Running is a simple way to take exercise. All you need is a pair of running shoes and you can start right outside your front door. It is also one of the most effective ways to get in touch with the natural world. From almost any where in the West of England it is possible to get out into the green outdoors and back home within an hour, if you are running rather than walking.
Running has all the health benefits of walking with the advantage that once you break into a run, your heart and lungs are working that bit harder, which in the long term means they work more effectively. Of course there is a risk in stressing your heart and you should check with your doctor before starting to run if you are not used to it. It is in any case better to start slowly and increase pace and distance gradually. You may begin like I did by jogging round the block, but if you persist you will be surprised how far you can go.
The most common reason that people give for not running is "It’s boring." And it can be if you run the same route all the time on your own, but once you get going, you will find that there are three main ways to keep interested: a variety of routes, running with a group and something to aim at.
You will probably begin by running from home or from your place of work. If you can run from both, you have already doubled the possibilities. However, if is better for your legs if you can run on a variety of surfaces, which you can find if you explore the local footpaths, parks and trails. The Outdoorswest website can help you to find paths near your home. Click on Interactive maps on the home page. When the map comes up, click on Find a Place and then enter your postcode. The map that comes up will show any Public Rights of Way in your area that you may not know about. If you use a bigger scale you will get the street names, which makes the map easier to read. We cannot guarantee that all the paths on this map actually work on the ground, but the majority of them are easy to find. There may also be features routes near you, which we have tested.
However, it will be some time before the whole area is covered and in the meantime you may find Walkit.com helpful. The way the instructions are written are rather quirky, but they can be made to work if you are familiar with the area and adjust the timing for running rather than walking.
One of the best ways to find new routes is to join a running group. Of course, if you can persuade a friend to start with you, you will be a new running group of two, but you might be better off joining a more formal group, which has a fund of experience to share. Running Clubs can sound intimidating, but they all cater for different abilities to a greater or lesser extent. You can search for local clubs on the UK Athletics website.
Among the least competitive groups are the Hash House Harriers who organise runs across the OutdoorsWest area and advertise themselves as "drinking clubs with a running problem" and run from a different pub every week although of them drink soft drinks nowadays. They keep everyone together by laying down a flour trail with checks and false trails to fool the quicker runners while everyone else catches up. Some people manage to keep up by walking, and most combine walking and running so hashing is very non-threatening way to see how you get on with other people.
There are also running groups attached to some running shops and leisure centres, which will help you find your way around.
Most running clubs run off road for part of the year at least, which puts less pressure on the joints and some, like Town and Country Harriers run off road all the year, even in the dark by torchlight in winter. (See list of clubs)
If you like using maps Orienteering is a good way to enjoy running off road. Bristol Orienteering Klub (BOK) is the local branch with informal training events in the summer and weekly training runs. There are four permanent orienteering courses in the district at Blaise Castle, Ashton Court, Leigh Woods and Three Brooks Nature Reserve in Bradley Stoke, where you can try it out privately.
One of the best ways to keep on running is to set yourself targets. There are a number of quite informal events put on by running clubs and others, which enable you to test yourself against others. For example, there are races on the Sri Chinmoy Peace Mile in Eastville Park during the summer - these are between 1 mile and 5 kilometres. There are also 5 kilometre races put on every Saturday morning at 9am in the Ashton Court estate by Parkrun.
Other races can be found on our events page including several off-road races that exploit the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
The ultimate challenge is the ultra-marathon. There are two standing challenges in the area – The Green Man Challenge, which uses the 45 mile Community Forest Path around Bristol, which has been completed by around 40 people so far and the 110 mile Cotswold Way. Three people are know to have completed the latter in under 24 hours including Martin Beale, the co-holder of the Green Man Challenge record of 7 hours 19 minutes and 50 seconds.
There's more information about getting started with running on the Run Britain website, including information on how to stay safe.
This article was contributed by Chris Bloor. Chris is a JLAF member, runner and co-ordinator of the Friends of the Community Forest Path.