Q&A with This Mum Runs founder Mel Bound30 September 2020
We talk to Mel Bound, Bristol-based mum of two and founder of This Mum Runs, about how she is helping women from all walks of life get active by taking the pressure off and putting the joy back into running.
When did your love affair with running start?
I’d always been the wheezy, asthmatic kid at primary school, so when my GP said the best thing I could do was run around as much as possible, my parents took it very seriously! Overnight they enrolled me in all sorts of sports clubs, tennis, athletics – you name it. But running was what I really, really loved – just the simple joy of running. The 1992 Olympics were my inspiration too, Sally Gunnell in particular.
Did running change for you as you got older?
Through my teens I was a sporty kid – I wasn’t very cool and running helped me fit in! However, I developed an eating disorder when I was 18. It was a weird period for me because running became a way of burning off calories and punishing my body, rather than the joyful experience it had been as a child. For a while it became quite a negative thing. But then I went to uni to study sports science and it was there that I got a lot of support and was treated on campus. By the time I’d graduated I had recovered.
This seems to be something a lot of women can relate to – running being natural and fun for them as children and then something changes...
Yes – emotional baggage and societal pressures begin to creep in. That’s why This Mum Runs focuses on the freedom and joy of running. We want to help women shed the burden of things that have stopped them from enjoying running for perhaps 20, even 30 years. Women who think running can never be for them.
How do you do that?
We focus on removing all the things that might put pressure on women. So we don’t focus running a certain distance or pace. All our running programmes are based on the number of minutes you spend moving. When we first started no one was talking about running in that way. It was quite revolutionary.
We also focus on the mental health benefits – the idea that running can give you a bit of time to yourself in a week that, for mums, is always packed with stuff for other people. And that becomes very liberating.
Why is it so important for mums to have time for themselves?
I find women often feel guilty or embarrassed about nurturing themselves when, actually, it’s the most important thing we can do. Culturally it’s a hard shift to make, which is why This Mum Runs reinforces the message that it’s OK to take time for yourself in everything we do – from slogans on our T-shirts to content on our social channels or in our app.
What would you say to mums who think they don’t have time to exercise?
We can all find half an hour a couple of times a week to do something for ourselves – that’s the bottom line. My job is to help women understand that and start to see exercise as an absolutely essential part of their week. I use the aeroplane oxygen mask analogy: if you don’t put your own mask on first, you can’t help anyone else.
The This Mum Runs app encourages you to get your family’s buy-in. Decide when in the week you want to exercise and put it in your diary. Put it on the family calendar. Tell your partner and kids. Protect your time like a lion!
As someone who’s always been active, how do you relate to women who’ve never exercised before?
I had a period of three years when I did virtually nothing when I first had kids. That gave me an interesting perspective. I’d been active every single day for 32 years. I understood the joy, the health benefits. It was part of my identity. However, during those three years I genuinely thought I’d never run again.
I couldn’t work out how to get started. I didn’t know how to get back to where I was. It felt too hard. And then I thought, if I’m finding this hard, how are other women finding it?
So how did you start running again?
I don’t know if I could have done it on my own. I’d injured my back, which required surgery and meant I actually couldn’t run. The trainer doing my rehab got me to a point when I was physically strong enough, but I was terrified. She suggested finding another mum locally to run with.
So I poured my heart out about feeling vulnerable and lacking in confidence on a mums’ Facebook group. Seventy-five women turned up to meet me for a run as a result! I realised there was a need out there and set up the This Mum Runs Facebook group that very night.
What did it feel like to run again?
I felt so full of joy. All the pressures I’d put on myself in my twenties and thirties to beat PBs and win races had disappeared – I couldn’t care less how fast I was running, I was just overjoyed to be out and doing it.
How did This Mum Runs grow after that?
On returning to work after maternity leave, I realised I didn’t enjoy my job anymore. This Mum Runs was taking up a lot of my time and I wanted to spend my time doing it.
So when I was offered voluntary redundancy it was a sliding doors moment. One night I was up at 2am feeding my son, scrolling through Facebook, when I saw an ad for a business accelerator programme called Entrepreneurial Spark, which I applied to on a whim.
I got a place, which gave me the support I needed to spend five days a week focused on how I could grow This Mum Runs into something much bigger. Having that time to think about it was a game-changer.
Did your background in the health and fitness industry influence your plans for This Mum Runs?
Back in the day I’d seen gyms that operated in a way that wasn’t about helping people achieve goals. It was just about getting people to sign up.
I wanted to do something that considered the ebbs and flows of people’s exercise habits. Sometimes life gets in the way. You might have a phase when you’re really active and feel good. Then you get busy at work or your child is sick and you have to stop.
We work really hard on the idea that it’s OK to stop for a bit. And if you then want to step back in you can and we’ll support you.
The app is designed to help with this: you might get to session eight out of 24 then have three or four weeks off. We have a looping system that helps you decide where to restart.
Otherwise you lapse, don’t know how to get back into it, and before you know it a year’s gone by and you’re not doing anything again.
How do the This Mum Runs community motivate each other?
It’s hard at the moment because we can’t offer our regular weekly runs. However, we’ve built a hugely engaged and supportive digital community on Facebook, which has become an even more important space for our community to share how they are feeling, what they are struggling with – and to celebrate the wins when they do get out for a run too.
Many of our communities have been running local challenges and virtual runs to help keep themselves motivated. Engagement in our communities has increased by nearly 90 per cent since lockdown and much of this is being driven by the community itself, which is amazing to see.
How can women join This Mum Runs?
There are loads of ways to get involved. The core thing is to join your local community and, if there isn’t one, contact us about trying to start one.
We launched our app as a way of making this happen faster. We wanted to reach women who were totally inactive and support them to start running with the Run 30 programme. And eventually they’ll be able to use the follow-up programmes, Run 60 and Run Strong.
The idea is that we can support regular app users to launch communities wherever they are in the world. And since lockdown we’ve launched virtual programmes too.
Do your groups ever take part in events like the Vitality London 10,000?
Yes. We’d target a couple of events a year and work towards taking a group to them. A lot of women find big events intimidating, so we’d offer lots of support and encouragement in the build-up and during the day itself.
With virtual events there are so many of them that we’re choosy about the ones we support – we look for those that are aligned with our values, which is why the Vitality London 10,000 is so great, with its Celebrate You theme, focus on mental health, and not being worried about pace.
Have virtual events changed people’s attitudes towards taking part?
It’s one of the bizarre positive outcomes of Covid-19.
The other day I bumped into a couple of our runners while walking my dog. I was surprised to learn they were training for the virtual Virgin Money London Marathon.
They said normally there would be no way they’d have the confidence to enter the London Marathon. But this year they’re approaching it by walking some of it, running the middle half and working out how they can do it their way.
That’s the beauty of virtual events – suddenly goals that have been inaccessible are within reach. And that’s exactly what we want to achieve with This Mum Runs.
To find out more about This Mum Runs and find or launch community near you, visit the website. You can download the TMR Run 30 app from the App Store.