A mile in the shoes of our Woman of Steel!

For the first of our members’ blogs we hear from our amazing 2023 Woman of Steel, Virginie Morris, with an honest and inspiring account of her running journey.

Virginie Morris, known to many for her podium positions, inspiring running achievements and the support and encouragement she gives to others, has allowed us all to get to know her that little bit better.

Thank you very much to Virginie for taking the time and thought in answering these questions so honestly and from the heart. We are sure this will inspire others reading this in many ways that go beyond running.

Tell us about your journey into running….

Although I came to running quite “late” in my life, I’ve always been active as a child, and regularly walked and hiked with my family in the southern French mountains. I was a dancer for over 20 years and this has been a huge part of my younger life. I sadly had to stop when going to university, however, I was lucky to study near the Alps and I spent many hours speed hiking in the mountains there. When I moved to London to carry on with scientific research… well…. the only exercise I seemed to be doing was walking to the pub! Luckily, regular trips back to France to see my family kept me sane and fit as my love of the hills never went away.

Over a decade ago, I moved to Dorchester and became a mother shortly after. Whilst my pregnancies were amazing, both births were traumatic, physically and mentally. Whilst my children are the greatest gift I could ever have hoped for, I suffered from post-natal depression after the birth of my son and, being left emotionally unsupported, my personal life started to fall apart. I took to running as a way to cope with the state of my homelife. At the time, there was only one running club in Dorchester: the Dorset Sole Sisters, a women only club, where I met Karen Mitchell and El Rollet. They were incredibly kind and supportive and, without knowing it, they saved my sanity!

A few years later, after the birth of my daughter, I started hearing about this new running club called RIOT. For months I often saw them whilst out and about, but they seemed so fast, so “professional”! I didn’t think I would fit in and be “good” enough, and was convinced I would be a laughing stock! But finally, one day in November 2019, I attended my very first Thursday run. On El’s advice, I chose Stamina, and it was lead by a lovely lady called Rachel Jones. I was very intimated, the size of the group seemed huge to me, but Rachel was incredibly welcoming and supportive, very friendly and smiling, and I had the most wonderful first run with RIOT! A few weeks later, I gave the Tuesday “specialised” run a go. This was a totally different experience, but again, a very positive and memorable one: a very small group, led by Paul Danbury, at night, going towards Maiden Castle. At that time, this was way out of my comfort zone. I probably had all the wrong kit and shoes on, not sure I even had a torch with me! But Paul was so kind, so inclusive and with such a heart-warming smile, my fears and doubts were immediately put at ease, and I came back home grinning from ear to ear and feeling rather chuffed to have achieved an off-road run in the dark!

These two runs have literally changed my life. They made me come back to the club, and over time, led to many new and unexpected friendships, and quite a few crazy challenges! RIOT has been a very big part of my life since then, it has transformed me not only as a runner but also as a person, and I will forever be grateful for that.

What does running mean to you?

Being free! I once read that “running is the movement of a free human being”. I don’t know if that’s always true, but it is certainly how I feel every time I’m on the trails. It always brings me peace and strength. It recharges and replenishes my mental and emotional batteries, it gives me space to think (or not think) whilst bringing me closer to nature.

I’m always very mindful of the fact that not so long ago, women were not “allowed” to run in events (or run at all in some places) and I never take that freedom for granted. Over the years, I have also learned to place enjoyment, happiness and gratefulness at the forefront of all my runs and races. This now surpasses any good or bad “stats” that I may get, and it is what keeps me coming back for more. As a mother, I have also come to understand the importance of being outdoors and being out of breath in young people. I am very humbled to be inspiring to my own children and to have been sharing many runs with them.

What are your biggest running highlights to date?

My very first Thursday and Tuesday RIOT runs, the Ooser marathon and Cafe50. They have all had a big emotional impact for a variety of reasons.

The Ooser was my very first marathon and it remains one of my most cherished and “landmark” runs (I must say here a huge thank you to Rebecca Bradley, who selflessly ran it with me to make sure I was okay as I had been in hospital the day before). To have won it, when I attempted it again a year later, was a moment of immense joy and pride. This race will always have a very special place in my heart.

Cafe50 was nothing like I’d ever done before, and I would never have contemplated doing anything like this if it hadn’t been for the friendships I made through RIOT. As I did it in memory of Claire Ridge, as I “felt” her running by my side, this will always be one of my most treasured running memories and achievement. I must thank Karen and Rebecca, as well as Malcolm and Louise Curtis, for their incredible and generous support and for getting me through one of the hardest part of the run.

What are your running aspirations for the year ahead?

To inspire, support and encourage more people, of all abilities, to take on running and challenge themselves, to learn and discover more about what they can do. On a personal level, I would like to be able to run the UTMB one day, not “the” major race but perhaps one of the shorter distance they offer. This is a “long term” aspiration but I hope to be able to do it before I’m too old! I would also like to do more races in France as it feels very special to run in my home country.

What do you enjoy most about running RIOT?

I think what sets RIOT apart from other running clubs is that it’s both a serious and fun running club. It’s “serious” in the sense that we are encouraged to take part in races, league races, and we have some specialised running sessions for our members (which are absolutely fantastic to improve your running and, over time, enable everyone to run better and faster). But it’s also a fun, inclusive and relaxed club and the support throughout is just phenomenal. The club challenges are also what makes RIOT unique. They bring members closer together, whilst encouraging them to push themselves beyond what they would normally do or think they can achieve. This is extremely rewarding and satisfying, and as it’s done in good spirit, there’s always a bit of fun and banter to have

What does it mean to you to be the new Woman of Steel for 2023?

I never would have thought myself worthy of deserving this magnificent title, and I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that the lovely comments voters said were indeed about me. I am immensely grateful for the kindness and support of all our club members. It is extremely humbling and gratifying if I have, in some small way, been able to inspire someone else. I think as whole, RIOT is brilliant at supporting us through the ups and downs of our training and running journey.

Quick-fire Questions!

Favourite running shoe: I’ve recently discovered Topo Athletics which are fantastic, but my Hoka Speedgoat have carried me to the end of many hilly trail runs.

Road or trail? Trail!! Hilly trails!!!

Favourite running distance: Half-marathon. It’s long enough to be challenging and rewarding, but not so long that it takes require months of training to do it.

Favourite post run snack: Depends on how long and hard the run has been. A pint of milk, something chocolatey or sweet… and/or something salty!

Favourite place to run: We are spoiled for choice in Dorset! Puddletown Forest, Maiden Castle … and the coastal path! The woods always bring me peace and happiness. As for our lovely coastline: the challenges and rewards of the hills on one side, the power, tranquility and immensity of the sea on the other…bliss!

Weirdest item you’ve run in: Hmmm…. Can’t really think of anything….maybe as I grow older I’ll be bolder!

Favourite event: Hardy Half, along with races from Badger Trail Events….and most of the Purbeck Trail Series runs.

Favourite RIOT challenge: EMC!! I love how the whole club comes together. There’s a real sense of companionship and camaraderie amongst us, lots of banter and support to get those miles done. The fact that it’s done for a very important charity makes it all the more satisfying.

Thank you again to Virginie, we hope you all enjoyed learning more about our new Woman of Steel!

We look forward to more blogs including one from our Man of Steel for 2023, Mark Brown (we promise, no nudity!!). We also have a blog coming from Malcolm Curtis documenting his Ultra Trail Snowdonia Adventure.

If you want to write up a blog on an event or your running journey please get in touch with us! From your journey to 5k to half marathon, marathon and more – all your achievements will inspire others!