The Warrandyte riverside is often a hive of activity, frequented by strollers, dog walkers, cyclists, duck feeders, romantic lovers and families.
The odd runner is not an unusual sight either, but if you go down to the riverside on a Saturday morning, and you go down there early enough you are likely to see a small contingent of runners, running up and down the riverside path between Stiggants Reserve and the bridge.
These are the Warrandyte River Runners, a local running group.
Started in January 2010 by a local couple, Rob and Jodi Clark, who have now moved on, the River Runners are now in their sixth year.
“The first run had nine starters and we average about the nine to 10 mark most weeks,” says Paul, a regular Warrandyte River Runner and chief organiser of the group.
“Over the six years, we have had nearly 170 that have had at least one run with us,” he said.
They meet almost every weekend and run a course that is split into four distances: 2km, 3km, 4km and 5km. The 2km is just for fun, but the longer distances are part of the group’s seasonal competition.
“The three, four and five kilometres are all handicapped so that runners should end up about the same time. This gives some fun endings to the run, when several runners come in at roughly the same time,” Paul explains.
The goal of the run, whatever your distance, is to run the course as close to 30 minutes as possible.
Each runner is therefore given a handicap calculated on the difference between 30 minutes and your PB for your nominated difference: for example, I have run with the River Runners a couple of times and can run a 5K in about 24 minutes, so my handicap is six minutes, which means I start six minutes after the official start of the weekly run.
“I think the handicap system is great,” exclaims Jozica Kutin, a regular runner with the group.
“I found it really complicated to begin with, but once I understood it, it was great, because you can then compete against other people who are really good runners and it’s basically all up to the finish line.”
The year is broken up into seasons, at the end of each season the runner with the most points receives a prize.
Although the bite size running seasons and promise of spoils for the winner add a level of competitiveness to the runs, it seems that was never Rob Clark’s goal.
“He was someone we aspired to; I aspire to run like him (Rob),” says Nada, a fellow Warandytian and River Runner of about three years.
But when asked what she got out of running with the group she said: “Friendship, commerardary, motivation, support.”
Then after a gentle prod by another runner.
“Trophies, chocolates and wine!” she says with a smile and a laugh, “I have been fortunate to have trophies, chocolates and wine.”
Even in social active groups, especially in an activity like running, the competitive nature is hard to avoid, as I experienced on a recent run: I spent my entire 5K chasing down the run’s winner Jozica, who pipped me at the post by about 30 seconds in the end.
She was able to celebrate her 100th run with a PB and a race win.
If you are a keen distance runner and the idea of merely running 5km is not very appealing, Paul says: “Many people will join us as part of preparing for longer distances like 10km, half-marathons and marathons.”
This bears all the hallmarks of a regular running club, but the River Runners do not see themselves that way.
“I think the thought of joining a running group is daunting. It puts people off,” says Jozica. “But it’s not like that with this group, four of us did the Geelong half-marathon, it was great to go and do extra training runs during the week, we all went together … it’s much more relaxed.”
The Warrandyte River Runners were instrumental in the organisation of the inaugural Run Warrandyte back in 2012.
“Many have even been involved as competitors and/or officials in the annual Run Warrandyte event,” says Paul.
One of the younger Warrandyte River Runners, Alicia Callahan, was first female in the 12-17 category at this year’s Run Warrandyte.
Alicia was last season’s Warrandyte River Runner runner-up in the kids category. The winner of that season, Tessa, is near the the top of the current season’s standing.
I asked teenager Tessa what she gets out of running with the River Runners.
“It’s really relaxing to do it. Like, if you’ve had a stressful time at school or something, it’s just like you just run and when you’ve finished, you feel really great and you can do whatever you want because you are not stressed anymore and you feel really relaxed,” she told the Diary.
Peter from Warranwood adds: “I find I actually run more now to keep my number of runs up – for the participation, the competition. I ran professionally, so the competition is good, because it fills that void to some extent… but the exception is this lady (Tessa) bloody always tries to beat me.”
A bit of rivalry is healthy and it binds the group together.
“The handicap system that we use to make it competitive gives everyone, sort of, equal opportunity to be involved and to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve,” says Peter, “it’s a great spirit and, for me, one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in.”
The group meets most weekends. All the group ask is that you give it a go and provide a gold coin donation for the pleasure.
“Come along and try it,” says Nada. “If you connect with us, we’d love to see you again. If you don’t. Well, you’ve given it a go”.