I was a self-confessed couch potato and running was my worst nightmare, but I needed to get fit and was not about to waste my money on an expensive gym.

On the run - members of Dudley Ladies Running Club at Wombourne

Looking like a beached whale and feeling self conscious in my tight, totally unfashionable jogging bottoms and trainers, which hadn't seen the light of day in ten years, I trudged down to Wombourne Leisure Centre.

Running clubs conjure up images of young competitive athletes with model bodies who get up at 5am to pound the pavements for hours without breaking a sweat.

So I let out a sigh of relief (and my belly, which I had been holding in) when I saw lots of ladies, young and old, in full gossip mode, ready for an evening of fun.

Housewives, career women, students and grandmothers - everyone is different and everyone has a story to tell but they all have one thing in common - Dudley Ladies Running Club has changed their lives forever.

One such person is 30-year-old Sarah Thomas from Clover Lane in Wall Heath, who last year weighed 19 stone. But through a mixture of will-power, diet and running with Dudley Ladies, Sarah is now a trim 10 stone and is a role model and inspiration for anyone with a weight problem.

"This time last year I would never have believed anyone if they said I would be running six or seven miles - and enjoying it!" she says.

"I had been overweight pretty much for my entire life but at the age of 29 I was 5ft 3ins and I was as wide as I was tall. Diet alone wasn't going to help me lose the weight and keep it off. I had always admired people who said they were a runner, and to be able to say that too was the reason I joined the club."

Gemma Lynn warms up

At 63 grandmother Enid Brazier is the club's oldest member but she puts people a third of her age to shame.

The Wordsley Hospital midwife had never been running until she joined the club three years ago. She has recently completed the Blackpool and London marathons and this year won the club's prestigious Runner of the Year award - her nine-year-old grandson Josh can't even catch her!

Enid, who lives in Park Lane, Cradley, says: "I thought I was too old to run but Rita has been so supportive and encouraged me all the way. We have become really good friends and I know if I have any problems she is always there at the end of the phone."

The club was formed by 55-year-old Rita Vanes in July 2002 and it has now become the largest women-only road running club in the Midlands.

The success is down to her now infamous beginner running courses which get women who were absolute beginners running three or more miles in just 12 weeks.

Their coaching also involves all they need to know about running safely. Their body fat is monitored and advice is given on what shoes to buy, what clothes to wear and what foods to eat as well as warm-up exercises.

At the end of the course all the women go to a presentation evening where they receive a medal, a certificate and a commemorative T-shirt.

During my three-mile run I caught up with Rita who told me why the club is so popular.

"You don't have to be a world beater, it's not a club for poseurs. There are no little cliques or cattiness, you don't have to fit in to a size eight leotard and nobody ever leaves," she said. "There is no stress and no pressure to compete or race and no men around to make you run faster or further than you want to."

Founder Rita Vanes - "support"

Up until her mid-thirties, Rita had done no physical exercise whatsoever and like a lot of women at that age, she was a bit over weight.

She had a very stressful full-time teaching job to hold down and needed something that would give her time to herself, help lose weight, de-stress, meet new friends and wouldn't cost too much money.

"I didn't do too much to begin with, just walking and jogging until eventually the walking got less and less and the running became more and more until I was fit enough to enter a local fun run, which to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed and didn't come last."

After that she was hooked and she went on to become one of the best female roadrunners for her age group in the Midlands, winning races and prizes whenever she ran.

She realised there were other women like her when she first wanted to start running but who didn't have the confidence or knowledge to take the first step.

She spread the word about her new club among friends and colleagues, put up posters in libraries and waited to see what response she would get. The news and popularity soon spread and the club has continued to grow from strength to strength.

"Until you are fit it's hard work," said Rita. "There's a lot of sweating, swearing and gritting of teeth but, because Dudley Ladies is an all women group, when you're in the pack there's also a lot of laughing, joking, support and a real sense of achievement. It has changed a lot of women's lives forever."

If you would like to join the club, go down to Wombourne Leisure Centre on any Tuesday or Thursday just before 7pm or email Rita on rita@dudleyladies.co.uk



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For More Information Contact:

Dudley Ladies Running Club
c/o Wombourne Leisure Centre
Tel 01902 898202 or
Email: rita@dudleyladies.co.uk

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