JUNE 2015: You’d be forgiven for thinking they could be Siamese twins. But no. Brigitte Groves and Michele Saunders are just a couple of best mates who share a passion for running and for giving up inordinate amounts of their time to support other runners.
Both current active members of Arena 80, Brigitte and Michele have also previously been integral to the development of the Running Sisters group (now Brighton & Hove Women’s Running Club).
And they’re the longest serving Ambassadors of RunBrighton, having supported the tail end of the group for most seasons since launch back in 2011.
Most recently, they have just set up a mid-week running group, predominantly to support the beginners and less-confident runners taking part in RunBrighton’s Summer Season 2015 training (although anyone is welcome to join).
So, Brigitte, Michele, it might seem like an odd question, but why do you run? I mean, what do you get out of it / what drives you?
Brigitte: I think above anything, the friendships, laughs and adventures keep me interested. I’m driven by goals and can be quite focussed with my training. I come from a family of pretty good cyclists and always wanted to be part of ‘something’ but bikes don’t really work for me so running gives me the camaraderie I enjoy and craved. And it’s a good opportunity to visit places and experience different races.
Michele: My main purpose and drive for running is to keep myself fit and healthy. I’m a single mum and work full-time and need to have time to myself to wind down after a hard day slogging away in a stuffy office. Running gives me space to unwind and reflect and to throw away the cobwebs of the day.
Have you enjoyed running since you were kids or did you only get into it later in life?
Brigitte: I started running after deciding to do a Race for Life with a work colleague. I was nearing 40 at the time and probably having one of many midlife crises. I remember starting off running around the block, then a lap of Hove Park, then finally three laps. I completed the 5k in 39 minutes but was pleased as punch to have run the entire way. After a brief return to sofa-dom I came across a beginners group organised locally, joined that and then the rest is history!
Michele: When I was younger I was one of those kids who was last in Sports Day events and thoroughly hated anything sports related, particularly running!! I came to running much later in my life driven by wanting to run the Race for Life. I came across a leaflet in Hove Library advertising a 10-week beginners course with Brighton & Hove Running Sisters; I sent off the application, got myself a place and the rest is history! I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed running. I took to it like a duck to water and, in order to achieve my 3 training sessions per week as part of the beginners course, I would run up and down my road, so that my daughter could see me from the front room, as at that time I didn’t have regular evening child care.
And I understand you both went on to be instrumental in the development of the Running Sisters?
Brigitte: I was one of six founder members who set up the club from its beginner group foundation (one of which was the launch pad for my running). I was Secretary for the club for many years and helped lead a number of beginner groups before progressing through to a Coach in Running Fitness.
Michele: Having taken part in the beginners course in April 2004, I went on to hold various different committee roles i.e. Membership Secretary and joint Club Captain with my ‘Siamese twin’, Brigitte.
I know you’ve both dedicated a lot of time to helping beginners and of a wide range in age. As an experienced runner, I think it can be easy to take for granted many of the basics, such as the need for a good warm-up, wearing appropriate kit, getting the right nutrition, etc. What do you think the key issues are when taking out someone who has little or no running experience?
Brigitte: Trying to run too fast and too far too soon.
Michele: Building confidence is a key issue for a new runner and I see this as one of my main roles.
As you know, RunBrighton’s Sunday training runs are based on time-on-feet rather than on distance. Often, a concern of the slower runners, particularly when we’re marathon training, is that our longest run of 3hrs-3hrs30 means the furthest they get to run may only be about 15 miles. I know you’ve both tried this approach in your own training. So, what are your thoughts on this based on your own experience?
Brigitte: My first marathon was in 2003 and I took 5 hours 40 minutes to stumble around the streets of London. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing other than in my training I ran as many miles as possible. In 2004 I had the experience of being coached by Keith Anderson, a Commonwealth Games marathon competitor; it was him that introduced me to the time-on-feet theory and that year I ran a marathon PB by 40 minutes. My longest run was 3 hours (16 miles) and I missed my last 3 hr long run because of a slight injury. I have continued to chip away at my finish time with a PB that stands at 4:13:49 (Brighton 2013). I’ve tried all sorts of plans but have always produced the best result on less miles rather than too many.
Michele: I ran my first marathon in London in 2006; my finish time was 5hrs 16mins 2 secs. Over the years, I trained following the mileage training programmes and just slowly chipped away at my marathon finish times. During the marathon-training season 2012/2013, as an Ambassador with RunBrighton, I followed the time-on-feet training programme and achieved a PB of 4hrs 35mins 35secs. It’s amazing what your body can do if you train it the right way!
What prompted your new Tuesday evening group?
Brigitte: I’ve let my coaching slide a bit lately and I see it as a chance for me to get back on board and to support the runners during the week. Sometimes there is so much focus on the long run that the rest of the week is forgotten. Consistency is key and I hope I can be a small link in that chain.
Michele: I enjoy supporting and encouraging new runners to achieve their goals, and giving back to a running community which gave me so much when I was starting out myself.
What would you each say has been your greatest moment or best experience since you took up running?
Brigitte: Gosh, there are so many moments that I treasure, but probably the best experience is the number of friends I have made and the community that has embraced me. A few of my greatest moments have to be finishing the Dartmoor Discovery 32 as a fairly novice distant runner in 2005 and running up the gallops of Brighton race course at the finish of the London-to-Brighton challenge in 2012. Above my own running achievements is the three times I have paced friends to finish a 100-mile race; the feeling as they cross the line knowing you have helped them drag themselves from very dark places to the elation of finishing is something that will stay with me forever.
Michele: Running my first Race for Life in July 2004 – it was the best feeling in the world to be able to run and be part of such an amazing event.
And what about your next goals?
Brigitte: To stay away from the long distances, for the remainder of this year at least, and inject a bit of speed back into my old legs! At the moment Brighton 10k is my A race.
Michele: To try and run the best I can by incorporating the knowledge I have learnt over the years from great friends like Brigitte, the Leaders from Brighton & Hove Women’s Running Club, and Arena 80’s Coach, Bob Page.
Brigitte, Michele, thank you both very much for taking time out to chat. Good luck with the new Tuesday group, and see you for a RunBrighton training run on Sunday!
By Mike Bannister
If interested in joining Brigitte & Michele’s Tuesday evening group, email Brigitte at email@example.com