On a cold Thursday evening in February 2009, the first meeting of the newly formed Okehampton Running Club took place and the club celebrated its 10th anniversary on the 12th February, when members old and new gathered for a social run and celebrations after at the Pavillion. The Idea of forming this club originally came from Andy Vallance, seeing an opportunity to set up a club in an area that wasn’t covered by established clubs. Introduced to Gavin Punchard at a race they discussed the idea and both runners became members of Tavistock AC in order to get an insight into how a running club operated. Friends Roger Voaden, Bryan Friend were also encouraged to join and eventually the four of them, along with Eric Johnson who had been involved in the early days of Tavistock AAC, took the plunge and started the ball rolling to get the club set up, with the help and some financial support from OCRA. After taking their coaching courses the date was set for the inaugural meeting of the club and flyers went out to sports shops, gyms and anywhere else suitable. While hoping for a good response to the advertising, they were slightly shocked on that cold, grey evening when 50 people turned up.
Initially the club just met on a Thursday for a structured training session, with speed intervals or hill repetitions, but as demand grew a second training night was introduced on Tuesdays. The membership soon grew and by August there were about 65 members running regularly with the club, some being competitive runners, some just social runners, all divided into three groups to cater for different abilities. These original three groups, Coe, Holmes and Fosters still remain, but increased numbers mean that there are now five groups.
Soon Okehampton runners began to make an impact on the race scene and the following year the club took over the hosting of four small fell races to form a Summer Series, utilising the club’s location on the edge of the moors for these traditional low-key races.
In 2011 the club held its first beginners group, now known by the name Couch to 5k, for people who have never run before. Starting from the very basic sessions of walk/run intervals they progress through a ten week course to being able to complete a 5k run by the end.
The club had always had runners taking on the iconic London Marathon, but in 2012 it enjoyed huge success there with a record entry of 20 ORCs. Club Chairman Andy Vallance had a superb race, good enough to qualify him for an elite start at the following year’s marathon, while six others secured Good For Age qualifying times.
The club continued to go from strength to strength, gaining more members and having more race successes. There were however some sadder moments in its history. In spring 2013 Andy Vallance suffered a stroke due to an undiagnosed heart defect. Shocked members all expressed their support and sympathy when the club photo at the Bideford Half Marathon showed them holding placards that spelt “Get well soon Andy”. Thankfully he made a good recovery, but at the time he should have been lining up on the elite start of the London Marathon he was learning how to walk again. Sadder still was the sudden loss of Marilyn Cooper in March 2016, a member from day one, the club’s press officer and a great supporter of all the club stood for. She is still missed today by those who knew her, but her name has been given to one of the club’s races, now known as Marliyn’s Meldon Madness.
With a stronger membership of fast runners, the club fielded teams at the Westward League X-Country races in 2016 and the interest in these highly competitive, but tough races has grown with Okehampton punching above its weight against bigger clubs and University teams.
In 2018 the starting up of a junior section of the club was a milestone that had originally been aimed for when the idea of the club was first conceived. Rob Hicks was the driving force behind this venture and now coaches the juniors on Thursday evenings.
As the club has grown so has its well deserved reputation of being a very friendly, inclusive club, with members supporting runners of all abilities in their individual goals. It has become much more than just a group of runners training together, it has changed peoples lives, friendships have been forged that would otherwise never have happened and the support for fellow ORCs extends to beyond the running scene. Okehampton runners are proud to wear their club colours at races in this country and abroad and represent a club that has come much further than those founding members ever envisaged.