Junior parkrun director, Pip Rayner, tells us what she loves about running and crucially which races have the best chocolate.

How did you get into running and why?

In January 2016 I woke up one morning and my husband told me he was leaving me. We had been married for 12 years and together for 16 and without sounding like a cliché I felt the bottom drop away from my world. I called my little sister (who is a phenomenal runner and amazing woman) and she simply said to me; “The only way you will beat this is by running”. I was unfit, not healthy in body or mind and she knew this (perhaps she just fancied a laugh..?!!) So she got in her car, drove the 60 miles to my house and took me out for a run. I say run, we trotted between two lamp posts in the village where I live. She drove home, drove up again and stretched out the distance from two lamp posts to four, from four to six and so on. When my new routine established and I knew where I was with my son and a solicitor was engaged to deal with all the horrid stuff;  I went to Leeds to run with her, I even plucked up courage to run on my own (when it was dark – very dark!!). She got me an entry form for the Darlington 10K for that August and well that was that.

What kept you going when you first started running?

Running gave me head space and I enjoyed that time to just run and know that everything would be ok. I can distinctly remember feeling so much better about life when I was running (or trying to run!). That actually this was all ok and I would be fine, of course I would be fine – this happens to loads of people! I also remember thinking that I would make it positive.  I also noticed a stark change in the scales. I look very different now to how I looked then. Plus I had a goal, I felt I had to get around that 10K route to pay back my sister for all her efforts! Then, as we all know we get another goal, and then another and then another…. Why does that happen!??

How much training do you typically do each week?

It depends on whether my son is at home with me or with his dad. So one week will be very different to the next. Club is every Thursday for me without fail and when we are in ‘normal, pre Covid times’ I run every Tuesday night when my son is a Martial Arts. I have a couple of routes I can do in Yarm where he trains and I do that every week. Then it depends. If no Ned on a weekend I like to try and do a Sunday long run (after I’ve packed up Junior parkrun) and a couple of shorter ones. If it’s a Ned weekend (again in normal times) he does a Performing Arts Class on Saturday morning so I can fit a good run in there (or I might walk and have a coffee in Yarm ….!) If Ned is away on holiday I will do what I can when I can. Like it is for all of us – training is very difficult at the moment…. I want to be outside running but it’s limited for sure. I don’t own a treadmill and don’t think I could bear it. I love running outside and as long as I can; I will.  My hope is, as my child gets older, I can do more running. Or drink more good coffee/something stronger. It’s a balance.

Be honest, do you enjoy training?

Most of the time!! I mean that truly. I’m probably not as structured as I could and should be. Busy job, child, life – usual excuses.  But I enjoy training sessions as QRC and enjoy getting out there with a goal in mind. I listen to podcasts when I run and I have a number that I love listening too so I think that helps too. I do honestly believe that you always feel SO much better when you come back from a run or club session. We all have those awful runs though don’t we, where you know you don’t have enough fuel inside you and you are sluggish and rubbish, or when you have gone out at the wrong time of day and it’s too hot!! But; even after those I feel better (but sometimes mad with myself!).

Do you do any other sports or fitness activities?

I have a bike – A hybrid and I love to cycle (warm weather only though…!). In summer I like to cycle to work; I work in town and live outside so it’s a nice cycle ride in and out, a pleasure to cycle on quiet roads being a city girl. I SHOULD do more core work – but I can’t ever seem to find the time (terrible excuse!) I do love a gorgeous walk too – especially if in involves a beach, wind turbines and a good pub. After this whole thing is over I intend to do more of that!  I am HOPING that I will be able to fling my kettle bell around a bit more now I am inside more… and skip. So really I don’t do enough other sports!! Ned (son) and I have been having a lovely walk/bike ride (close to home) most days whilst we have been in lockdown and that has been great.

Do you manage to fit in any other hobbies?

My main ‘hobby’ is Junior parkrun of which I am the event director at South Park. That takes up some time (although it’s not on at the moment of course). I then have a son (he also takes up time and money).  I am also on the Core Team for the 5K parkrun and a Management Committee Member at QRC. SO it looks like my hobbies are running related.  I don’t collect anything or do anything specifically hobby like. I should address that!!

