core of people donning their trainers and hitting the roads, trails, fells and woodland
“Here’s the thing about Sheffield,” said Stuart Hale. “You can start here in Ecclesall Woods and run all the way to Edale without any road running, and get the bus back. Where else can you do that?”
It’s Thursday, and the Woodland Discovery Centre is swarming with fluorescent Sheffielders in their trainers. There really is a running boom in Sheffield, says Stuart.
“You only have to walk out your door to the shops now to see people of all ages and abilities running up and down,” said Dot Kesterton, “and usually these days they’re wearing appropriate clothing rather than Eric Morecambe pants.”
The boom is leading to new business for the Outdoor City, and Stuart’s Accelerate running shop in Attercliffe has seen a particular growth in women runners over the last year, thanks to new women’s clubs and activity campaigns like Sheffield’s MoveMore and ‘This Girl Can’, along with an increased understanding that regular activity is good for both physical and mental health, said Margo Duncan, a GP, triathlete and run leader.
“We can now say to people you can get off your pills if you take up some exercise,” said Margo. “I can advocate exercise as a GP and say it will help you lose weight, improve your blood sugar levels and improve your mood.”
“The evidence is that our sedentary lifestyle where you’re sat in your office, sat in your car, and sat in front of your TV, is incredibly bad for us and incredibly dangerous,” said fellow running doctor Simon McCormick.
“Just getting up and moving is what we want people to start doing. People talk about saving for their financial pension, but I want to enjoy my retirement, so running is my physical pension.”
With help from England Athletics, Sheffield Council have launched 30 new Outdoor City run routes in parks and open spaces, with carefully marked trails usually between 1 and 5km long.
Now there are two new longer routes from city to countryside: the first two ‘challenging routes’ run from Ecclesall Woods along a 14km climb sponsored by Accelerate to Ringinglow and back, or a monster 24km route over Redmires, Stanage and Burbage sponsored by the Inov8 running equipment company.
“These signed trails are not confined to spaces people traditionally associate with walking or running. We’ve tried to incorporate these new routes into communities across Sheffield, to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they live, can join in,” said Councillor Mary Lea, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure.
The city’s six Parkruns (more than anywhere else outside London, said Dot Kesterton) have also helped new runners of all background and ages to start a sport that is traditionally seen as cheap and easy to enter.
On Thursdays a small team of volunteer coaches give tips and workouts to everyone from veterans to beginners at the Ecclesall Woods ‘Wood Run’ (another Wood Run is at Shire Brook on Wednesdays, both subject to a nominal fee to cover costs).
“The run routes and #Woodrun initiatives come from the council, local businesses and runners coming together to create new ideas,” said Sheffield Council Woodland officer Jon Dallow. “We hope these partnerships increase so there’ll be more Wood Runs and run routes in future.”
People take up running mainly for health or social reasons these days, said Stuart Hale, rather than being driven by competition. “There aren’t so many really quick people at the front of a race now,” said Stuart, after years of Sheffield racing, “but there are a lot more people behind them.”
Sheffield is a unique city for running, he said, with the hills and valleys, the parks and woods and the Peak District countryside of heather, hares and curlews within easy reach for the more intrepid runner.
“When you first come to Sheffield and say: ‘What about the hills?’ the locals say: “Hills? Yes, and? Hills aren’t a barrier here, they’re normal,” said Stuart.
“There’s so much variety, you can do trail or fell running, multi terrain or ultras, you can do a tough half marathon, a 10K or a Parkrun tour. I’d say Sheffield is the capital city of running.”