Running As Therapy by Mike Findlay

Nearly everyone’s mental health has had a knock at some point during the pandemic. Even the most positive of us have had our moments, particularly with changing restrictions and lockdowns. 

The more cooped-up inside we are, the more our mental health suffers. This much we know.

It not surprising then that during these Covid-19 times, many Glaswegians are pounding the streets and canal paths with their trainers than ever before. And I have to admit, I am one of them.

It seems ironic that a public health crisis has provided the perfect opportunity for runners in Glasgow to up their game. But this is exactly what we are seeing. Take a look down the Kelvin Walkway any day of the week, and you would be hard pushed not to notice the determined look of runners of all ages and levels of fitness, come rain or shine.

The physical benefits of running are clear – inches off the waistline and improvement of the overall function of your heart – but we are just waking up to just how helpful running is for boosting your mental health.

And the research tells us so: academics at the University of Arizona compared the MRI scans of runners’ brains to non-runners and concluded that running affects the structure and function of the brain, similar to taking on a complex task like playing a musical instrument.

Scientific evidence from the University of Oxford shows that the post-run high is brought about by a substance called ‘cannabinoids’ being present in the body which is also present within marijuana. It can present that high and calming influence over you. Which is partly why running is good at combating depression. 

Beyond the hard science and closer to home, there is a group of inspiring runners in Glasgow who are seeing real results with their members when it comes to beating the Covid blues.

Glasgow FrontRunners (GFR) is one of the city’s biggest running teams. It is part of a global network of running teams that are LGBT inclusive. People from all walks of life run with the team – you don’t have to identify as LGBT to join.

It is well known that LGBT people’s mental health suffers disproportionately compared to other groups in society. GFR has arguably provided a lifeline for many during the pandemic who have seen an improvement to their mental health through running and also the social aspects of the club. 

Jo Jeffreys former President of GFR comments: “When lockdown happened it was clear that many of our members were distressed about not being able to meet up each week to run together. For many of them, it’s the highlight of their week. We had to think innovatively as a committee about how we could keep the club going and at the same time, paying attention to guidelines and restrictions. 

“At the height of lockdown, when we weren’t meeting at all, we set up a Facebook group for members to share selfies on their own individual runs. This was hugely popular as it helped everyone remain connected. It grew arms and legs and we then decided to take it one step further and set up a ‘don’t break the chain’ running calendar to see how many hours in the day we could have GFR runners on the streets of Glasgow. We did this a number of times as it was so popular. 

“A number of our runners managed to complete their own marathons through sheer grit and determination, which has helped keep the club ethos going during the pandemic. 

“Our members repeatedly tell us how GFR is more than just a running club, it’s a social network and community group. Some of our members have been feeling socially isolated and have suffered from depression and if running itself and being part of the club can alleviate that, then it can only be a good thing.”

Cameron has been a member of GFR for the last 2 years. He comments: “I have suffered from periods of anxiety and depression all of my adult life. I have tried medication and meditation, but nothing seemed to work. I took up running in my own time and saw some benefits to my mental health immediately. My mood was lifted, and I also began to sleep better. 

“Once I felt more confidence as a runner, I decided to join GFR. Now I am a more serious runner, I have seen huge improvements to my physical health and at the same time I have seen the improvements mentally. There is also a real added benefit to running with the group and it’s a very sociable and supportive bunch. Members meet up outside the group, where we can, and during the pandemic we have organised a number of social events online including quizzes and our AGM.” 

Aye Run is another innovative running initiative coming out of Glasgow. It’s the brainchild of local all-round running enthusiast, Sean Reid. Combining his love of running with history and culture, Sean organises running tours of Glasgow which appeal to natives and tourists alike. 

His runs take in everything from George Square, the Cathedral, the Necropolis and Glasgow Green – but also some ‘off-the-beaten-track’ sights looking at architecture and statues and some of Glasgow’s ‘hidden’ street art.

What better way to stimulate and improve both your physical and mental health by running and leaning something about your home city at the same time?

Sean comments: “I have always been passionate about the history of the city, its stories, buildings and murals that pop up all over the place. I wanted to do something different with my runs that brought both elements together and allowed me to share my knowledge of Glasgow and its culture with other people. Our runs are at a relaxed pace and really are for everyone.

“Our post-lockdown tours have attracted more locals than previously. For me, it’s really rewarding helping people from Glasgow discover their own city, seeing them astonished when they find out the hidden history of a place they’ve walked past a hundred times without a second glance.”

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