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Dan Chaplen

Teachers Run Club – inspiring teachers and schoolchildren

“It’s not about being the fastest or logging the most miles, but enjoying the run, building each other up, and – of course – a good coffee,” says Dan Chaplen, a PE teacher intent on making a difference.

Dan, who teaches at St Matthew’s Primary School in Luton, used the most recent lockdown to launch Teachers Run Club – an online community for teachers and school staff to share running advice, achievements and motivation.

With 750 followers on Twitter and more than 300 members on Strava gained in little over three months, Teachers Run Club is one of the fastest-growing online running communities in the UK.

Putting children through their paces

After 11 years of inspiring schoolchildren and putting them through their paces, Dan decided to change tact and branch out. He explained: “Over the last few years, I’ve switched my focus to get more teachers and adults active. The thought process is that if children are seeing active role models every day then they will be inspired to be more active themselves.

“It started off from a few charity events. We did a teachers' 5K run in the local park and, two years ago, six of us did a two-day (173-mile) bike ride from York to Luton.

“At the end of the ride, we met around 100 members of the community at a local football club and we did a 10km walk back to the school. We raised around £13,000 in the process, which was amazing.”

Benefits of being more active

Organising the event gave Dan the appetite to do more and helped him realise others felt the same. He said: “It really showed me how getting the staff and community active could benefit the children, because in the school we were putting on lots of activities that got the children engaged and linked in with what the adults were doing.

“Last year during the first lockdown, I worked with a local charity called Level Trust to raise money to buy home learning resources for schoolchildren in Luton. We had approximately 30 schools and more than 800 teachers all agree to be active for at least one hour during a day and we raised more than £30,000 in that one day.

“It highlighted that there are loads of staff out there who – with a little bit of a push – are very happy to get moving. I felt that there must be a lot of teachers who already run, so I wondered whether we could set up a hub to generate conversation, motivate people and allow runners to speak to likeminded individuals.”

Goal to get more parents running

One of Dan’s goals is to increase the number of parents who use the school run as an opportunity to get themselves and their children more active, while reducing the amount of traffic on the roads. He said: “My aim is to help teachers inspire children and their families to run in their own time. Let’s turn the school run into an actual run.”

Three months after launching the group online, Dan has been blown away by the response around the world. He said: “There’s a really nice mix of people. We have an Olympian, Kevin Seaward (Ireland and Northern Ireland) and a few very competent runners, but predominantly it’s people who are newer to running. It seems a lot of people have found running during lockdown.”

Teachers Run Club isn’t exclusively for teachers, anyone can join in by following the Twitter, Instagram or Strava account, but the content and conversation is primarily focused on those who work in education.

Less pressure for beginners

Dan explains why he feels it’s been such a success: “There are already a lot of platforms and forums out there for runners but I think with Teachers Run Club people feel less pressure. They can ask ‘silly questions’ and not be ridiculed, which is really nice.”

As well as being a keen cyclist and swimmer, Dan now runs around five times a week but he hasn’t always been a runner.

“I struggled in school academically but I did well physically in sport. I started playing roller hockey and ice hockey when I was about 11. I represented Great Britain when I was 14 and I played in Canada for a year when I was 17.

“So, I’ve always been very active but mainly in team sports. Once I started working at the school (in 2009), I started cycling in because it was easier than taking the car. Then I started signing up for running events and triathlons and it went from there.”

Making sport more accessible

Dan completed the 2017 RideLondon 100 and this year he is aiming to take on the virtual Virgin Money London Marathon and Children with Cancer UK Swim Serpentine two-mile event to earn a London Classics medal.

He will also be taking part in the virtual Vitality London 10,000 and he is hoping to take part in The Vitality Big Half on Sunday 22 August with several colleagues from the school.

“I think virtual events help show the accessibility of the sport. I really hope that (government guidelines permitting) we can get a few people who live near to each other to get out there and run together on the day. If not, we’ll take lots of photos and videos to share with each other online.”

Finally, Dan has the following advice for people looking to get more into running: “Everyone is on their own journey. Focus where you’re getting your motivation from, don’t compare yourself to other people. It’s not about speed. Run because you want to do it and you enjoy it.”

You can follow Teachers Run Club on TwitterInstagram and Strava.