Monkstown Spartans, an inclusive athletics club formed by Colin Porter in 2014, has seen its membership grow from a handful of runners to around 80 members.
Detailing how the club has expanded since its formation eight years ago, Ross Hume, a coach and committee member, said: “In 2014 we started with just a couple of social runners. In 2017 we became an Athletics NI affiliated athletics club and had about 20 members.
“We now have close to 80 members with requests for membership coming each month. We have a coaching team of 10, a committee of nine, two Covid officers, two Mental Health Ambassadors and a large team of trained guide runners for visually impaired athletes.
“Our club tailors for all fitness levels and abilities, so training sessions are split into five groups to challenge all levels. At present the club is only for adult members, so our only requirement is a minimum age of 18. There is no maximum age.”
As with the majority of sporting clubs across the province, activities at Spartans were dramatically curtailed during the pandemic, but generous members still conducted efforts to raise money for charities.
Ross explained: “Covid ceased all club activity at the height of the pandemic as per the Government restrictions on gatherings and group exercise.
“While we could run individually up to an hour, we found that with the unknown dangers and general confusion around Covid, that our members weren’t just as keen to venture out as they normally would be.
“In order to keep our members engaged at this strange time, we set challenge events each month for a little friendly competition and to try to keep up motivation and daily contact. This included a planking competition, squat hold competition, virtual team relay events and also 24-hour events. As a club, we also completed a virtual 10k charity run to raise money for the NHS.
“Individually, many of our runners took on their own challenges, but none more significant than our visually impaired runner Peter Lock (with support from his wife Sharon who is also visually impaired).
“As our trained guide runners could not help due to distancing, Peter took on a challenge to raise money for the NHS to buy much needed scrubs, as he completed a marathon around a 25-metre loop in his front garden running for over eight hours.
“As restrictions eased, our coaching staff completely restructured training into small bubble groups to adhere to new guidelines.
“As part of this restructure, we also temporarily relocated training to Mallusk Playing Fields as this gave incredible space to allow our runners to socially distance properly within our bubbles and get back to a semi-normal routine. This was effective until we could return to normal training.”
Although the club has only been in existence for under a decade, members have already competed in some prestigious events across the globe.
Commenting on their endeavours, Ross stated: “We have regular participants in 5k Parkruns each week. Our members also have completed many other 5k events; 10k events; many half marathons such as Antrim Coast and Belfast; full marathons such as Belfast, Dublin, London, Chicago, Valencia and Oslo; ultra events such as last team standing, Belfast to Dublin, Energia 24 and Belfast 24-hour.
“It’s very difficult to compete with elite athletes in running in larger races, but we do have a few race wins in more local runs in the East Antrim Marathon series 10k events, half marathon events and also marathon events.
“Also, in 2021 we claimed the men’s relay and mixed relay championships in the Belfast 24-hour event, which was a fantastic achievement for our club.”
Supporting the community is at the heart of what the coaches and members at Spartans want to do. This is evident through all of the fundraising efforts they have been involved in.
Ross added: “In June 2020 the club completed a 24-hour Summer Solstice team relay for the charity SiMBA. SiMBA is a charity who honour babies who have died, been stillborn or miscarried and by completing our challenge we raised approximately £1,500.
“In May 2020 Peter Lock ran the marathon in his front garden for Scrubs for NI to support NHS and key workers. He raised £1,900.
“In April 2021, 12 of our runners completed four miles every four hours for 48 hours for the mental health charity AWARE. By completing this monumental challenge, our runners raised over £3,800.
“We have also supported Cancer Focus, Remembrance charities and the NHS by taking part in events and organised races.”
As restrictions ease and life returns to some sort of ‘normality’ the coaches are aiming to support members achieve their fitness goals in 2022.
Explaining their aspirations for the year ahead, Ross said: “We want to continue to help our runners reach their goals, whether that be faster 5ks, reaching a distance they thought was unachievable such as completing a marathon, or even just to get a bit more active.
“We train on a Tuesday night at V36 and Thursday at Nortel Social Club at 7pm. New members are welcome while we have coaching capacity, so any enquiries are welcomed to our Facebook page.
“We are a small club like a family, we are inclusive and we promote a healthy body and mind. We get so much more out of running than just fitness.
“It’s about getting that mental release too. We have met and become lifelong friends. We always have someone to run with and talk to. It’s the best thing in the world. The race medals are pretty cool too!”
For more information, check out the Monkstown Spartans Facebook and Twitter accounts.