Brief History of the Flyers (2001 – present day)
The journey begins early in 2001. Following a serious illness and two major operations, my Dad persuaded me to join Fitness First gym with the idea of regaining my fitness.
I had been running since the mid 1980s and it was a real shock when diagnosed late in 1999 because I had been running regularly and racing regularly up until that point. I had considered myself a fit and healthy individual.
Having taken basically a year out from running, I set about becoming fit again. I visited the gym at weekends and slowly regained my aerobic fitness on a variety of machines but gradually increased my time on the treadmill early Sunday mornings. It was here that I met Maria and John. As we ran our way to nowhere, we got to talking and became friends. I have to add here that I discovered I hated running on a treadmill!
As the length of the runs increased, my dislike of treadmill running increased – it is so boring, even with the TV screens in front of you. It was during one of these longer runs that I said “Have you tried running outside?” John had but Maria had not. I suggested trying it the next Sunday. John stated he preferred the treadmill but Maria was willing to give it a go. The following Sunday became the first Flyers run!
We slowly increased the mileage and entered a few local races. The 8am Sunday start point was always the Fitness First gym in Victoria Avenue, which was the time it opened. The manager approached us a few months later about starting a running group and after a few weeks planning, it officially started with a Wednesday night run.
A noticeboard was set up in the reception area advertising the Wednesday and Sunday runs. A couple of Maria’s friends, Steve and Paul, joined us and very gradually our little group acquired new runners (both gym and non-gym members) – some for a short time, others in for the long haul. The happy band was never big but always friendly.
There was a core group of regulars and we started talking about a name for the group and even a logo. After much deliberation, the FF Flyers (Fitness First Flyers) emerged, together with a logo designed by Steve.
Races were now entered under the Flyers name. This led to the idea of kit. Eventually, in approximately 2005/6, I found a supplier (WASP) who would print up vests with the name and logo. The famous Flyers orange was chosen as no other local clubs used it.
Early members who still run with us include Lisa, Paul G, Paul M, Paul D, Helen, Bosco, Fran, Diane, Sharon and Gail. Pete and Maria have had to give up running due to injury. Steve, Steve and Bev have moved away.
Upon request, the Friday night run was introduced, which developed into the quality session (until parkrun, when it was moved to Wednesday). Our group continued to grow through word of mouth rather than through members from the gym, with members’ friends joining us on our runs. Fitness First tends to have a high turnover of managers. All were very supportive, seeing us as a way of advertising the gym. Unfortunately, a manager was appointed who took exception to us meeting and finishing in reception, so she banned us! We took to meeting outside, in true Flyers fashion.
Great social evenings took place, organised by “social secretary” Lisa (who knows the best deals in Indian and Chinese cuisine throughout the Southend area).
The Flyers orange was seen at many races, both local and further afield, including the London Marathon. Long training runs were occasions for chat and banter.
The monthly 5k handicap was the brainchild of Paul G, the original statsman and has become a regular feature ever since. My PB still goes back to May 2011.
To improve communication, Pete set up the Flyers Facebook page, which is still going strong. This attracted new runners to our fold. Most notably, in terms of the development f the Flyers, was Alex.
Our first contact was via Facebook and we arranged to meet in the car park at the bottom of Essex Way one Sunday. We waited and waited, eventually giving up and going for our run. It turned out he had found a tiny car park near the large one in Station Road where we met, wondering where we were! We eventually met up the following week and he became Flyers regular.
On one Sunday LSR, I happened to mention that my son and daughter-in-law had introduced me to the concept of something called parkrun, which they had both started running in Birmingham. Alex immediately said “I’ve been trying to set one up in Southend!” The rest in history, with Southend parkrun starting in October 2012.
A couple of parkrunners had asked if they could join us on a few runs but it was during the first picnic in summer 2013 that we were approached by several. This became the start of the mushrooming in Flyers numbers.
The Flyers underwent a rebranding, being renamed the Flyers Southend. One new member, Hugh, offered to design a new logo and print new T shirts and vests. HUKE was born! The now famous Flyers bright orange Ts were seen everywhere! A massive thanks to Hugh for all his hard work in this area, which has made us stand out locally, nationally and internationally.
With the influx of members, the group has gone from strength to strength, with the expertise of many being utilised for the benefit of all. It has been a joy to watch the Flyers morph into such a fantastic group, filled with so many lovely people. I am filled with pride over how we are one of the friendliest and happiest running groups around. We have a real family atmosphere.