Club Founder and how she "done" it.......
Rita Vanes was born in Lower Gornal near Dudley
in 1948, went to St Chads Primary
School in Sedgley, Bishop Milner School in Dudley, Dudley Technical College and
then Dudley Teachers Training College before becoming a Primary School Teacher
and marrying her now husband Phil in 1972.
Up until her mid thirties, Rita had done no physical
exercise whatsoever and like a lot of women at that age, she was a bit over
She had a very stressful full time teaching job to hold down, a house to
look after, meals to cook, washing to do, children to ferry around and cats to
She felt that she needed some time for herself, some
way of losing weight, some time to think through her problems, to de-stress, to
meet new friends and wouldn’t cost too much money.
It was at this point, much to her athletic coach
husband Phil’s disbelief and
scorn, that Rita started running, even though she had never done any sport or
physical activity in her life other than carry his sports bag.
She didn’t do too much to begin with, just walking and jogging until
eventually the walking got less and less and the running became more and more
until she was fit enough to enter a local fun run, which to her surprise, she
thoroughly enjoyed and didn’t come last.
After that she was well and truly hooked and with the
help of Phil, who by this time had accepted that she was
serious, she went on to become one of the best female roadrunners for her age
group in the Midlands, winning races and prizes whenever she ran.
Her life was changed forever, her bottom and thighs
were firmer, she was slimmer, she looked better, she felt better, she became
more confident and was able to relax more, she slept better and made loads of
friends from all walks of life around the midlands.
After several years of running
as the only female with Phil
and the men of Dudley Kingswinford Running Club, Rita decided that she’d got
to do something to encourage other women in to the sport. At that time, there
were only about 2 or 3 other women runners at the club.
She realised that there must be other women in the
same position that she used to be in when she first wanted to start running, but
they hadn’t got the confidence or knowledge to take the first step, let alone
run with an established group of experienced male runners.
So Rita devised her now infamous 10 week beginners
running courses, based upon her own experiences and designed it to take women who
were absolute beginners from nothing, up to and over, 3 miles.
She spread the word about what she was going to do
amongst all her friends and work colleagues, put up posters in local libraries
etc and waited to see what response she’d
get and on the first night about 15 people turned up.
From talking to the new recruits and other women
runners in general, she very quickly realised that unless someone takes the time
to tell beginners all the things that experienced runners take for granted and
physically show them what to do, they’d never know.
So... Rita taught the women how to warm-up, how to stretch, how
to warm-down, what kind of shoes to wear, what kind of bra and clothes to buy,
what food to eat and when to eat it, how to avoid injury and what to do if you
get one etc.
Throughout the course she arranged for a physio to
give a talk on sports injuries, a podiatrist to talk on foot-care, a team of
sports masseurs to have an evening of rubbing legs and a local sports shop to
sell sportswear at discount prices.
At the end of the course all the women put on a posh
frock and went out to a presentation evening where they were presented with a
medal, a certificate and a commemorative Tee-shirt proving that they ran a
minimum of 3 miles without stopping, coughing or wheezing.
The news and popularity of the course soon spread and
after 5 or 6 years of continual snowballing, Rita was regularly getting over 300
people turn up to her courses.
Hardly anyone dropped out of the courses and most of
them went on to become full members of the running club, making Dudley
Kingswinford’s ladies section one of the largest in the country with over 450
All this success however had a price and what started
a de-stressing bit of fun, eventually became a hassle of committee
meetings and political manoeuvrings within the rugby club where she was based,
so she decided to form her own ladies-only running club and relocate to
Wombourne in South Staffs in July 2002. She called the club Dudley Ladies
Since that day, Rita has never been happier, the club
has continued to grow from strength to strength, the Beginners Courses are as
popular as ever and she is making a whole new set of friends and meeting a real
need in the community.
Rita say’s, “ Until you are fit it’s hard work,
there’s a lot of sweating, swearing and gritting of teeth but, because Dudley
Ladies is an all women’s group, when you’re in the pack there’s also a lot
of laughing, joking, support and a real sense of achievement. It has changed a
lot of women’s lives forever.”
“It has changed a lot of women’s
lives forever and when we did the “Calendar Girls” photo shoot that
brought everybody even closer together. To begin with everybody was very
enthusiastic but as the actual time of the photo shoot got closer some of the
girls got cold feet – the rest of us that saw it through got other things even
colder! – but it was great fun and it really bonded us all a lot closer together
as a group and nobody will ever forget it”
She goes on to say that, “ Running isn’t like aerobics
or gym work, because running allows you to spend time outdoors in the fresh air
and socialise, as well as allowing you to actually see and measure the progress you’re making. You are mixing
and talking to people all the time, either to the person you’re running with, the person you’ve
just run past or the person running past you and when people start seeing improvement then that spurs them on even further. In
fact many of my beginners have gone on to do the London Marathon.”
“ Running isn’t a magic off the shelf solution to
everybody’s problems but if you are prepared to follow the guide and put in
just a little bit of work, then the rewards are enormous and Phil will tell you,
that if I can do it then anybody can”.