Tuesday, June 16, 2009

There's Better Clubbing in Britain

Since moving to Canada it's become very apparent that there isn't actually a system in place to aid recruitment or competitions for clubs. I always took it for granted back in Britain that throughout the season I would race for my team, Cheltenham Harriers, in a number of competitions. It meant that no matter what fitness level I was in I would don the vest and do my best to support my team and clubmates wherever possible.

Racing old friend Ed Womersley at the Birmingham League Div 1 race in Gloucester, clubmate Jeremy in the background

Over the winter I would compete in four league cross country fixtures where every result affected our collective aspirations. If we failed to put out a strong team in each fixture we faced relegation from division one, something we wouldn't dare to think about. In the spring the top twelve guys would do battle at the Midland and National 12 Stage Championships, and then repeat the process again at the Midland and National 6 Stage Championships in the autumn. Wearing your club vest was a symbol of pride, something that resonated in your bones and so you made sure that you made the commitment to do your very best when wearing it.

Canada is quite different. The only athletics club of note in the whole of Vancouver is the Falcons, although there are other clubs dotted around the surrounding towns, such as Richmond, Burnaby and North Vancouver. Results for road races are posted with the city of residence of the runner, not which team vest they were wearing, and there are no inter-club competitions, even on a local level.

Giving the captain's team talk to the Loughborough guys before British Uni XC Champs 2006

Everything here is individualised. Name, date of birth, city of residence. That's all that counts. There isn't that identity where your training group or coach is highlighted. For instance, in the current British Columbia Athletics Road Race Series my training partner Jay is placed in third. There is no mention that he runs for the Vancouver Falcons, so those people interested in the runner don't see the background as to what makes him successful. Does the average recreational athlete in a local road race even know that there is an athletics club in Vancouver that they can join with like minded individuals? They sure can't see it when they receive their results. When Vancouver is such an active city, and one where I pass literally hundreds of people out running every week, why aren't more of them attached to a club?

The Vancouver Falcons - we'd make a great team!

I'm not having a go at my Canadian club here, far from it. I love training with the guys every week and I think it's a very energetic and motivating setup with excellent coaching; but where are the opportunities to race for each other and not just against each other? We'd make a great team, one where we'd give every last drop of energy to have us succeed as a group.
As team mate Brad posted on his blog: "I am looking forward to workout on Thursday and meeting up with the rest of the blue train after their great showing last Friday. 3rd through 8th and a bunch right after that. What a group." But unfortunately, despite the camaradarie I can't see us getting the chance to pull on the Falcons vests to battle it out against the Richmond Kajaks or the Island Road Racers; and I think it's a real shame.

Old Marlingtonians/Stroud AC, the winter training buddies and former school team mates

Ironically back in Britain there have always been complaints about the state of the club system, from the low turnouts at BAL matches to the arguments over the apparent poaching of athletes. The message I will take back with me is that the British distance fraternity should count themselves lucky to have such opportunities to compete against each other on such a regular basis. It's one thing to run for yourself, but it's quite another to run for your team.


  1. Well Mr Holmes, you know what you have to do don't you? You could be really narcissistic about it and call it the Peter Holmes Challenge Trophy - now that's a contribution to running if ever I saw one!!

  2. Pete!
    I think part of the lack of a club system is the prevalence of the university system, especially out East. What you wrote of the club system in England in your post is what I felt in university. Every race was for the team and we were more like a family with the coach as the surrogate dad. Even graduated athletes would stay with the team and train as a 'red shirt'. When I lived in England I found it strange that my university did not have a cross country team and I was to join the town club to train. When I moved to Vancouver my first instinct was to train with UBC or Simon Fraser rather then join a club. I am very happy I decided to train with VFAC!

  3. I'd agree with that sentiment. My Uni, Loughborough, was very competitive and one of the reasons I stayed around for two years after graduating was to keep my training set up - we were like a family.

    I think the team element, when you know you're going to be racing with the guys you train with, is really empowering and brings everyone much closer together. I'd love to see a local cross country or track league.

  4. My favourite race of the year is the Thetis Lake Relays in Victoria. It is a 4 x 5k trail race where each runner on the team does the same loop of the lakes. As you speak about, it is an entirely different experience running for people rather than against them and I would jump at any chance to do it on a regular basis. Maybe there is an entrepreneurial opportunity for you in this...