At any gathering of Cheetahs it won’t be long before the conversation turns to “looping”. As a prospective Cheetah a couple of years ago I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant, but I heard it talked about so I knew it must be something important. “Don’t worry, we always loop,” “You won’t be left behind, the frontrunners will loop,” “After 6 minutes we all loop,” Preparing for my first ever WWC run I was almost dizzy with visions of looping dancing through my head; I knew it was good, I knew it worked, but what precisely was it? I was soon to find out. That first run began with the necessary 2 minute warm up walk; this was fine, I felt comfortable and began chatting with cheetahs around me. Then the whistle blew, the signal to start 8 minutes running. I broke into a fast paced run, lungs bursting, muscles hammering, only to realise after a few seconds I was moving at what others would consider a gentle jog and a gap was rapidly widening between me and the rest of the runners. “Don’t worry,” I told myself, “we loop!” A few minutes later the front runners were heading back towards me; ducking to the side of the pavement to avoid being flattened I tried to make myself invisible, but too late, I’d been spotted. In fact I was spotted by everyone and showered with smiles, waves, “Well done” “Keep going” “You’re looking great”. Could they really be talking to me? Did they really mean all these compliments and encouragements? Whether they did or not, I felt good enough to come out of the shadows and keep running. A few people greeted me by name and it wasn’t long before others picked up on this and began to call out encouragement to me. I noticed everyone in front of me was gradually turning back and at this point I began to worry again…what happens when I go back? How far do I go? Will I be able to complete the distance? I needn’t have worried; the loopers had turned again and were coming up behind me this time telling me to keep going forward as I was doing really well. For a short time I was swept along in a sea of cheetahs before gradually falling to the back again…in time for the process to start all over again. My spirits lifted as I realised what looping was all about…I was never going to be left behind and the more experienced runners were all happy to boost my confidence with a grin or a cheerful comment.

I have been a Cheetah for a few years now; I have experienced looping from the very back, from the middle and on extremely rare occasions from near to the front! During the last month I have spoken to fellow Cheetahs about their experience of looping and their feelings about it to get as full a picture as possible.

Not surprisingly, no-one has told me they don’t like or don’t approve of looping, but some have spoken of moments when looping is a challenge and possibly a step too far. Some spoke analytically to me about the benefits of looping, while others illustrated their feelings with simple examples from their own running.

Looking initially at the view from the back the overwhelming feeling is that even the slowest, weakest, newest members (their words, not mine) feel part of the group and some even say it is looping that kept them running. This was eloquently expressed by Debbie who says,

My view on looping is that without it, I probably would not still be running today.  I think it is one of the most valuable tools the WWC have. It stops us slower ones feeling so much out of the loop (see what I did there!) or so far behind that we feel lost/abandoned or not part of the group. Yes you have times when you might run alone for a while but knowing you’re not forgotten about and running with others for a little while just keeps you going.

Debbie also understands one of the challenges of looping, particularly for those who are edging towards being more confident runners. You find yourself midway up the group, there is about 1km to go to home, you have given your all and the end is in sight when suddenly you hear the call, “Looooop! Last time!” Covering that last few hundred metres again is the last thing you want to do, particularly if you have just reached the top of a tough hill and your legs are telling you they’ve done enough. The temptation is to keep running forwards and ignore the loop. But just take a moment to think about those who are at the very back and can see you disappearing into the distance! If you really cannot face running all that way back why not slow your pace a little as you loop and jog gently till the back runners have caught up? Why not jog on the spot until they are up with you again, smile as they come towards you, give the word of encouragement that you appreciated when you were at the back? Then run in with the whole group together.

Monica summed this up well when she spoke about the recent practice Fun Run where nobody looped:

Tonight, at the official practice for the September Fun Run, I found it really difficult (as a novice to running) as I never saw Suzanne’s and the group’s smiley faces coming back to collect me, as there was no looping. I hadn’t actually realised until tonight how much I looked forward to seeing everybody coming back to chivvy me along. Please carry on looping!

Moving up a step from Monday and Wednesday training runs to the longer distance Sunday or Tuesday runs can be a daunting prospect. Frequently the fear is heard, “I don’t want to hold anybody back!” The answer to this is simple ~ far from holding anybody back you are providing the challenge of a longer run for those who race away into the distance. As they loop back for you they are covering a greater distance and getting a better work-out while encouraging you. Don’t hide in the shadows; admire their strength and skill while they admire your drive and determination to improve!

Amanda, one of our most experienced runners, put this into perspective for us:

My experience of looping suggests it serves two purposes.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly for me, is that it means there is an opportunity to encourage those in the middle and back of the group to keep going and to reassure them that they will never be left on their own.  I think it serves as an invaluable motivation technique and a simple, but very effective, support mechanism.

Secondly, looping gives an opportunity for the front runners to push themselves that little bit further by way of speed, distance, or both!  The defining feature here though, is that looping eradicates any possible destructive competition.  This in itself is motivating, but the real satisfaction I think comes from seeing those that were ‘being looped’ now doing the ‘looping’ and providing much needed support and encouragement to the next generation!

It would seem that looping is what makes Walney Wind Cheetahs special. We are not the only group to loop, but it epitomises the basic ethos of our existence – we run together to help each other, to inspire and to learn from each other, to motivate and to challenge each other, and to appreciate the effort and dedication required to take those first tentative steps into jogging and those confident strides into long distance running.

I think the final word should go to Samantha, who posted on Facebook recently:

Gutted to have missed parkrun but I did go out for a solo run. Made the route up as I went along and managed to loop; half way down a street I realised I was in a cul-de-sac.

You know you are a true Cheetah, Sam, when you are out running on your own and you loop back for yourself!

Thanks to Sam, Debbie, Amanda, Sandra and the many others who contributed to this article. I hope you all find your views have been included.