When you’ve had a hard day and are feeling frazzled trying to keep all the plates of your life spinning, there is nothing like a run for giving you a surge of positive energy.
It’s the hit of sunlight as you head out on the open road, it’s noticing the beauty of nature being confined within four walls; it’s the flush that spreads across your cheeks as you find your rhythm.
Of course, for many people, the thought of running has all the appeal of a stale left-over sandwich and conjures up school day memories of miserable cross-country slogs in the rain.
As the kid who used to be picked last for ball teams – and managed to be possibly the only teenager in her sports-mad high school to ever be awarded a D in physical education – I commiserate.
It took years before I hit my stride, so to speak, and I’m still a slow plodder compared to my running friends. But the benefits are so significant, I plan to still be going when I’m 80, providing my knees and ankles agree.
Beyond the physical
The benefits of running regularly are well-documented: it’s one of the most effective forms of weight control and heart health, it improves muscle strength and helps keep joints healthy. It also releases feel-good chemicals that reduce stress and the risk of depression.
However, it wasn’t until I started working as a journalist for a big city daily newspaper, with its manic deadlines and constant pressure, that I really appreciated the mental health benefits. I had been running on and off since my early twenties, more off than on to be honest, but when writing for a newspaper in my home city of Perth, Western Australia, I started going for 30-minute runs through wetlands in the mornings before work two or three times a week. I never knew what to expect on each run: once a deadly tiger snake gave me the fright of my life by rearing up from the dirt path (I kept running, heart pounding – that morning I am sure I hit a personal best).
It didn’t take long to notice that the work day went more smoothly. I felt calmer and more in control; better able to deal with anything that came my way as a news reporter. I also slept better (okay, maybe not after I met the snake).
Since then, I have moved around the world due to work and I kept on running; in the tiny Middle Eastern country of Qatar, where I first started entering 5km and 10km races; and in England, where I have run everywhere from picturesque Yorkshire villages to the surrounds of the Epsom race track, the streets of London to the parks of Liverpool.
Running Tunbridge Wells
So, when we moved to Tunbridge Wells last summer, one of the first things I unpacked was my trainers. Running is a great way to explore a new place – you notice a lot more than you can through car windows, and it really helps you to get your bearings.
I swiftly discovered that Tunbridge Wells is an absolute delight for any runner, even a slow plodder like myself. Minutes from my front door on Mount Ephraim, I am on the Common, where I can watch dog walkers socialising their four-footed pals on the cricket ground and jog under a canopy of stately trees, seeing the seasons turn through the lens of their leaves. Five minutes more and I am past the grandeur of the Spa Hotel and heading to Rusthall, a popular route with a steady uphill climb that leaves you a little out of breath but not absolutely gasping.
For a longer run, my favourite route is to beautiful High Rocks and then to continue on to Groombridge on the curving country roads. The tranquillity is palpable – 15 minutes from Tunbridge Wells, you leave all sense of hectic busy-ness behind and are immersed in a slower, peaceful world of earth and sky. It is a perfect tonic to the 24/7 modern world.
As I became more comfortable running longer routes, I decided to do something I wasn’t sure I had in me – I completed the Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon in February. Even though I was concerned that I might not be able to make the distance – at 13.1 miles, it was the longest I have ever run – the cheers of bystanders and a course through some of the most stunning countryside in Kent kept me going, even up the notoriously hard 300ft Spring Hill in Fordcombe.
I couldn’t believe I had done it; the runner’s high was unbelievable, and even the ache the next day didn’t detract from the feeling. I really wish I could go back in time and show my ninth-grade Physical Education teacher my half-marathon medal. Never mind your ‘D’, Miss – I’ve got a race to run.
Taking up running, or coming back after a break? Top tips
Don’t start too gung-ho
Start with one 20-minute run a week, build up to two, and then add a longer run of around 30-45 minutes when you’re ready.
Have a goal in mind
You will find it easier to stay on track if you are working towards something e.g. a 5km fun run.
Take injury seriously
The quickest way to ensure you won’t be able to run for months? Ignoring that niggling pain. Get medical advice and take the time off you need to recover.
Dawn Gibson is a freelance journalist who writes for UK and international magazines. Read more of her articles at www.dawncreativemedia.com