5K running initiative celebrates first anniversary and global reach

Fly5K founder Graham Smith at Jersey Farm Woodland Park, with race hosts Kate Dixon.

Fly 5K founder Graham Smith at Jersey Farm Woodland Park, with one of their race hosts Kate Dixon, celebrating its first anniversary. - Credit: Kate Tettmar

A St Albans running initiative launched in lockdown which became an international success story is celebrating its first anniversary.

Fly 5K was set up to provide local runners aged 10 to 80 with the chance to take part in a 5K every Saturday morning, no matter where they were, as long as they adhered to social distancing rules.

They would then share their results with hundreds of others people in a positive and supportive community focused around their Facebook group.

In the year since the group was founded in June 2020 they have had more than 11,000 5K times submitted, with a record attendance of 430 on one occasion.

The group was founded by St Albans Strider Graham Smith after he struggled with keeping fit during the first lockdown.

"I wanted some way of getting back to fitness as I'd started to get really quite out of shape, and was missing running events and parkrun, so I decided I'd run the same route every Saturday and use that as a way of measuring my improvement.

"I thought wouldn't it be great to have some friends do this too, wherever they wanted to run, so we could all effectively race together, even though we weren't together.

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"The difference with normal events was that we were each running wherever we were rather than all in one place, and then sharing online, with our times being pooled into a proper set of results and published on our website each week. It meant we could run with people we couldn't otherwise meet, and that even included friends and family hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

"Pretty much from the start though it was about much more than just the running. It gave a lot of people, myself included, something regular and fun to take part in and some much needed social interaction both with people we knew and people we got to know through Fly 5k.

"We have shared lots of laughs. I think in the midst of a pandemic it has provided something pretty special, and continues to do so."

The group has now expanded beyond the heartland of Herts, Beds and Bucks to elsewhere across the country, and even as far away as Australia, with more than 2,000 members on board.

They include Emma Stepto, a national standard masters athlete from Cornwall AC and previous veteran female winner of the London Marathon: "Very very happy anniversary to Fly 5k and everyone who has been involved and made it so totally enjoyable to get up early every Saturday and be a part of something priceless."

Runner Laura Lane said: "Fly really is something special. Possibly the best thing to come out of 2020. It gave us all structure, motivation and a lot of fun when we all needed it the most."

Phyllida Jones revealedK "Fly 5k has become an unbreakable habit which has done me, and many, many others a huge amount of good."

Katie Bunting, another St Albans Strider, said: "It’s been great to see how everyone has done each Saturday - I love the support and enthusiasm for everyone’s achievements. Fly 5k is such a positive Saturday morning event."

Nick Jarvis said: "Fly 5k has really helped me through the depths of a hard winter and lockdown. It's made a big difference to me."

St Albans AC coach and Fly 5K host Steve Bowran added: "I’m one of seven Fly 5K 'ever-presents', having taken part every Saturday for the last 55 consecutive weeks! I have also done a different Fly 5K route for every Fly 5K so far - I’ve got so much out of doing it and being a part of this fabulous supportive community."

 Isabelle Head, nine, who runs with her mum each week, has now taken part 31 times, with her best time 22 minutes and 53 seconds: "I love running and I look forward to Fly 5K every week. It’s fun and I enjoy exploring new routes."

For more information see www.runfly5k.com and www.facebook.com/groups/fly5k