We joined in with a Darlington social running group on what turned out to be a record-breaking night for attendance - here’s what happened.

The indoor market in Darlington Town Centre was this week’s crowded and bustling meeting place for Up and Running’s Social Run Group – a well-established collective for runners of all ages, whether you’re a marathon runner or prefer to take it slow.

It’s now been eight years since the group which originated from Up and Running on Bondgate has been out and about each Monday, and it is now the chain’s biggest in the country.

Usually, around 100 people gather to complete a 5k run route which differs each week – and this week, they broke their attendance record.

172 people up from 166 prepped and ready to run showed up with enthusiasm ahead of the run at 5:30pm – which this week included support from PUMA who provided brand new running shoes for each individual to try out for the evening.

The Northern Echo: Up and Running Darlington social run group.Up and Running Darlington social run group. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

And this week, for the first time, I as well as my colleague Amy Smith joined them to see what it was all about.

However, I must first emphasise to anyone sceptical that I am, in layman’s terms, absolutely not a runner. It would be easy to assume that anyone who joins a running group to complete a three-mile route must be at least partly experienced.

But me? Not at all. I’ve started from the beginning – and that is an overstatement in itself.

It would then be easy for me then, and other inexperienced runners to shun the idea of a group run in all weathers – but I was determined and found comfort when I learned that I wasn’t the only one who perhaps is not skilled enough to earn myself a medal in a race.

The Northern Echo: Up and Running Darlington social run group.Up and Running Darlington social run group. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

“The whole ambition of the running group is simply to build a community spirit around the store,” Dan Rowlands, the manager of Up and Running Darlington explained.

The 40-year-old, who hails from Middlesbrough, added: “If people can come down and know that we go running, they know us on a first-name basis and would feel less nervous coming out with us.

“I would say to anyone who is nervous to just come down and try it. You’ll never get left behind – that’s the main thing. We do run 5k – but that is no reason to be nervous.”

Heading into what was becoming a packed hall in the market square, we chatted to a few other members who told us their experience of the group and why they keep coming along.

One popular reason was for mental health reasons and the boost of endorphins but also for general fitness levels. This is true for regular attendee Sue Gowling, who is 59 years old.

The Northern Echo: Up and Running Darlington social run group.Up and Running Darlington social run group. (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

Sue, from Darlington, just last year had a second tumour removed from her brain – decades after her first was removed when she was just 6 years old.

When asked how long she’s been coming to the group, Sue simply chuckled and said “years”, between laughs.

“It’s a good group. You get to talk to people, join in with everyone and also meet new people.”

She added: “There’s a great community feel.”

Another runner who was prepping to head out was 43-year-old Gary Read, who was one of the original group members of the group when it first began in 2016.

“You’ll enjoy it,” he nodded, stating that the group has been a great day to bring the town together.

“The group is such a diverse group of people who share the love of running and we all try and get fit together.

“Coming out tonight to see everyone, getting out of the house and socialising with people – it really does make you feel good.”

Before we began the planned route, Dan took to a bench and addressed the crowd with triumph that the attendance record had been broken to a wondrous applause.

Just a few minutes later – we began the 5k. Luckily by that point, the rain had cleared as we started down Grange Road towards South Park.

Whilst many more experienced runners led the pack, everyone was rather spread out, and it was very easy to find a group at my pace whom I could stick with.

Jogging around the South Park Pond, we took a quick breather and regrouped by the bandstand before swinging along Victoria Embankment to the Woollen Mill and back around to the market.


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For me, as a total non-runner, the best part was the support and comradery I felt along the route. There was no pressure to speed up, slow down or stop – I could simply go at my own pace and was cheered on by my fellow runners including Nikki Gaynor who each week happily sticks with those at the back.

By the end – I was exhausted, but to my surprise, hugely enjoyed myself. Running, let alone a 5k was something I never thought I’d be able to muster but thanks to the support of the team it was a highly enjoyable few hours.

If you’re like me and you aren’t a runner at all, or if you’re just a bit curious about the group and what it entails, I would encourage anyone and everyone to go along.