My first blog was a half marathon race report. My second was a feature about a Daily Run which I started at my school. My third is a chance to say goodbye, as my family and I prepare to leave the North West and relocate to Lincolnshire this summer. Apologies in advance if this gets sentimental….

I’m not the most sociable of people. It’s a funny thing, given my job (I’m a headteacher), but it’s become more apparent as I’ve got older. Still, back in 2012, a couple of years after taking up running, I decided to look into joining a running club. Living in Blackburn, I’d often noticed Blackburn Road Runners passing my house, and I figured a club might help to take my running up a gear. Based at nearby Witton Park, it would have been logical to join the aforementioned club, but I figured I already ran enough in this town, so instead went to Google to check out other options.

As far as I could tell, there were quite a few options with ‘Harriers’ in the name, though these seemed a little more serious than I had in mind. Red Rose Road Runners, on the other hand, seemed to be reaching out to anyone. An inclusive running club. I liked the sound of that. Admittedly, the word ‘sociable’ put me off slightly, but I like the colour red and I knew where Bamber Bridge was. Decision made!

I still remember my very first Thursday night run from the Poachers. It was early September, the start of a new school year. I’d arrived in plenty of time but sat in my car until the very last minute. The running bit would be fine; I just had no idea what I would say to people the first time I met them. In a moment of fight or flight, I almost decided not to go through with it. I had no idea how I would explain that to my wife though, so five minutes later I sheepishly headed into the car park: one of my best decisions in recent years.

What I realised pretty quickly was that some of my worry about socialising was misplaced. Actually, the main prerequisite here was to be able to run – any style, any pace – and to my surprise I was comfortably in the middle of the group as we headed over a motorway bridge and into a valley they call Cuerden. Soon over the bridge though, a couple of gazelle-like creatures seemed to be springing back in the opposite direction. I wasn’t sure of this phenomenon, but it was called looping back. And we’ll call the gazelles Barry and Ben.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I’ve bitten the bullet and joined the Thursday training runs each week. But more than that, it’s Preston Guild year. I ran in the Avenham Park 5k on May Day, but now I’ve got the set to complete, and that I want to do in a Red Rose vest. It took me a couple of weeks to pluck up the courage to turn up at the Poachers for my first taste of Red Rose and a couple of weeks to realise I found a place and a group I could belong to.

I’m not one to boast, but when the results of Run Preston and The Preston Guild Half Marathon were reported on the club’s website, I even phoned my mum and dad! It said something like ” New member Steve Bladon shows promise…” and for a few days I felt more like Steve Cram. Sadly, my running ‘promise’ never came to much, but it’s the thought that counts.

So what of the intervening years? In all honesty, there have been lots of ups and downs, and not just in Cuerden Valley. Thursday night training runs have brought me friendship and stamina, as well as helping me to escape and find solace from a stressful job. Inter-club events and championship races have tested me and pushed my pace, occasionally leading to new pbs. I’m nothing special, but on a couple of occasions I even picked up prizes for being first v40. Getting older isn’t so bad after all.

Unfortunately, luck hasn’t always been on my side and, in the last few years, I’ve been blighted by illness and injury. Some of you might recall a particularly fateful Thursday night back in November 2013. It was dark, it was cold and I’d been running with the main group. But, in the the depths of Cuerden Valley, one of those gazelles shot off down hill and I figured I’d givechase.

I remember the exhilaration and silence of running down a steep pavement in the middle of God’s Country. Sadly, the next thing I remembered was hitting my head on a rock. I’d stopped too suddenly at a stile, lost my footing and gone over on my ankle. Game over. Sometimes you know you’ve caused yourself a serious injury and this was one of those times. Ben tried to help me up (he thought I was messing about at first), I went to stand but immediately knew all was not well. In fact, I half expected to see my severed foot beside me. Not that I’m melodramatic.

The rest of that evening is something of a blur. I remember initially thinking this would be embarrassing if the air ambulance had to rescue me. I also remember thinking that my then heavily pregnant wife wouldn’t be too pleased if I’d caused myself a serious injury. Fortunately, I didn’t need to worry about the air ambulance, as I had Paula, Roger and some other kind souls. They helped me to hobble across the meadows (it was agony) and someone (Paula?) then ran to get their car. What absolute saints.

I’m not quite sure how I managed to drive back from Bamber Bridge to Blackburn that night, but by the time I got home I could barely walk to the front door. That little mishap cost me the whole winter. I couldn’t drive or walk, and it was six months before I ran again. Such is life.

Many reading this will have experienced the frustration of an injury, and not being able to run. It can be really tough. My consultant told me that I might not be able to run again, and that I might only regain 90% flexibility in my injured ankle. I was initially gutted. But nothing drives me more than being told I can’t do something. In the intervening four years, I have never quite got my stamina back and I have been prone to related injuries. I’ve also managed a new 5k pb and picked up a few prizes.

As I write this, we’re just a few days away from the Red Rose Summer Olympics. This has been a highlight of the year for me and my son, Joel, in each of the last three years. From serious 1500m showdowns with Ian Wharton

to comedic wheelbarrow races and family relays, the day has it all. Joel now studies relay running as though he’s already training at Loughborough. This will be our last hurrah; I hope I don’t let him down….

And so it’s on to a new chapter for me and my family. My attendance at Red Rose has been sporadic and I’ve not contributed all that much. But I’m so glad my Google search led me here. The friendships, the inclusivity, the humour, the support and oh, the running’s been good too. More than anything, Red Rose Road Runners has a spirit unlike any other community I’ve ever belonged to. It’s a special thing indeed. Once I’ve moved house, I have a new running club to find and flatter lands to train on. I’ll be taking the Red Rose Road Runners’ spirit with me.