How running has helped these Kent people
- Credit: Archant
Wherever you go in Kent you’ll find people just like us pounding the streets, parks and waterways. So why are we all running?
While the physical benefits of exercise have been out in the public domain for decades, more recently the mental and social health benefits have edged their way forward.
Kent's very own Dame Kelly Holmes, the celebrated double Gold Olympian, has spoken openly about her own mental health challenges, which many of us can relate to. When the trappings of life threaten to overwhelm us, it's often the first sign that we need to grasp our own reality and stop and listen to what our body is telling us.
But what is it about running specifically and its benefits that has gripped so many of us? I spoke to Clare Norris of The Kent Running Coach. Following the birth of her second child, a touch of post-natal depression and feelings of isolation led to Clare starting to run with other mums. She quickly noticed how she began to get her identity back.
An unplanned change in my own daily routine saw my emotional and social life adjust overnight. Gone was the financial ability to buy into my local gym's classes, as was my emotional functioning and the security of my social network. Forced by circumstances to dig out weathered old trainers and find a way to exercise for free helped me address both my physical and emotional wellbeing.
There's something childlike about the act of running; you can quite literally run away from reality, it's a powerful tool for clearing your mind and, unlike many other sports or exercise sessions, it can happen anywhere, whatever your shape, size or age.
There are running groups across Kent set up specifically for those struggling with anxiety and depression, with an active focus on inclusion, community, togetherness and wellbeing.
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The parkrun movement encourages us all to exercise in the natural environment by offering free weekly 5k timed events at local parks. With around a dozen to choose from across Kent, they offer the perfect chance to kickstart your weekend with physical and mental stimulation.
For those of us who find freedom in solitary running but still enjoy a challenge, virtual running groups are an option, offering a reward for achieving your goals. Apps and gadgets can keep you entertained, from playlists to inspire (Spotify and Napster) to watches that track every step and monitor your heart rate. Podcasts deliver training plans and inspiring talks; books and magazines add to the mix.
With all this activity let's not forget 'rest' days, an important element of any runner's schedule, allowing joints to recover and muscles to repair and strengthen.
So, whether the last time you ran was around the school playground in plimsolls or for the bus, the mental and social health benefits are endless. And with lighter evenings here, why not set a goal and run for a charity supporting mental health on 5 June 2019, National Running Day?
Hannah-Jane (H-J) is in her forties and lives in Boughton Monchelsea, where she runs the local Brownie unit. A regional HR manager and consultant for an accountancy practice, she's married with two step children.
H-J suffered with ill health for a number of years and always assumed running was way out of her league. Two turning points changed her mindset. She started working with personal trainer Pip Lawrence, founder of Day One Wellness, who managed to get her to 'run to the next lamp post.'
The second was the threat of redundancy: "It was a case of turning to the gin, or something more constructive and ultimately, the something more constructive won, and that was running!"
H-J continued her weekly sessions at D1W to get fitter and tentatively mentioned she was 'considering' running. "I was beginning to realise that it wasn't my so-called health issues holding me back, it was just me, and the belief that my health issues meant I couldn't run."
A Couch to 5k programme (via the app) later, H-J was amazed when she first found she could run for more than 10 minutes without stopping. She soon built up to 5k, but still ran in secret.
A post about the London Winter run prompted her to sign up and invest in a running machine to build up distance and stamina and get past her '5k barrier.'
H-J's highlight to date is a 10km run for Cancer Research UK. "I ran all the way for the first time ever; I'm still smiling now! I am physically fitter, mentally more resilient and am much more likely to come home after a tough day and go out for a run than sit on the sofa nursing a G&T.
"I have something I can share with people and be proud of, and I've made new friends as a result of running. It costs nothing other than proper running shoes, so it's good for the bank balance too!"
Kent Life's editor, who is about to become a first-time grandma, is a long-standing, very regular member of her local sports centre in Tonbridge. But she has always shied away from running.
A birth defect to both feet followed by an operation when she was five, hospitalising her for a month, left Sarah with flat feet, a pigeon-toed gait, back problems and poor balance.
"Needless to say, running was the last thing I thought I would ever do - or indeed could do," she tells me. Six years ago, Sarah was recommended the services of a podiatrist, who advised customised orthotics and to change her footwear choices. It made a huge difference.
In 2018 she interviewed Pip Lawrence for Kent Life at the launch of Day One Wellness in Penshurst and was inspired to sign up for a 12-week 'recalibrate your wellbeing' course. "At our first session Pip said I needed to set a goal and I told her I wanted to run 5K that year - although secretly I didn't think I meant it," she says.
