So I have a confession to make – I really don’t like shepherding.

Our club has a motto: Running together.  Which is a lovely motto, and the club really does abide by it, it’s important to us. So as a member of that club, “shepherding” runs is kind of a big deal.  More experienced runners always lead/shepherd the Thursday-night groups, and the weekend runs, which means they make sure everyone is OK, and that everyone loops back for slower runners, no one gets left behind, they plan the route, and make sure the pace and distance is reasonably close to what they offered.


So I have a confession to make – I really don’t like shepherding. Well, not exactly ‘dislike’, more get massively anxious about it. I like people: I can and will talk to anybody (much to my children’s embarrassment I will talk to any random stranger on a bus who even looks like they might want to strike up a conversation). I can certainly bang on about running to other runners for HOURS. I’m fine with managing faster and slower runners and quite like yelling “LOOP!” and “BIKE! KEEP LEFT!” and “BOLLARDS!” (not just randomly, although that would be funny, but yelling out about hazards is one of the enjoyable things about leading out a group!).  I like running in groups. I am fine with pacing, and would never take a group who wanted to run faster than I thought I could handle.  None of these things are the problem.

The problem is that I have THE worst sense of direction EVER. I cannot remember routes I’ve done a gazillion times. If you put me in a cupboard and turned me around I would not be able to find my way out again. If you think I’m joking this has actually been done to me. My sister and a friend once put me behind a locked door that was just that: a door, no back or sides, and I was found later crying because I couldn’t get out. Actually that doesn’t prove any point except that my sister was a big meanie (she’s not, she’s the nicest person in the world) and I have a vivid imagination, and because they told me I couldn’t get out, then I couldn’t get out. But I AM that person that walks into a cupboard thinking it’s the toilet, and have ended up in restaurant kitchens looking for the facilities, even when there’s a great big sign.  I have to ask my friends for their postcodes EVERY SINGLE time I go there even if I’ve visited them loads of times before and they live 5 minutes away. Google maps is my BEST FRIEND.  I can’t even picture routes in my head. My dad has some kind of eidetic memory thing going on with maps/routes/directions. He once gave someone leaving their house full directions from Oxford to a town in France including instructions of how to board the car ferry. The friend was a bit overwhelmed; I think he was joking when he asked how to get there from here. Dad makes incredibly detailed route maps that are things of beauty (as are all the things my dad makes). But he can’t quite fathom how he managed to have two daughters who have no innate sense of direction whatsoever.  

“It’s NORTH from here.”

 “Dad, that literally means nothing to me. Do I go left or right after Aldi?”


The right route is an important part of shepherding.  Firstly it needs to be as close as possible to the distance you said it was going to be. The weekend long runs I advertise to the club are at the slower end of things, so we get a great mix of people who just prefer running slowly, or are in marathon training and need to slow things down so they can get the distance in, as well as people who are building up to longer distances for the first time. We often have distance pb’s from newer runners, so it’s really important that if we say we’re doing 8 miles we do as close as possible to 8 miles, because they may only have done 6 before and we don’t want to break anybody.  Often if we’re doing a longer route – say, 15 miles – we will need to build in ‘cut off’ points so that someone can duck back to club at 6 miles or whatever.  If you’re planning to run up three ruddy great hills, you need to tell people you’re planning to run up three ruddy great hills. So these things take quite some planning. 


In September I’m going to be doing my Leadership in Running Fitness Course. I’m doing this so that I can go back to my original running group (IF the boy one gets the nursery place I’m hoping for… EVERYthing crossed for that because I left it ridiculously late, and if he doesn’t get a place I don’t really have a Plan B… oops) as a run leader, and so I can take out groups from HRR. I am really excited about this, but the route-planning thing is freaking me out a bit.  I currently have memorised, in my two memory slots that are allocated to this sort of thing, a 5-mile route from home that I can extend up to 10 by going further along the river, and a 10ish-mile route from club that I can extend with very boring out and backs along the ring road or adding in the odd little loop. Anyone who does a weekend long run led by me from our club will know this route well! And if I add in any other routes of different distances other things I need to remember are going to get shoved out of those memory slots, like my kids’ names (they already get called the first thing that comes into my head – like the cats’ names or ‘Pickle-pants’ or ‘Stink-beast’. I get this from my mother; she once called me ‘Ducky-mousse’. Nope, no idea) or how to make pancakes or lace up shoes. 

Luckily for me there is a myriad of technology available to help me plan routes. If only I didn’t seem to be rubbish at this as well.  So far my plan has been to buddy up with someone who is good at (and some people even seem to LIKE doing this! Weirdoes!) doing routes, and I handle the crowd control and pacing. Particularly on our club-night runs I’ve got away with this so far, and the weekend runs I’ve taken out… well, people haven’t actually TOLD me they are bored of the same old route, and we mix it up and take it in turns so it’s not like it’s EVERY week they have to do the same route. Maybe I will get better at it with practise. Let’s hope so! 

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Nicola @ Runnjng Happy - 17th September 2017 Reply

I run with an off road club so memorising routes is even more tricky. Do I turn left at the first big tree or the second stile… I’ve only taken the wrong turning once and ended up running 2 miles longer to get back on the track.

I’d really recommend running the route on your own a few times if you can and I find mapometer a good online map for planning routes as it shoes you the footpaths and alleyway routes.

Also don’t forget you can reverse the route so for every route you remember you actually have two routes to do!

Good luck with your LiRF!

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