As runners we develop a unique understanding of the places where we run. To move across terrain under your own power, on your own two feet, is to experience it in a very specific way. It is different to how we may experience somewhere as a driver, cyclist, or even walker.
We have a runner’s eye view of hills, steps, and puddles. We know short-cuts, scenic routes, pedestrian crossing timings, elevation gradients, and have a mental map of our home neighbourhoods to rival that of any cartographer.
We all have our different routes and areas we like to run: From those we could do with your eyes shut, to those we have yet to fully explore.
And then, there are our favourites. The places we love to run. We might not get the chance to enjoy them as often as we would like, but it’s always wonderful when we do.
The Herd’s favourite places to run
Recently, we asked the fabulous Lonely Goat community, “the Herd”, for their favourite places to run. Inspired by your responses and photos, we’ve explored just what it is that makes our favourite places so special.
Based on your answers, most of your favourite places to run can be loosely categorised as either woodland, hills and mountains, or rivers and coastline.
“My favourite place to run is the Wyre Forest and I run there a lot at the moment as the trails are insane.” Ian Barton
Trees, soft-ground, birds, squirrels, dappled sunlight, and low-level plants on the forest floor.
Few places reflect the changing seasons, or offer the opportunity for full immersion in the natural environment as woods, forests, copses, arboretums, parks and other woodland areas.
Hills and mountains
“Seven Sisters and the South Downs Way. Miles of hills and open spaces, weather all of its own, but so much to challenge you physically and emotionally.” Sam Moon
Heath, dale, flint, slate, sore feet, strained ankles, aching legs, heaving lungs, and a wide open vista at the summit.
Does any environment offer such a satisfying reward for all your effort as hills and mountains? Not only does your hard work running uphill earn you the most incredible views, but you get to enjoy an adrenaline-fuelled descent on the way back down.
Rivers and coastline
“I love running at the coast, as I live miles from the sea I find it nice and peaceful listening to the waves and the fresh air.” Steve Butrym
Calm lakes, raging torrents, babbling streams, crashing waves, culverts, weirs, ponds, and thunderous waterfalls.
It’s hard to define exactly what, but there is something about being next to the water, regardless of the environment, that can make an otherwise mundane run feel very special. Even if it’s just running along a riverbank in the middle of a city, the presence of water alongside is something many of us appreciate.
The common factor
The one thing all our favourite places share is that they’re outdoors and involve nature. This is probably of no surprise. After all, how many people say their favourite place to run is down a busy High Street, endless loops of their neighbourhood, or on the treadmill? Given the choice, most of us would rather be in the great outdoors, or somewhere that resembles it.
Why is this? Let’s consider some possible explanations.
“I enjoy going down the Pennine Trail in Warrington as the scenery is beautiful and you see different things every time you run.” David Fox
Is it that the outdoors is nicer to look at, or less boring? Not necessarily. After all, there is an argument that the city offers more visual interest, with ever-changing street scenes and the hustle and bustle of urban life.
The explanation may be, therefore, that most of us live in built-up areas, so it is the change of scenery that makes it nice to look at. Many of us spend a lot of time in the urban environment, so getting into nature offers a change, an escape, into a realm unrelated to everyday concerns.
However, this wouldn’t explain why people who live in the countryside often still rate it as their favourite place to run.
“I love running along the sea front – it gives me such a buzz!” Jules Dorrington
Is it also slightly subversive? Going somewhere we ordinarily wouldn’t – even if permissable and legal – may feel like an unexpected, slightly naughty, illicit act.
Again, why would this be the case for people who live in their favourite places to run?
Perhaps we’re just hard-wired to find the outdoors more exciting, more visually stimulating, regardless of whether we live in the town or the country.
A calming influence
“Moorland fells! Because it’s where my soul feels at home.” Helen Gwilliam
Or, rather than being more exciting, the opposite could be true. There is plenty of research to suggest that the outdoors has positive benefits for our mental health. It is referred to as ‘The Green Gym’ and is as good for the mind as it is the body.
What running in the outdoors does offer is fewer interruptions. A mile along a coastal path, a rocky ridge, or a forest trail is unlikely to have much in the way of traffic, road crossings, or people to dodge. This means that it is easier to get lost in your thoughts.
It perhaps it might be that we cannot explain why natural running routes are often our favourites. Maybe it is sufficient to recognise that if they are our favourites, they’re probably good for us, and just accept that.
How to venture into the great outdoors
Not every runner has yet had the chance, or wants to run up a mountain, through a forest, or along the coast. That’s fine. We’re all different, living different lives, at different stages of our running journeys, and like to do different things. That’s what makes the Lonely Goat Running Club community so interesting.
But if you would like to venture out into more adventurous terrain and are after some pointers on how to do so, please consider the following.
