Until recently the thought of running outside for pleasure or any other reason was a complete anathema to me. I preferred a prohibitively expensive exercise routine, where I’d fork out a great deal of money to join a fitness club, guilt-trip myself into going twice a month (thus wasting a great deal of money) and slog away on a treadmill in an hermetically sealed huge room trying to watch Come Dine With Me on the screen at the same time etc. You know the drill.
In fact truth be told, as a former fitness instructor I felt quite at home in gyms but then three things happened. 1. I moved a couple of times and fell foul of those invidious cancellation agreements in the small print of the gyms. 2. I got a dog, then another dog and started going OUTSIDE and realised I liked the trees, and the birds and even the rain and the snow. I actually enjoyed the variable. And 3. I tried running outside and it wasn’t that bad. Nobody laughed (overtly) at my running or my trainers or my tendency to sing to my music.
But this being the weekend of the Eden Project marathon and half marathon, it’s point 2 I’d like to major on: Being outside.
The great biologist Edward O Wilson hypothesised that humans are hard-wired to crave the natural world. From a green point of view this is good: an innate need to spend time in the woods means we're less likely to destroy them.
But how does biophilia (as that instinctive bond between human and nature is properly called) work at speed? Not, you understand, that I’m suggesting I’m a fast runner but I mean that if travelling slightly quicker than a walk is it still possible to properly appreciate and benefit from the Great Outdoors at pace? I think it is.
This year I’ve done baby runs everywhere I’ve gone from alongside the Tyne to the Avon (I love a river run). I’ve spent proportionally more of my life outdoors and therefore it’s no coincidence I’ve seen my first kingfisher and a dozen other birds I can’t identify. Plus, in common with many walkers and custodians of different landscapes I’d fight tooth and nail to keep my favourite runs accessible and in pristine condition. Running’s made a conservationist out of me.
All of this is of course common knowledge: The Conservation Volunteers has been running Green Gyms for ever. Meanwhile running and outdoor exercise in general is booming in the UK. Inevitably The Man wants to take control. Some local authorities, particularly around London, are threatening to charge fitness instructors and group fitness leaders to use green spaces. They can jog on frankly. Sometimes local users of parks support this sort of licensing of commercial users. Don’t. While I know it can be disconcerting when you’re communing with nature in a local part and a swarm of British Military Fitness participants appear over the crest of the hill and start doing press-ups around you, remember it could be the first time those exercisers have connected with that green space. If it’s ever under threat (TVC reminds us that a third of green spaces are under threat in the UK), they’ll be powerful allies with good core strength.
Anyways, please remind me of all of this and my passion for the Great Outdoors when I’m slogging away this coming Sunday around Eden’s Half Marathon (incidentally my first!).