18 May

Group Thinking

GroupCamaraderie, support, motivation, social interaction… Do the benefits of running in a group really need explaining you may ask? Perhaps not, but they’re certainly worth exploring. Despite a multitude of running groups and clubs springing up in recent years, many still view the activity as a solitary pursuit. Not the case.

Compared to other sports, running is particularly suited to socialising. Joining a running group differs from a football or rugby club where there’s a tight-knit collection of individuals who develop a shared sense of purpose. Running is far less exclusive – you can run with as few or as many people as you wish.

Removing Barriers
I spoke to Maurice Donohue from mental health charity SAMH, to get a more informed take on the matter. He tells me: “When you’re in an office, sat behind a desk, there’s a barrier between you and your colleague. So you’re less likely to talk openly in that environment. Whereas if you go running with a group of people, the barrier is removed. You don’t have to look the person in the eye and will generally feel more relaxed as a result. In running groups, the conversation flows naturally. I think it’s hard to overestimate just how beneficial that can be.”

For those who find the prospect of talking to a group of strangers slightly daunting, there is no pressure to socialise. Instead it’s something that occurs naturally, as another runner I spoke to explains: “It’s kind of like an army experience. It brings people closer because you lose this ego issue – this protection of yourself. When you run together you get to be yourself and you lose the guard that you usually have. You really get to know a person.”

Up and Running
Groups are slowly starting to explore mental health issues, as the stigma begins to fade. Jog leaders are now being educated on what to do if a runner approaches them with mental health issues. One group set up to deal specifically with these issues is Up and Running in Deal, Kent. The group was founded by Harriet Heal, a clinical psychologist, and Shona Campbell, a running coach who has suffered with depression in the past. On why the group works, Shona says: “Depressed people often feel isolated, so peer support can be vital, and there is evidence that being outdoors is beneficial for mental health. I think that’s why our group works – the combination of being outdoors, running, and getting to know other people who have similar problems is the key.”

Structural Advantage
Another advantage of joining a group is the structure it can bring to your life. You can make up a running schedule with the best intentions, but it can often fall by the wayside. Incorporating weekly group sessions into your routine often acts as a catalyst for organising other areas of your life.

A group, of course, is not a substitute for a therapist or a medical professional. It does however provide a support network, and an outlet to unwind and mix with likeminded people. I’ve yet to hear of anyone joining a group and not making friends or becoming happier as a result. And, of course, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than going to the pub.