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Conor Graham is driving force behind Cheltenham Running Club

All Areas > Sport > Running

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Friday, 22nd December 2017, 09:00

Conor Graham Conor Graham

Talk to Conor Graham for a few minutes and one of the things that strike you immediately, apart from his New Zealand accent, is his passion for running.

The fitness coach, who founded Cheltenham Running Club in 2013, has a strength and conditioning background and that is very much to the fore when he discusses all things running.

And one of his driving forces is to introduce as many people as possible, whatever their standard, to the joys of the sport.

“Cheltenham Running Club’s ethos is to improve the overall experience of running,” he said. “And not just while they are running but in between runs as well. We want people to feel better about their running.

“A lot of people get frustrated if they have pains or injuries and we try to make sure that people don’t over-train and that they recover effectively. We don’t want people to flog themselves.

“We encourage people to address the root cause of their pain. We don’t want niggles to become injuries. It’s about educating people.

“Pro-active recovery is very important to us whereas taking time off all activity is more of a band-aid solution which leads to more problems in the long run.”

It’s sound thinking, of course, and can apply to anyone who likes to run whatever their standard.

There are no shortage of running clubs in and around Cheltenham of course – Cheltenham Harriers and Almost Athletes to name just two – but Graham does not see himself in competition with those multi-member set-ups.

Graham runs his club as a business – “I spend about 70 per cent of my time on Cheltenham Running Club,” he said – and admits the early days were quite tough.

“It was quite a brave move, I suppose,” he said. “It was a lot of hard graft for the first year and a bit but I could see that a lot of people wanted to run but needed help.

“I wanted to do group training and we’ve got about 150 to 160 members now. I’d say about 65-70 per cent are females and ages typically range from 19 to 70.”

Many of those who join the club are new to running and Graham, who lives in Bishop’s Cleeve, readily accepts that few of his members are near Cheltenham Harriers standard.

Nevertheless, he is as passionate about helping them to improve as if he had a world-beater on his hands. He has a structured programme for those who join the club.

“We have a yoga class on Mondays, running on Tuesdays, strengthening on Wednesdays and running on Thursdays before a long running session on Sunday,” he said. “The yoga and strengthening sessions are designed to reduce injuries.

“A lot of our members are new to running and we have a Couch to 5K programme tailored for them.

“Many beginners have been unable to keep up with other groups or complete the NHS Couch to 5K alone but after completing our plan go on to run 10K and even half marathons.”

Graham isn’t a couch potato himself – he ran one hour, 31 minutes at the 2013 Cheltenham Half Marathon, but these days opts to capture his members’ event experiences, recording videos to celebrate his members’ success.

“This means I run in less events but I keep pretty fit with regular runs and gym workouts,” Graham added.

He set up his first running club back in his native New Zealand in 2001, holding running sessions on the waterfront and in the botanic gardens in Wellington.

He met his wife Georgina (nee Marshall), a nutritional therapist, when she was giving a talk Down Under.

They got married in 2010 and moved to England two years later.

“She’s from Cheltenham and she was homesick,” said Graham. “She was missing her family and I didn’t want to spend my whole life at the bottom of the world!”

It’s turned out to be a very good move!

Other Images

Cheltenham Running Club were founded in 2013
Working out at Cheltenham Racecourse
Cheltenham Running Club have more than 150 members
Cheltenham Running Club members having fun
The age range at Cheltenham Running Club is 19 to 90
Conor Graham out for a run

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