‘Give yourself permission to run as slow as you need to. Miles are miles and they’re all good’
So says Roy McCarthy, the founder and leader of Jersey Joggers, which aims to get those who do little or no exercise jogging five kilometres at the end of a nine-week NHS-approved programme. Tom Ogg spoke to him.
Roy McCarthy has a bone to pick with the media.
‘We’re always hearing stories in the press about how people are eating too much or drinking too much,’ he says. ‘I don’t think we hear enough about people being healthy. There should be lots more stories about the other side of the coin.’
Well, allow the JEP to now redress the balance – with a little help from Roy himself, of course.
For the uninitiated, 65-year-old Roy is the founder and leader of Jersey Joggers, a local fitness group whose raison d’etre can be neatly summed up by the slogan on their official Facebook page: ‘Give yourself the permission to run as slow as you need to. Miles are miles and they’re all good.’
‘Jersey Joggers specialises in helping those who are most unfit and slow, but it’s open to anyone,’ says Roy. ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re good, bad, young, old, fit, unhealthy – everybody is welcome.’
Formed in 2012, Jersey Joggers offers a bi-annual nine-week programme based on the NHS-approved Couch to 5k programme.
‘For the first week, there is very little jogging,’ says Roy. ‘We’ll do 90 seconds of walking, followed by 60 seconds of jogging, and this is then repeated, although to begin the jog is very slow. That’s the whole key. No one ever goes ahead of me, so it’s always entirely at my own pace.’
As the weeks progress, the amount of jogging increases as the walking decreases, although this is, says Roy, a very gradual process.
‘Everyone who sticks to the full nine-week programme will feel the benefits and find that they can jog or even run quite quickly. A lot of people are nervous or sceptical at first, but they soon realise that it is entirely doable.’
Despite little promotion, Jersey Joggers has recently seen a major upsurge in attendance, with more than 80 people turning up for a recent Thursday evening session, seemingly on the back of word-of-mouth alone.
‘There had been around 50 people the week before, but of course what happens is people tell their friends and family about it and so then they want to come too, which is great.’
Speaking to Roy, it’s easy to see why so many people want him as their personal instructor. He is effortlessly easy company, with a likeable, self-deprecating sense of humour and an easygoing enthusiasm for personal fitness.
Born and raised in Birmingham, Roy first developed an interest in outdoor activities when he took up cricket at school.
‘I played for Marlborough CC and Aston Manor CC in Birmingham, and after moving to Jersey, I played at St Ouen CC for many years.’
Yet despite this, Roy describes himself as a ‘very poor cricketer’, and says: ‘The only reason I was ever picked was because I was usually available and I always bought my round afterwards.’
After leaving school, Roy qualified as a chartered accountant, before heading to Jersey in 1977 to work in the then-rapidly expanding finance industry.
‘I thought I’d come over and have a party for a couple of years and then return home,’ he laughs.
Instead, Roy decided he rather liked life in Jersey and, aside from a two-year period working in Ireland, he has lived here ever since, channelling his affection for the Island into a number of self-published books (including A Jersey Midsummer Tale, Tess of Portelet Manor and a short story anthology called Aspirations of a Sheep), as well as raising two children: Eoin (30), who is now a qualified doctor working in Newcastle, and 28-year-old Social Security worker Emma.
It was thanks to Emma’s childhood visits to Jersey Spartan Athletic Club (‘She was a very sporty little girl’) that Roy first found himself developing an interest in coaching, then as now doing it as a sideline to his regular job.
‘I started coaching little ones and very soon noticed that I couldn’t keep up with them,’ he laughs. ‘So that spurred me on to start training until I could run 10k. I’m not a natural runner, but I’ve since taken part in three marathons and any number of half-marathons, both here and in the UK.’
The coaching, meanwhile, continued apace and Roy soon realised that he had a natural aptitude for encouraging others to train.
‘It is absolutely one of the most rewarding things you can do,’ he says. ‘If you’re coaching a child to throw a discus, and for weeks and weeks they try to get it right, and then finally there’s that moment when it all clicks into place and they throw it and it flies through the air and – well, it’s just a sensational feeling. You go home after a moment like that and you feel great.’
Initially, Roy formed Jersey Joggers to fill what he saw as a gap in the market: ‘Back then, children were very well catered for over here, but there was little available for adult beginner runners. Of course, in the 1980s there was this major jogging boom and an awful lot of people started doing it, but that quickly fell away and there was little support for people just wanting to get started. Thankfully, it’s much better now.’
A common misconception is that fitness trainers must always be perfectly able-bodied and athletic.
‘It’s not the case,’ says Roy. ‘I count myself as a very poor runner, but I can still help other people to learn how to run properly.’
Another falsehood that Roy is keen to dispel is the idea that weighing scales represent the be-all and end-all of a person’s health.
‘Scales don’t tell the whole story,’ he says. ‘Muscles are heavier than fat, so you might be getting healthier but the scales may not show it.
‘But what will happen is your body shape will change for the better – this is particularly true for women – and you will feel better in yourself. Exercise is very good at dealing with the mental side of things, but this isn’t something weighing scales can measure.
‘If you’re cooped up in an office all day or stuck at home with a baby, it gives you an incredible buzz to put your gear on and get outside into the fresh air. It can become addictive, but in a positive way.’
Less positive forms of addition can include food and drink, and Roy is also quick to dismiss the notion that regular exercise will automatically compensate for an unhealthy diet.
‘Exercise isn’t a magic silver bullet. I’m no expert, but I would say that weight loss is 80 per cent nutrition and 20 per cent exercise. Sugar is the devil, it really is. But then, if you’re doing exercise then you feel less hungry anyway and so you don’t want to eat as much.’
Away from Jersey Joggers, Roy still works as an accountant at Unitas Containers, a small container leasing and fleet management company at First Tower.
‘Amazingly, I genuinely enjoy book-keeping,’ he laughs. ‘I’ve worked in large offices in the past, but I didn’t really enjoy it. This is much more fun.’
However, it is clearly Jersey Joggers which remains his biggest passion (‘it can have a life-changing effect on people’, he says), and as an example of the good nature that many participants cite as Roy’s defining trait (see side column), look no further than the fact that he frequently seems more keen to promote rival jogging groups than his own.
‘There’s the Jersey Girls Run group, which is led by Laura Storey. She’s a wonderful instructor, and she helped me in the early days of Jersey Joggers, until eventually I said to her: “Laura, why don’t you go and start your own fitness group?” And so that’s what she did. Laura’s classes are aimed at supporting females who want to start jogging but are perhaps a little wary of doing so. It’s a very attractive concept.’
Roy also praises both The Crapaud Hash House Harriers Club and Jersey Parkrun, saying of the latter: ‘It helps school groups, families, people with buggies – and it’s all free!’
Of course, Jersey Joggers is also free to attend, and Roy remains adamant that he intends to keep it that way: ‘If I charged people it would then become an obligation, it would make it too much of a business, and I just wouldn’t enjoy it anymore.
‘I get people coming up to me and saying: “I want to be able to run 5k in nine weeks’ time” – and they do. It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding, both for them and for me.’
- Jersey Joggers is currently held every Tuesday and Thursday, with optional weekend runs available. The meeting time is 6.30 pm outside Burger Bar on the Avenue. For more details, visit the Jersey Joggers page on Facebook.