It may be a wee (Lang!) toon but odds are if you’re passing through Auchterarder you’re sure to notice at least one person running. In fact, it’ll probably be a bunch you’ll see in glorious hi-vis, matching shirts and an impressive collection of headgear.
Welcome to the home of Five Star Active (Visit them on Facebook here), a running group set up by local mum Fiona Watt when she and husband Steven moved to the area five years ago. They loved the rural location of their new home but as runners, were struck with how few people were out enjoying the multiple trails, pathways and routes Auchterarder and its surrounds has to offer.
“Whenever we were out on a run together, we never met a soul! We were so impressed with the beauty of the area and the lovely routes to run but it didn’t seem like anyone was running,” says Fiona.
Keen to meet some new people locally Fiona decided to set up a running group to find some fellow runners.
What started as a clutch of beginners four years ago has risen to a group of around 150 with Fiona and now Steven offering 11 classes a week for every kind of runner – newbies, improvers, long distance chasers and for those who prefer trail-running to pounding Tarmac. Some from that first beginners group have gone on to conquer races of all types of distance, stricken with a running bug that’s with them for life.
Some from that first beginners group have gone on to conquer races of all types of distance, stricken with a running bug that’s with them for life.
After four years of running classes, Fiona, an NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde project manager, has learnt a thing or two about what brings people out in all weathers and seasons and getting fit is just the start of it.
“I found that a lot of the people coming to classes hadn’t run since school and didn’t have the confidence to go to exercise classes,” says Fiona. “Getting fit is part of it but I think people mostly come for the social aspect. I’ve been told from some of the participants that they’d lived in Auchterarder for years but didn’t know half the people here. Being part of the running group has made them feel part of a community.”
The benefits exercise brings to our mental health are well known, helping with stress, anxiety and depression and Fiona has seen first-hand the transformation running brings.
“It’s not just about the running and fitness which comes from that, it’s seeing how people’s confidence builds. Telling someone they’re capable of doing something helps trickle down into the rest of their lives too. The beginners group is really special to me because over the course of an eight week block, the transformation in confidence is incredible,” she says.
Thanks to Five Star Active, this Perthshire community has been put firmly on the map with the establishment of the area’s first running festival - the Auchterarder Running Festival - or ARF as it’s more affectionately known.
Garnering praise from all corners after it was set up by Fiona two years ago, the festival, which is run in association with Gleneagles Hotel, attracted around 1500 runners last year, bringing with it a boost to the local community.
Inspired by her class participants who were asking about any running events happening locally, Fiona decided to set one up. But putting on something of that scale was a first for Fiona who, up until that point, had only organised small community happenings. Drawing from her own experience of attending plenty of running events, she set about creating a festival which focused on each and every runner.
To say there was an appetite for an event like this in Perthshire is understating it. Places for the half marathon sold out within two days and when they added a 10k, it sold out in a day.
“We put a lot of time and effort into the details so it’s amazing seeing how runners have responded to ARF,” says Fiona. “In amongst creating great routes, we thought a lot about value for money. We wanted participants to take home bespoke medals and practical, running t-shirts they’d be proud to wear.
“Mostly though, it’s really important to me that ARF doesn’t lose its uniqueness by becoming a massive participation event. We want to be able to place a medal on each and every runner as they cross the finish line and make it so that everyone feels good,” she added.
Looking forward to 2020’s event (details of which are still under wraps!) and beyond, Fiona has ambitions for longer distance events to continue giving runners a chance to make full use of the bountiful routes available in this part of Perthshire. She has also set up ‘Amaze’ a nutritional component to Five Star, where members can benefit from a six week course with a nutritionist. The benefits exercise brings to our mental health are well known, helping with stress, anxiety and depression
Currently training other Five Star Active members to become coaches themselves, Fiona has an eye on opening Five Star up to more people - particularly kids and young people – while continuing to offer lots of choice for adult runners from total beginners to improvers.
Clocking up hundreds of monthly miles between teaching classes and pursuing her own running goals, Fiona is a successful ultra-marathon runner in her own right and continues challenging herself with long distance events across the country.
“It’s good to have goals – it’s what I tell everyone in my classes so it’s important I set a good example. If I can be focused, driven and inspired to set goals, I’d hope to inspire others to do the same. Sometimes I need to get up at 5.30am to get my own miles in but hopefully this shows others that it can be done,” says Fiona.
So keep your eyes peeled if you’re driving through Auchterader. Turns out running is very catchy!
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