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What Gunn Running taught me | Alan FitzGerald | LinkedIn

During a business trip to NZ in 2002 I saw something that changed my life and many others forever: the combination of running and beer. Upon my return to Melbourne, the genesis of this idea took hold.

I was into running in a big way - I still am.  I'm by no means quick - continents drift faster than I run - but the bug, nonetheless, was there.  My friend Sue with whom I would talk about this concept of a group run with a beer simply said: "Do it".  

Well that's easy to say.... But how do you actually start a running club?  How could we make it different?  Beer (as always) was the answer....

Learning 1: Setting up an organisation: In order to reap, you have to sow.

If you watch the Formula 1, the first race of the year is held at Albert Park in Melbourne.  Gunn Island is the little island in the middle of that lake in the picture above, so we became "The Gunn Runners" (See what I did there..?).  We needed a venue - so we pitched the idea to a microbrewery pub (sadly no longer there) who offered their premises as well as a free beer to every finisher (I liked the idea more).  We needed marketing, a website, a timing system, spot prizes and we needed to tick all the other boxes when setting up a venture such as this which I won't bore you with - needless to say it was too complicated and at times very frustrating.  

Learning 2; Some things just happen and are out of your control.  Be generous with what you have to others that may not.

First run January 28th 2003 - we set up and slowly people trickled in having seen our flyers;  That first night we had 28 runners.  In the weeks & months that followed, the numbers of runners varied - Melbourne weather can be fickle - but a regular group formed.  Within the first few weeks, a charity event took place - the Relay for Life and a new facet to the Gunn Runners took place; fundraising. Since inception, and these are rough numbers, The Gunn Runners have raised in excess of $35,000 which has provided rehabilitation equipment to a local hospital, local charities including the Sacred Heart Mission, shoes for children in Vietnam, for adults in PNG and more. 

Learning 3: Success is the sum of small efforts: Be bold

I had sent dozens of begging letters to various sporting manufacturers to look for support: One company answered the call and today are still a sponsor of the group: Brooks.  At one point one of the largest sporting manufacturers in the world tried to convince me to change sponsorship to them (4 letter word, beginning with N) but I said a resolute 'No' (albeit in a quaky voice - after all, it's not often you get to turn down a company that big). 

Learning 4. This was the big one: sometimes you can't make it on your own. It is OK to ask for help.

I did all the preparation for Tuesday nights run - the group has run 47 or so Tuesdays every year since inception.  For 4 years I marked the course with a 3km and a 5km loop, did the timing, the website updates, held meetings, made the calls. I became the epitome of the head cook and chief bottle washer.  Over that time, the numbers swelled to the point I began to struggle with the enormity of the challenge.  I called a gathering of a group of the core runners and laid my cards on the table - "I can't do it any more" - I needed to stop, I was burnt out.  I was thrilled when the group stepped up, divided the tasks amongst the group and today is as strong as it ever was.  

Learning 5. Sometimes the unexpected consequences can surprise. Go with the flow

13 years on, and even though I have not been involved for many years, runners continue to join the group.  It evolved into so much more than originally envisioned.  I have been to multiple weddings amongst the runners resulting in new additions to the planet who will hopefully share their parent love of running.  Runners came and went, sadly too some have jogged off this mortal coil.  What has endured is that The Gunn Runners developed into a community in it's own right, from elite athletes looking for an event where they could run just for the fun of it, to beginner runners looking to start a new fitness regime to the former runners who now just come for the beer, to everyone in between.  

Learning 6.  Runners like cats, are hard to herd.  No lesson here: just a statement of fact.

So if you are at a loose end on any Tuesday evening in Melbourne and want to mix with locals, have a laugh, a beer and some food, check out The Gunn Runners in South Melbourne - it's the best $5 you'll spend.

Alan FitzGerald