Returning to Serpentine after almost a Decade

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Lynne during the Handicap 2003. Photo credit: David Knight

Lynne Maughan moved thousands of miles away, but she never lost her love for Serpentine. Now she’s back and rediscovering her favourite club.

I ran the London marathon in 2001 and vowed never run such a distance again. Soon after that, I joined Serpentine. Very quickly, as is likely the case for many readers, the Club formed a significant part of my life. Wednesday night became the favourite night of the week. Social running with others around the Parks was followed by Thai food at the Windsor Castle pub or drinks at the Larrik. Coincidentally, I developed an interest in running faster, becoming fitter in the process. I set goals to improve my performance in various distances, including the “never again” marathon. I enjoyed being involved in all that the club had to offer.

Fast forward to 2008 when Simon (my Serpie-acquired husband) and I moved to Australia with our daughter, Evie. We had two more children in 2008 and 2011. Between the competing demands of study, work and spending time with extended family, we pursued some running adventures, but with a more relaxed approach to training. We continued to wear our Serpentine vests with pride. At local and interstate races, the yellow and red vests helped to initiate conversations with expat Serpentine members and touring Brits who recognised the club colours. We enjoyed visiting other friends from early Serpentine days who now reside in Australia.

I briefly joined the Collingwood Masters Athletics club in Melbourne. When we moved to rural Woodend, just outside Melbourne, two years later, Simon and I occasionally ran with other people in the community. Mostly we ran solo on hilly trails and quiet country roads. During the enjoyable nine years of living in Australia, however, there was one thought that always stayed in the back of my mind…. There really is no other running club in the world quite like Serpentine.

Handicap March 2004. Photo credit David Knight

During a road-trip car conversation, on the Hume Highway (Simon had embarked on 7 marathons in 7 days in July 2016, finishing with The Gold Coast Marathon) we acknowledged our desire to raise our children in both Australia and the UK. Evie was approaching high school age. This prompted our decision to return to the UK in 2017. Whilst we had not necessarily envisaged living in London again, circumstances surrounding work and my visa led to the decision to return to Ealing. It also provided the perfect opportunity to resume our Serpentine memberships.  Our return to the club was, however, perceived as surprising by some. Long-time Serpie member and friend Frank Markey commented “I’ve said goodbye to a lot of Serpie friends over the years; I don’t think I have ever had any who have actually come back”.

Almost a decade later, it felt exciting to rediscover the many club events that we had enjoyed participating in. In an ever changing and fast paced world, it’s nice to know that some things never change. The traditional monthly Handicap, operated by the team of friendly and efficient volunteers, has ensured that the event remains well organised, enjoyable and central to the club’s existence. There continue to be plenty of new and old faces. Once just £1 to enter, it’s now free! Any member who helps on Handicap day receives a coffee, a generous gesture of gratitude for their contribution to the smooth running of the event. Members still provide Prosecco or cake when a milestone race is achieved. Babies and toddlers appear frequently, along with some impressive looking running-prams, suggesting that the Serpentine Dating Agency is still in full swing. It is reassuring too that the club continues to be a source of friendship and more for its members.

In an attempt to encourage myself to run at a faster pace (than the usual solo plod) and enjoy some social time with Serpie friends new and old, I recently attended some Wednesday night runs. These evenings are even more smoothly organised than I remember. Show your membership card on the gate before proceeding to the club room. If you don’t feel like running, there’s an optional spin class on offer. Or, if you don’t feel like training, you can sit and socialise over a glass of wine whilst attending to bag-minding duty (It’s probably just as well this was not on offer all those years ago as I might never, ever have run). Post-run wine and cheese evenings are a firm monthly fixture on the Wednesday night calendar. The club’s commitment to member wellbeing has been further developed and this is evidenced by the availability of a team of Run &Talk mental health ambassadors.

Enjoying the Bramley 20 miler 2004

Years ago, Grethe Petersen and I often ran together at club runs. With similar running paces, we had several friendly but competitive races, and always close start times for the Handicap. In 2004, I finished three seconds behind Grethe in the Bramley 20 miler. Afterwards, I recall feeling absolutely exhausted. We had both pushed ourselves to the limits, both achieving personal bests. Fifteen years later, Grethe and I have reminded ourselves about this particular race. Grethe questions if it really was worth pushing ourselves that hard. I find myself wondering how I ever managed to run that fast in the first place. Nowadays, when she and I have exactly the same handicap start time, we use the opportunity to talk, and enjoy the simple pleasure of taking part.

Bruce Fordyce (one of South Africa’s greatest ultramarathon athletes) once said “While running the Comrades you will meet someone that you will admire, you will be forever changed and you will have the ability to do anything that you set your mind to”. This is very true. Whilst I would encourage anyone to run the Comrades at least once (and this will probably become at least twice or ten times) you don’t necessarily need to go to South Africa to meet a hero. Serpentine has plenty of its own be they inspirational older runners worthy of admiration due to their knowledge, experience, and athletic achievement or members who have performed on the world stage of sport and running. I hesitate to list them, because this article would become far too long. I would also miss out the people that I am yet to meet.

Lynne and her family back in London

Not everyone in the world is interested in physical activity. A non-running friend or colleague might ask you what you did on the weekend. If you answer honestly, there is the possibility that you might be perceived as not telling the truth, boasting or that you might be told that you are bonkers (all or some of which might be true). Thank goodness Serpentine provides a safe haven for runners to talk about their adventures and plan future challenges, in the absence of social judgment.

Serpentine consolidated my passion for distance running in my younger adult years. It added to my sense of purpose by giving me a sense of belonging, at a time that I was unable to find it in any other part of my life. Involvement in the club taught me the importance of appreciating the work of volunteers and how both satisfying and rewarding helping others in one’s community can be. I am grateful for the friendships, adventures, running achievements and memories. Long may every Serpentine member continue to immerse themselves in the club with enthusiasm, in pursuit of embracing life.  I intend to continue to doing this, while I can. There really is no other running club like Serpentine. It’s good to be back.

Lynne Maughan is currently taking a break from working as a registered nurse/midwife/health visitor. When she’s not running, she can be found studying sports massage and swim teaching.