On Saturday, London celebrates Pride with its annual parade. While most of those taking part or watching from the crowded streets will be doing so with a drink in hand and plenty of glitter, the London Frontrunners will be running the route. Followed up, of course, by brunch and a big old party.

The Frontrunners are Europe’s largest LGBT+ sports club, with more than 400 members taking part in their runs, trips to international races and busy social calendar. Mary Cormack, their publicity officer, whom I met during Monday’s 10km from Elephant & Castle to Battersea Park, tells me that the 80 wristbands to run in the Pride Parade went faster than Usain Bolt.

I asked several of the runners what drew them to the Frontrunners, rather than one of the hundreds of other running groups in the city. For most it was the appeal of making new friends within the LGBT+ community and not having to worry about any kind of prejudice or lack of awareness that could perhaps still linger in the locker rooms of more traditional running clubs. Mary explained: “It wasn’t actually until I found an LGBT-friendly club that I realised it does actually make a difference.”

Joining a running club can be pretty daunting in the first place. Turning up and seeing a huge group of whippet-thin, Lycra-clad runners who rack up insanely fast times can be really intimidating if you’re just getting into the sport. This is definitely not the case with the Frontrunners. On arrival several people come up to say “Hi” and, before the main run starts, session leader Christos invites newbies to say hello before talking the 40-strong group through today’s route and some upcoming social events.

The London branch of Frontrunners was established in 1995, but the original San Francisco Frontrunners was started in 1974 by Jack Baker and Gardner Pond. Now there are Frontrunners chapters across the globe, from Canada to China, Australia to Israel.

During our sunny evening run it was good to see a real mix of abilities. Faster runners took off at impressive speed, waving cheerily as they passed those who were mostly there to chat with friends and were taking a more leisurely pace along the Thames.

Outfits for the Pride parade were the main topic of discussion, but several of the runners also tell me about an upcoming trip to Odense, Denmark, where some will be completing their first half marathon. Followed, of course, by drinks to celebrate.

Creating safe spaces for everyone to enjoy sport is hugely important. Sadly, despite improving awareness and acceptance of LGBT+ people within the workplace, sport is one area of society that has been slow to catch up.

Sport England’s 2016 study on the participation of LGBT+ people in sport found that despite improvements, many still struggle to find safe spaces to be “out” and accepted in their chosen sport: “Around 17% of survey respondents were members of a sports club or team, with 48% of these being members of LGBT-specific clubs.”

Positive inclusion is clearly something that needs to continue, as many LGBT+ people still feel that traditional clubs aren’t doing enough to eradicate homophobia and transphobia – but campaigns such as Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces and the visibility of large groups such as Frontrunners offer a blueprint to other organisations and teams that want to become more knowledgeable and inclusive.

As we make the turn in Battersea Park to head back for the post-run pub social, Mary tells me that for the Frontrunners, inclusion, understanding and acceptance are what it’s all about.

“When we go for a social, it’s not even something you think about. We’ll go to a venue that is LGBT+ friendly, so that’s not even an issue because it’s part of the group’s identity and ethos.”

Like many people, when I first got into running I thought it was a pretty solitary activity. So when I came across groups where I could meet other runners who would sympathise about my 10k time (unlike my non-running friends), as well as helping me improve, it was a huge confidence boost. It also helped me commit more to staying active, something that I’d always struggled with.

Hopefully other run clubs will take inspiration from the Frontrunners and adopt a more inclusive approach to welcoming LGBT+ members. For instance, all running clubs could put a pledge in their club charter/bylaws stating they welcome all runners to join no matter their sexual orientation – or they can join campaigns like Rainbow Laces to do more to be inclusive at grassroots level.

The sense of pride when it comes to completing a race or waking up early for that pre-work run is, after all, universal. And running has a way of connecting people from all kinds of backgrounds. As Charlie Dark, founder of Run Dem Crew and coach for the BBC’s Mind Over Marathon says: “The road does not care if you are a CEO or unemployed, rich or poor. If you train for the road, it will reward you in ways you could never imagine.” So, this weekend, if you’re going to watch the Pride parade, raise a glass and rainbow flag for the Frontrunners.

Frontrunners welcome runners to their weekly sessions. They also hold specific new member days each month. Visit their website or Facebook to find out more.

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