Paige Pollard had only recently moved to Wollongong when COVID lockdowns hit, so she hadn’t had time to tackle the conundrum many newcomers to any town face: how do you make friends as an adult?
She turned inwards, challenging herself to take on running, a pastime she kind of hated at the time.
“I’d never been a runner, and I’d certainly never enjoyed it, so it was always a personal challenge. But I’ve discovered that the sense of reward after you finish a run is empowering and motivating,” she said.
“But it can be quite a lonely sport at times.”
Though she developed a rewarding new past time, Paige found herself in much the same place mentally and emotionally when lockdown restrictions lifted.
“Like a lot of people, lockdown took a toll on my mental health. And being new to Wollongong, I knew nobody and had this sometimes overwhelming sense of loneliness,” she said.
“When we came out of lockdown and that feeling didn’t go away, I decided to try and do something to lift myself out.”
She decided to combine her new-found appreciation for running with a social element that was free and outdoors – an all-female running group. She asked some born and bred locals to help get the word out and Good Energy Run Club was born.
“I figured if no one showed up, nobody is going to know,” Paige said. “What do I have to lose?”
“I thought surely there had to be other women out there who wanted to go for a run, connect with other women, watch the sunrise and go for a coffee.”
She wasn’t wrong. Eight runners turned up for the first session in March, and by the end of April, numbers were in the 70s.
Today, the club has about 150 active runners who tend to turn up on rotation, and consistently averages between 40 and 60 at each session.
Sessions run from 6 am on Mondays when the group tends to take on a flatter course; 6 am on Fridays when they take on their signature run along Wollongong Harbour towards WIN Stadium and back towards North Wollongong Beach; and Saturdays from 7 am, when they tend to mix it up and go for longer runs.
“We have a lot of girls who do events, so Saturdays are a good way to support girls committed to longer distances who don’t feel they have anyone to run with,” Paige said.
“That said, women join at all fitness levels … some women are hesitant at first about the idea of being slower than everyone else. We encourage them to still come and have fun – nobody is worrying about anyone’s pace but their own.
“This is not a competition, it’s not a race. It’s as much about connection and community as it is about running. The running is the vehicle.”
After sharing her struggles with mental health and feelings of isolation, Paige discovered the club had had a positive impact on countless members. One of them is Diana Carolina Pérez, who moved to Wollongong from Colombia.
“Joining this club has been a game-changer for me. The physical benefits of running are undeniable, but the emotional and social rewards I’ve gained from being a part of this community are immeasurable,” Diana said.
“I am forever grateful to Paige and the Good Energy Run Club for providing an opportunity for women to thrive, grow, and connect. Paige has truly created a safe and inclusive environment, where we can be ourselves and build each other up.”
The club has attracted women born and bred in the area and women who have recently arrived from as far-flung as Finland and the United States – a point of great satisfaction for Paige.
“It’s beautiful that all these people new to Wollongong are finding this group, often in their first weeks of having arrived,” Paige said.
“I wish I’d had something like that when I first moved here, but I’m so happy to be able to give all these women such an easy way to meet people and form friendships,” she added. “That’s definitely the best bit.”
Aside from regular group runs, Good Energy Run Club also hosts educational workshops on injury prevention and mental wellbeing, and recently took out the National and NSW State Award for Outstanding Community Impact and Social Value by Australia’s peak exercise industry body, AUSactive.
The award recognised the club’s efforts in fostering a healthier and more connected community through its various initiatives promoting physical fitness, mental wellbeing and community involvement.
“We are incredibly honoured and humbled to receive this national award, which validates the hard work and dedication I have poured into this club,” Paige said.
“This award motivates me to continue our mission of promoting movement, wellbeing and community engagement, and I am excited about the opportunities it brings to extend our reach and make an even greater impact.”
For more information, visit the Good Energy Run Club website.