‘In 2014, I ran the Race to the Stones ultramarathon,’ says Sorrell Walsh, one of the founders of the WMN RUN running group. ‘Despite managing to place pretty high in the rankings, I came away feeling a bit disappointed by how few women there were competing.
‘After the race, I did some research and found that only 20 per cent of runners at endurance races are women, sometimes less than that,’ she says. ‘I decided I wanted to change this, so we started the club.’
WMN RUN is a group that aims at getting more women into endurance running. Sorrell and her friend Catherine Simpson started it in April 2015 as the WMN RUN 100 project, to get more women competing in the Race to the Stones.
By July 2015, WMN RUN had signed up 52 women to take part in the 100km event, resulting in a male/female ratio of 69 per cent male, 31 per cent female.
‘We want women to feel empowered by running and able to do whatever they put their minds to,’ says Sorrell.
Amelia Ritchie, who now runs the club with Sorrell, also found it a great way to socialise and make friends when she moved to London from Canada.
‘I started running as away of getting to know the city a little bit, but when I found WMN RUN, I built amazing relationships that go beyond running,’ she says.
Before the lockdown, the club was open to anyone, meeting at various locations in London twice a week –on Fridays for a 4.5-mile run and Saturdays for a 10-miler.
‘Because we do 10-mile runs on Saturdays, we say it would be great if you can already do a five-mile run,’ explains Sorrell. ‘But we try to encourage new runners to contact us and discuss their level of running and help them decide when it would be best to join us for their first run.’
WMN RUN has taken part in many events, including the Manchester Marathon and the Breca Swimrun in the Lake District. ‘We are always on the lookout for an adventure and so we tend to take part in a lot of different events, as well as marathons and half marathons,’ says Amelia.
‘The Breca Swimrun was particularly fun, because it was something many of us had never experienced; it was a really great challenge.’
The club has also taken part in projects to bring more young women into running, such as the Youth Project with the all-female St Martin-in-the-Field school in Tulse Hill, south London.
‘That was one of the proudest moments at the club,’ says Sorrell. ‘Every Friday, for two months, we took over their PE lessons at school with the mission of getting these young women to run their first 5K.
‘Seeing all these young runners enjoying something that they had been scared of was fantastic. At the time, we were in a partnership with Nike, which meant we were able to give running shoes and bras to all the students and encourage them to continue running after the project ended.’
The club has expanded to Bristol, where Sorrell holds five-milers on Wednesdays. The runs were postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic, but the plan is for them to return soon.
Amelia can’t wait. ‘It just makes me proud to see 20 women, at 6.50am, happy, ready to run and feeling this is their place, this is where they want to be at that time in the morning.’
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