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Run4Rene: An East London running crew with a difference

We caught up with Run4Rene founder (and CALM hero) Stefanie Stavri, to learn about how she looks after herself and her mates with fun, bi-weekly runs.

Hi Stef, so tell us how you got into running?

A group of us originally got into running early last year to cope with the loss of our wonderful friend and brother, Rene, to suicide. We felt that by setting ourselves a goal and raising awareness we could honour his memory and also stop our own mental health from spiralling out of control.

What skill level would you put yourself at now?

We're all various fitness levels in the crew, but I would say I'm fairly advanced now after a year of bi-weekly training and can run confidently up to 15km (before I couldn't even run 5k without stopping!).
Run4Rene bridges the gap between running and support. We consider ourselves to be a support group with a difference.

Why did you decide to set up a running group?

We felt that in spite of the various issues with Mental Health care in the UK, there was a lot we could do as a community of people to look out for one another, to promote the benefits of talking and fitness and break the stigma around mental health issues. We knew of mental health support groups and running groups but we created Run4Rene to bridge the gap between the two. We consider ourselves to be a support group with a difference.

What's the set up? How often do you meet and where?

Run4Rene meets twice a week, on Wednesday evenings at 7:15pm outside London Fields station and Saturday mornings 10am in Victoria Park (Pavilion Cafe). We also sign up for races and events together as well as organising regular socials. Some people come occasionally, others come religiously; it's totally flexible but everyone knows we're always there.

Who runs with you? Can anyone come along?

Our crew is free to join and open to absolutely everyone. You don't have to be an advanced runner to join, plenty of people come and walk intermittently. We are all about the talking and support, with the running being a bonus.
We leave our egos at home and talk about everything under the sun, from things worrying us, to things we're excited about and generally feeling ok to be vulnerable with one another.

What's the chat like?

Real. It's amazing to see how many friendships and relationships have blossomed in the crew since we started. We leave our egos at home and talk about everything under the sun, from things worrying us, to things we're excited about and generally feeling ok to be vulnerable with one another. Smaller groups have formed and people do other things that support their mental health together like going to yoga or hiking.

Are you competitive?

We are not a competitive running group. We're very much a team and we stick together and support one another. If you're only interested in breaking PBs and plugging in your earphones while you run, this is probably not the best group for you.

How do you choose your route?

We're lucky! Victoria Park offers a beautiful car-free 5k route with one lap around the park. In Winter it's closed, so our Wednesday evening runs are night urban running and we change the route weekly to discover East London. We try and keep it to around 5k.

What's your favourite thing about running?

Hanging out with the crew and often going home feeling pumped with endorphins and ready to tackle things that were previously bothering me. Knowing that I am not alone.

Your least favourite?

That bit beforehand, when it's raining and cold and you're fighting against that voice in your head saying 'I really don't want to do this' and knowing your crew is waiting for you. Your mind can be your own worst enemy. You never ever regret going though.

Has running had an impact on your mental wellbeing?

Running and talking with Run4Rene has kept me going at possibly the hardest, darkest period of my life. When I lost Rene, I couldn't see a way forward without him. Seeing people come and feel supported by the crew, and watching them flourish makes it worthwhile and keeps me feeling positive about life. I know Rene would be proud of all of us.

How do your mates affect how you run?

They are by your side when you're out of breath, and your knees are hurting. They tell you you can do it when you feel you can't. They're waiting for me when its sunny, or raining or snowing. We tackle each run together on the good days and downright awful days and we move forwards together. Sometimes you need people to pick you up when you're on your knees.

What's your advice to people just starting?

Don't overthink it. Don't set yourself too hard a target in the beginning. Talk to yourself as you would do to a mate; be supportive. If you get out there and run for 10 minutes, big yourself up. You've done it! A run is a run, whether its slow/fast, long or short. You've put yourself out there and moved one leg in front of the other. Don't let your ego be your worst enemy.