These last 18 months have been challenging for everyone in their own way, and for us runners we have really missed the social side of being able to run in a group together; sharing our common goals, shooting the breeze while we pound the pavements, and comparing injuries, niggles and other shared worries or ailments that all runners seem to collect by the bucket load. We’ve been lucky that our exercise of choice was able to continue through the pandemic (albeit running alone or with just one other) while other organised sports were curtailed. But we’ve missed the large group runs, the social gatherings before and after a run, the excitement of mass participation at running events and of course, our staple weekly running event – parkrun. But now, tentatively, with everything crossed and sensible measures in place, we are coming back, returning slowly to a form of ‘normal’.
This week we celebrated our return to social running by taking part in the #RunAndTalk initiative with England Athletics, in conjunction with the Mental Health charity Mind. The week long campaign, held twice a year, places a focus on improving mental wellbeing through running – encouraging people to help break the stigma around the subject by meeting for a run and discussing mental health. Our club, along with many others across the country, is on a database of UKA affiliated and Run Together groups to whom external organisations can make referrals, should a runner with mental health issues wish to take up running.
In addition the club now has six Mental Health Champions: Ali Pay, Kate Bone, Maxine Hornby, Gemma Merritt, Emma Dowinton & our Poole Muddy Runner, Darryl Walsh. Our job is to help our existing runners, new runners and returning runners to use our sessions (and the online facebook network) to support their mental health – by providing company, motivation and a sense of connection and togetherness. We are also equipped to signpost individuals to outside organisations and agencies that can offer further support, when things become tricky and running with friends just isn’t enough.
As a club we focus on the social aspect of running, and although we have many runners in the club who run super-fast or super-far, our main objective is to bring people together while using running to support our physical and mental health. When we start exercising, our bodies release ‘happy hormones’ - dopamine, seratonin and endorphins - which give us that positive feeling we can experience after taking part in physical activity, also known as ‘the runner’s high’. When you run with someone else, you can experience a release of an additional hormone called oxytocin (aka the love hormone). And this, combined with forward movement, and the fact that you are looking forward and not into each other’s eyes, can result in runners experiencing a sensation of trust, resulting in them talking more, sharing, and confiding.