If you live in the countryside, or by the coast, finding somewhere natural to run through is straightforward. Safety is still important though, even if you’re familiar with the area. As a minimum, please:
- Run with ID and some means of getting home or calling for help.
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to get back.
- Avoid any terrain or situations beyond your skill level. Drowning in open water, getting lost in the woods, or falling off a mountain can take the shine off an otherwise lovely run very quickly.
Where to run
Even in a city, there is nature to be found: parks, old-railway lines, riverbanks and towpaths, the green belt. To find these spaces, get out a paper OS Map, or an online satellite image and look for the green or blue bits. If it’s not private land, then it’s probably ripe for exploring. For example:
- If you’re in London, try the North Downs, Bushy and Richmond Parks, or Epping Forest.
- In Leeds or Birmingham, head out of the city along the canal network.
- In Bristol, head for Ashton Court.
- In Edinburgh, climb Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park.
- In Manchester get out to the parks just inside the M60.
Almost everywhere will have some greenery to be found, even if it’s only a strip of green belt between housing developments. You may have to use your imagination, or do some exploring to find it, but it will be there. It doesn’t take much greenery to give you a nature-boost.
If you’re able to get further afield, then do an online search to look at National Parks or forests. Most have well-marked paths with plenty of route choices, and you can usually find a map or guide book to give you route ideas. Also look at the National Cycle Network for areas that are off-road or run through rural areas. Here are some suggestions of areas you can head to:
- South West England: South West Coastal Path, Bodmin, Dartmoor, or Exmoor.
- Southern England: The New Forest or the extensive open space on the Isle of Wight.
- South East England: The South Downs, Surrey Hills or Kent Downs.
- Eastern England: The Suffolk or Norfolk coasts.
- Central England: Cotswolds or Peak District.
- North West England: Lake District or Yorkshire Dales.
- North East England: Kielder Forest or Northumberland National Park.
- Southern Scotland: The Trossachs National Park.
- Northern Scotland: Cape Wrath or just about anywhere!
- Northern Ireland: Mourne Mountains.
- Northern Wales: Snowdonia or the Anglesey coast.
- Southern Wales: Brecon Beacons or Pembrokeshire coast.
The examples given are not exhaustive and limited to the UK as that is where the majority of Lonely Goat Running Club members are from. However, no matter where you live in the world, the basic principles hold true. Just get out there and explore.
You might not need any different kit to that you would use for any other run. You might wish to take the following though, depending on where you are running:
- A map and compass.
- Trail shoes if the terrain is tricky to run on.
- Food, a bottle or hydration pack if you’re heading out for a really long run in the middle of nowhere, with no shops to buy supplies from.
- First aid kit, head-torch, and some warm, waterproof layers if you’re heading into the wilderness, to help keep you warm and safe should you get injured far from home.
- Long socks or leggings if likely to be dodging through brambles or other spiky, low-growing plants.
Get out there!
Hopefully this article has inspired you to get out there and explore. The positive benefits of running in the great outdoors cannot be understated. If you’ve not done it yet, pick a spot on a map and give it a go. If you come home muddy, with achey legs, or the tang of salty spray from the sea on your face, then you’re probably getting it right.
Of course, if you’re already doing lots of running in the natural environment, then keep on doing it!
Either way, we love to hear about your runs, so feel free to post your tips and route choices in the Lonely Goat Running Club Chat group on Facebook.
The image at the top of this page is Glyn Meredith’s photo of the Cornish Coast.
A big thanks to all the Goats who told us about, or shared pictures of their favourite places to run:
Alan Roberts, Allan Lawson, Amanda Waring, Andre Swanepoel, Avril Parker-Jones, Bella West, Bill Burgess, Carl Langford, Chris Butterworth, Claire Brook, Colin Mangiagalli, Craig Jones, Dan Bell, David Burns, David Fox, Elizabeth Moore, Emma Grigg, Emma Waters, Finola O’Neill, Frances Cavanagh, Gerry Adams, Glyn Meredith, Graham Kirk, Helen Gwilliam, Ian Barton, Ian Welch, Jacob Stuart, James Willis, Jenny Laidlaw, Jodie Jeffery, John Butler, Johnny Murphy, Jules Dorrington, Julie Walker, Katie Grant, Kirsty Whiting, Lee Fisher, Lou Em, Marie McAulay Waterson, Mark Poole, Martina Moffat Novakova, Martin Barnes, Martin Bowman, Martin Free, Matt Smith, Michael Tupling, Mike Dunning, Neil Simmonds, Nicholas Bowles, Nick Jones, Ollie Frogg, Paul Finley, Paul Sargeant, Philip Horan, Richard Cange, Richard Kneller, Saf Juan, Sam Moon, Sos Sos, Sousxie Slater, Stephen Elkan, Stephen Little, Steve Butrym, Stuart Rome, Tim Petken, Victoria Sibley, and Zippy Davies.