Ultra marathon runner Ben Dave tackles the hills of Sheffield and reveals how a mixture of fresh air and exercise helps improve mental health.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous,” said Ben Dave on Saturday in his broad north Yorkshire accent while spending a euphoric sunny morning in The Outdoor City, after 260 miles of hills, housing estates and rainy moorland bogs in other parts of God’s own county.
“Coming over Stanage Edge just now we saw hundreds of people running, climbing, mountain biking, paragliding, and I thought these people are just living. This is what I think life is all about, getting outside with your mates and doing stuff.”
On Saturday, Ben ran the Sheffield leg of his 450 mile ‘Running Yorkshire’ ultra marathon around the Yorkshire border. He said his aim is to ‘have a big adventure’ while also raising £20,000 for Calm (Campaign Against Living Miserably) charity which works to prevent male suicide in Britain, where suicide is the biggest single killer of men under 45. Two years ago I was going through a depressive period myself. I was having suicidal thoughts and googling how to do it, and I realise now how close I got.”
Running became a therapy for Ben as he came out of his depression. “A friend started dragging me out running, and now I start every day with a run, no matter where I am, because it makes me feel in control of my life. Having even just 20 minutes a day to get outside and clear your head is incredibly valuable.”
He decided to raise money for CALM and registered for the infamous ‘Marathon des Sables’ 156 mile trek across the Sahara desert. But faced with an entry fee of over £4,000, he concluded in true Yorkshire fashion: “That seemed crackers, so I pulled out to do my own version instead.”
Apart from being 300 miles longer than the Marathon des Sables, he said the Yorkshire boundary run “has less sand, better views, and it’s a lot more friendly.”
He’s lost count of the pints he’s been bought by well-wishers, and he praised the support from locals and free hospitality at pubs and bed and breakfasts across Yorkshire.
He discovered via social media that a mysterious runner called ‘Ash’ had quietly completed the first county boundary run in 2016. “He was very supportive, and came and found me while I was wild camping near Tees Valley Airport and brought me some fish and chips.”
A succession of runners and supporters joined Ben as he skirted Sheffield, many with their own stories to tell.
Alongside Derwent reservoir he met National Trust ranger Tom Harman, who also volunteers for the GoodGym running charity.
“Mental health is a big problem that people don’t talk about,” said Tom. “But the evidence shows that the more people get out to be active in a natural environment the better it is for their mental and physical health. We’ve got some of the best countryside in Britain on our doorstep here, and we think it’s about making your connection with nature a mechanism to support yourself to get through difficult times.”
Up on sunny Stanage Jay Stocks from the Smiley Paces running club gave Ben a cash donation after running over from Dronfield, spurred on by the statistics showing there are still 12 male suicides every day in Britain after her own brother, Richard, committed suicide 18 years ago.
She said: “There are so many young men exactly like my brother, just trying to get on with it until they can’t, and then they take the only way out they feel is appropriate. I hope this will help raise awareness and help somebody else in future.”
Police officer Zaf Ali turned up to guide Ben over Stanage and Totley Moor. Zaf said he’d lost a close colleague to suicide two years ago. I wanted to show support because I’ve learned it’s alright to say ‘I’m not alright’, but it’s very hard for a lot of blokes to say that, particularly in the kind of job I do. It can be very very difficult, but I do think we’re getting a lot better now at looking after our people.”
Gangs of smiling Sheffield runners came and went, as Ben and his tent and his Yorkshire flag came down off the moors for the last time and headed out to the flatlands of Doncaster and beyond. “Running round Yorkshire has been incredible,” he said. “Everywhere there’s so much love and support. It’s been a really life affirming experience.”
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