The Her Movement Interview: Mel Bound

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Interviewed by Charlotte Simmons

Mel Bound is founder of This Mum Runs.

This Mum Runs was started four years ago by Mel after she posted on a local mums Facebook group that, re-starting her running journey after injury and lacking the confidence to run alone, she was looking for a run buddy to join her. That night 75 mums turned up, and This Mum Runs was born. 

With over 50,000 active community members, thousands of runners and hundreds of weekly free runs, Mel – a global Facebook Community Leader and Ambassador for the Facebook She Means Business campaign - has inspired many women nationwide to find the confidence to transform their lives through running.  And 2019 promises to be This Mum Runs biggest year yet with exciting plans to take the community to more towns and cities across the UK.

You can follow This Mum Runs on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook.

This Mum Runs was born from a single Facebook post reaching out to other mum’s your area to see who might fancy a run, how did it feel when 75 other women turned up?

A mix of emotions. Firstly, it was oh crap! I hadn’t done exercise in so long myself and was in a place where I was massively lacking in confidence.  It was terrifying, all these women were looking at me expectantly like I would know what to do. The flip side of that was, wow! There are loads of women feeling exactly how I have been feeling. There was this moment of relief and solidarity. Even in that moment when a bunch of strangers on a street corner were nervously looking at each other, it felt like a moment for all of us.

Then, going off for that first run which was maybe 10 minutes - we did 5 mins down the road and  back again, we were just completely euphoric. High fiving and hugging! The excitement of being out of the house without a buggy and a nappy changing bag and all of that stuff you drag around with you when you’re a mum, it just felt amazing. 

The real light bulb moment came about eight weeks later. We’d been going out running every week, and mums from other parts of the city were asking if I could start some runs for them as well. Then one mum posted in the group: “I’m a porky, unfit mum of two and I’ve been inactive for the last 20 years. I’ve loved seeing your photos of you guys going out for a run, but I can’t run for a bus. I can’t come with you.”

When I opened the post I just felt really devastated. I had been merrily thinking that we’ve been creating this thing, and that it’s really inclusive, but there were a bunch of women for whom it really wasn’t inclusive enough. The way she described herself and the response she got from other women who said they felt the same. I just thought: I don’t ever want anyone in my community to describe themselves like that again, and feel like they can’t come along to our runs. That’s not what this is about. This is about mums claiming back a bit of time for themselves and feeling a bit healthier and a bit happier. That was the start of my mission. 

Off the back of that post a lot of women commented saying that they felt exactly the same.  One woman said: “I’ve got a book on running, why don’t we go and meet in the park and we’ll teach ourselves how to run.” My response was:“Woah, no! I’ll help you guys.” 

I promised the first 15 people to respond to my post, that I would coach them to start running. Take them running from zero to half an hour. Loads of people requested, including the woman who made the post in the first place. 

For the next 8 weeks we met on a Monday night. This was in November, so it was cold, rainy and dark, but they came every week! We all went through this kind of life changing journey. For them, by the end they could run for half an hour, but they also had massive self-belief. For me, I just wanted to help more women like that. Most of those 15 women are still running with us. Some of them are Running Coaches with us, quite a few of them are volunteer Run Angels who lead groups every week because they fell in love with how it feels. 

Many fitness communities are centred around aesthetic goals, what makes TMR different?

We are not interested in weight, or image, or what people are wearing, or PBs, or pace, or distance. Any kind of goal that puts a barrier in the way of women who think they can’t exercise. I think that’s what sets us apart. We focus on how you feel when you exercise above everything else. Nothing else matters, it’s just about the joy of moving, regardless of how fast or slow or how far. It’s just about that feeling you get when you exercise. I think by focusing solely on that, we’ve unlocked exercise for so many women. If it was about what they look like, they would never do it.

We are not interested in weight, or image, or what people are wearing, or PBs, or pace, or distance. Any kind of goal that puts a barrier in the way of women who think they can’t exercise. I think that’s what sets us apart. We focus on how you feel when you exercise above everything else.

So far this year you have expanded into two new cities (Cardiff & Brighton starting early March), what are your hopes for TMR in 2019?

The plan is to launch into 10 new cities this year, which is super exciting!  Cardiff and Brighton are first, the online communities are already up and running, and the launch runs are happening in March. 