Tell us about some of the races that you’ve done in the past

The Darlington 10k in 2016 was my first one. That will always stick with me – my poor sister stuck with me the whole way poor thing!!  I ran the Barcelona Half in 2018 and loved that – definitely on my list is to travel to new places and run whilst I am there. I do though love the trails. On New Year’s day 2018 I ran the Hardmoors 15 and fell in love with all things off road, yes it was only the 15 but it was tough and muddy and I ran the whole thing with Michelle Dale, we chatted and laughed the whole way round and that will stay with me for a long time. I feel no pressure when running the trails and it really does make me want to run and run. The  Chevin Chase is another favourite that I have run twice; it’s a very challenging but quite brilliant trail run up Otley Chevin that runs every Boxing Day (small or large hangover is the norm). In 2019 I ran the Hardmoors Princess ‘One in the Middle’ which has been the highlight of my running career to date; My tutu stayed on the whole way and my tiara never shifted (worthy of the medal alone). A group of five us ran that together and it was quite brilliant. As group we became firm friends. That is one I just can’t wait to do again. Might even invest in a new tiara…..

What’s your current running goal?

Get a consistent 10mm pace. Nothing to some – massive for me, I will never, ever be a fast runner but I would like to be a consistent one. It’s a major goal for me that I want to achieve so that I can look to do a 10K in under 60 mins (I appreciate this will mean I need to go a tad faster than a 10mm – maths for life).

What are your longer term running goals?

I want to run a marathon before I am 50; 5 and a half years to go……….. Blimey. I don’t want to lose the enjoyment I get from running though and become a slave to the plan if that makes sense so I need to pick my time. I am 2654th place the QRC list so might yet get a ballot place by the time I am 100!!!

What is your favourite race/distance/terrain?

My favourite terrain is definitely off road; for all the reasons I have said. I do really like a 10 mile race and there are a couple of goodies in the race calendar. The Temple Newsham Ten is a cracker (lots of Chocolate in the Goody Bag too which is nice). I like Guy Fawkes10 (again lots of chocolate at the end – there is a theme here) and Thirsk 10 too. I think it’s a quite hard distance and one that I always feel is manageable at the same time. If you haven’t done any of those ones I would recommend them all.

My favourite Race this far has been the Princess and that will take some beating, for many reasons.

What are your proudest running achievements?

Running that 10K at the very beginning and then having to guts to walk through the gates at Abbey Road. Which took a lot!! I was expecting to see a room full of Mo Farah’s and Paula Radcliffe’s… Shows what I know… It opened up so much for me and I will always be eternally grateful. I have made some fantastic friends at QRC and it has made Darlington feel like home. Running was a bit of saviour for me and sometimes I get a bit evangelical about it to be honest!!! The Barcelona Half made me really feel like I had made progress too. The proudest though is Junior parkrun – seeing those kids every week just loving life (ok so one always cries/falls/chases a duck/squirrel but they are smiling at the end) and running like no one is watching makes me feel so proud of what we have achieved. That’s about the strength of the running community in Darlington. The two major running clubs are integral in making Junior parkrun work from both a volunteering point of view and a PR point of view.

Anything in your running experience you regret?

Nope. Life is too short to regret anything. I wish I would have started running earlier than aged 40 – but that’s more a wish than anything else.

How many pairs of trainers/ running shoes do you have and do you have a favourite pair?

One road, two trail. One old road that I use for other exercise/cycling. I’m not a million pair of trainers kinda girl. I’d rather have six pairs of Converse and a pair or two of Jimmy Choos.

What’s your idea of running heaven?

Trails, where I can see the sea. Pretty close to perfect that for me.

What’s your idea of running hell?

Great North Run – too many people. I didn’t really like it at all. Never again for me that one. I remember working so hard for that race and with half a mile all the people in front of me were walking and I felt really let down (very naïve on my part really!!)

What is the best piece of running advice you’ve ever been given?

The hardest distance you will have to overcome with any run is the six inches between your ears. Roy McDougall once said that to me and it has never left me.

Any advice to newcomers to running?

Start with a small goal. You don’t need a plan that covers every run and distance. Have something in mind and go for it. Never be afraid to ask a question or for help. I still think I’m a newcomer to be honest!

 What keeps you going when the going gets tough in a hard race?

Looking at how far I’ve come and knowing that I can run and I can do it. Singing is also very helpful in this scenario; I will sing songs over and over in my head. By the time you’ve got the lyrics sorted the end is in sight. The large Malbec at the end is also a good incentive to dig deep. That whoosh of feeling that you get when you cross line. I still love that – even if I was rubbish during the race that feeling and that little sense of pride takes some beating.

How do you relax/reward yourself after a race?

Bath, Wine. Walking around wearing the medal – surely that’s quite normal?

If you could run anywhere in the world, where would it be?

My favourite place in the word is New Zealand – If I could run anywhere is the world I would run there. South Island, Abel Tasmin National Park. One day I will.