Despite her doubts, after three months working with Pip and learning better 'habits for life', Sarah signed up for the very next Beginners to Runners course in her area. Ten weeks later, she completed a non-stop 5K run.
After B2R, Sarah joined a local running group, Just Run. She also runs with a friend and they've done their first park run together. It's not all been plain sailing, however. Sarah pulled a hamstring on a recent group run, fell and has had to take several weeks off to rest and recover.
Now back on her feet, she says: "After a lifetime telling myself 'I can't run,' I've proved I can; not always well or indeed consistently, but the feeling when it all 'works' is wonderful. My busy head is clearer, I'm sleeping better, and for longer, and I've met so many inspiring people. If I can do it, anyone can. Start slowly and by joining an organised group you'll get all the motivation you need to keep going - and new friends too."
Fiona, 44, lives in Hartley with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. An HR professional in magazine publishing in London for 10 years, in 2004 she made a life-changing decision to work from home with her husband. She has also recently qualified as a massage therapist.
As for running, "it was always something I thought other people did," Fiona admits. "I loved sports at school but after concentrating on my career, I never really had the time. I visited the gym twice a week, but it was a chore rather than enjoyment. I'm also a size 14 and always thought I wasn't the right build to run."
Fiona suffers from thyroid disease, which has led to weight gain, and has had two operations on her shoulders, joint issues and bursitis of the hip, elbow and wrist. She has to battle with extreme fatigue and leg cramps.
However, when Fiona won a treadmill, she started to train at home regularly until she felt confident enough to sign up for a 5k Race for Life in Maidstone.
"I ran it on my own to see if I could, and loved it! I'd watched a local 10K and longed to be able to run this distance, but just thought I'd never be capable. I was fit but felt that I just didn't look the part."
With her 40th birthday fast approaching, Fiona joined the Meopham and Malling Ladies Joggers and started a six-week Couch to 5k programme. Over the year she attended three beginners' groups, lacking the confidence to move on, but with encouragement, finally moved up to the intermediates. "In my mind, this meant I'd officially become a runner," she says and indeed she is, running run two or three times a week with MMLJ, plus a longer eight-mile run on Saturday.
"People make the assumption that if you are overweight you must be lazy and over eating. Exercise can be a struggle if my thyroid isn't controlled, but I find running really helps," she says.
"You'll never regret a run, you will always regret not running."
Kieron Fosher, 34, lives in Maidstone and works as a management accountant while also training for a degree with the Open University in Sports, Fitness and Coaching.
Naturally good at running and football, he gave up both as a young adult. However, after going through some 'seriously dark times', when he finally sought help his GP gave him three options: take anti-depressants, attend counselling or do more exercise.
Kieron chose the third option and booked a place in the Brighton Marathon. "This is not something I would recommend! My training was hit and miss," he admits.
He hadn't, however, dealt with his mental health issues, work was suffering and he resigned, found another job, but was failing to deal with increasing depression and anxiety. The downward spiral led to stress paralysis, and the worst mental breakdown of his life.
Eventually returning to work, Kieron again turned to running, signing up for a 10k race in London. After completing it he posted about it on social media, little realising that one post would change his life. "Within hours a support network came out of nowhere. People who'd suffered the same gave me support, praise and told me I wasn't alone. I fell in love with running, with the community, the support, the feeling of being free," he says.
Realising he could use running to help himself and others, Kieron set up a free social run group called the RIOT'ers (Running Is Our Therapy). He also manages an online virtual running club offering challenges and medals to people who want to enjoy running and get rewarded for it.
This year Kieron's goal is to complete his highest mileage in one year by completing 12 marathons in 12 months.
"Running has had a huge impact on my whole life," he says. "Physically, I am stronger and mentally, running gives me a space to process thoughts and clear my head, releasing any energy and anxiety I'm struggling with. Socially, I have never had so many people in my life.
"My advice to anyone thinking about starting to run is to find a race to enter, a local social run group or a parkrun event. You may not chat to people on your first event, but that will come. The hardest part is getting out there, the easiest part is running."
Top tips for running
- Get the correct-fitting footwear
- Prevent blisters with the right socks. Sports specific socks are seam free, wick the moisture away from your skin and keep the foot dry
- In winter months, wear highly visible clothing, reflective items and LED lights that attach to your clothes and/or shoes
- Let someone know you are out and how long you expect to be. Take your mobile phone to track you run (eg Strava/MapMyRun).
- Start running slowly as a warm up and stretch afterwards
- Do not increase your distance by more than 10 per cent each week.
- Don't just run, get a different session to give your body different physical demands such as cross training, Pilates or circuits for strength and flexibility.
- And one from me to the ladies:
- Invest in a good sports bra; check out the kit advice on the Meopham & Malling ladies joggers' page.
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