We recently announced that we will be launching a ‘This Mum Runs Military Community’. There are 50,000 military mums in the UK. More than other mums, they struggle with isolation, mental health problems and all sorts of challenges because of the nature of their lives. Every two years they have to move, they have the stress of their partners away in war zones, and making connections when they are in a new place is really hard. We recruited a community leader who is an army mum herself. She’s got three kids and she is going to be launching a TMR Military Community in March. This is a really exciting, big project for us!

Another exciting project we are part of, is a Social Prescribing pilot. We are a delivery partner for a pilot with 46 GP practices. Doctors can prescribe exercise instead or alongside medication. We launched in Croydon, and will be working initially with 11 GP practices. GPs will be able to refer women for various reasons, it might be postnatal depression, weight issues, diabetes etc. We organise free programmes where we get them to come along and run with us a couple of times a week. 

The main thing for us always is; how do we reach more mums? How are we going to get more mums moving? We are going to be doing that through our online communities, and offline in various locations around the UK.  

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 Guidance for the safest way for women to exercise during pregnancy and post-partum, is thin on the ground and often confusing. Where should new mum’s start when wanting to get moving again?

The fist thing to say is, there are no reasons women can’t exercise during pregnancy. There are so many benefits to both mum and baby to stay active throughout.  My general advice is, you don’t want to start something new. If you haven’t run before, you don’t necessarily want to start training for a 10k in your second trimester, but if you have been running regularly before you were pregnant, there is no reason why you can’t continue. Just keep it to a lower intensity. 

Post-natal, my advice is not to be in a massive rush to go back to doing what you might have done before. Having a baby is a big deal for your body and your mind. Giving yourself time to recover properly and build up gradually again is really, really important. 

Generally you should do nothing until your 6 week check, when you get signed off. At that point, your mindset should be about rehabilitating your body. You want to build up your strength again before you start doing anything high impact. I would start with some core strength and reactivating your glutes, so you are strong and in a position to, when your body is ready, do more. 

This could take 8 to 10 weeks, little and often, stuff that you can do at home. When you are changing the nappy, doing some squats and some lunges is really good. Beyond that, it’s about building up gradually.  Either with a walk-run programme or just some gentle running that you gradually build up over a number of weeks until you get back to where you were before, or what you want to be doing on a regular basis.

Making time for yourself as a new mum feels unbelievably selfish. Joining a group or finding another mum, can really help. When you see someone who has the same challenges as you, is as tired as you, but you have committed to doing this with them, or they’re managing to go out and do this exercise, then so can you! It just really helps to get you out the door and doing stuff. It removes the excuses. Don’t get me wrong, some of the excuses are real, like feeling tired and feeling like you don’t have any time, that’s a real thing. But, we can make time, and your own mental and emotional health is really important when you are a new mum. Getting outdoors, even if it’s just for a walk, is really important. Having that other person or community of people who are in the same boat really helps.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone wanting to move more, what would it be?

 I think the hardest thing with exercise is starting. Making that commitment and saying, ”I’m going to walk round the block and that’s all I’m going to do.” A tiny commitment like that can be a catalyst and making those commitments to yourself every day, switches something in your head. Starting with something small, but frequent helps overcome that initial; “Oh god, I just don’t want to do it”. Finding someone else to do it with as well, having a buddy that you are going to rope in, or they rope you in when you don’t really feel like doing it, makes a massive, difference! 

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What are some of your frustrations with the health & fitness industry?

Focus on weight and appearance is the biggest problem. Clothing and the lack of availability for women of all sizes, is such a big barrier. The images you see on social media put so much pressure on women and it’s just not real. It’s not what women look like; it’s not what women want to see. I could go on and on! 

I think because I am coming from a place of wanting to be so inclusive and to reach people who are inactive, and have been inactive for a long time, seeing the health and fitness industry through their eyes, there is so much wrong with it. 

Having been on the other side of the fence as well, working in the health and fitness industry and seeing that gyms (this is not all gyms) are not really interested in people making ongoing change for their life. They are interested in getting people in and out, as quickly as they can.  I find that unbelievably frustrating. When I was a gym instructor, I was told: “Don’t write a programme that’s going to help them achieve their goals. Write them a programme that is going to get them in and out of the gym as quickly as possible.”

For people who are inactive, I think it is incredibly difficult, for all of those reasons. Jargon as well, so much jargon in the industry! There is jargon around clothing, even something as simple as running there is so much that it makes it completely inaccessible. 

At This Mum Runs, we are trying to break down all these barriers. From the language and the imagery we use, through to the products we sell and the programmes that we offer; we are all about recognising those barriers and breaking them down.