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Shona Campbell
17
All People

Up and Running

Sport and physical activity have real positive benefits for mental health. The running group 'Up and Running' in Sevenoaks has helped many women improve their mental wellbeing, and has had an impact on the coaches as well

Shona Campbell is a freelance indexer and running coach, who six years ago set up a running group – ‘Up and Running’ – in Sevenoaks, with fellow runner and clinical psychologist, Harriet Heal. The group has since helped dozens of women improve their mental well-being through exercise. In this article, Shona explores the reasons why she and Harriet started the club, as well as reflecting on the impact coaching has had on her life.

Where it all started

I was never a particularly sporty person and by the time I reached my early 40s and had two children I felt very out of shape.  A local friend joined a running group and encouraged me to try their beginners’ course, and that was the start of a big change in my life.

I’m certainly not a born runner, and I really struggled with the beginner’s course, but sheer stubbornness made me persevere.

To my surprise after a few months I started to enjoy running, and I never looked back.

After a few years of helping out informally with the group I ran with, combined with running half marathons and then marathons, I took the next step and qualified as UK Athletics Level 2 endurance running coach about 10 years ago.

Mental health benefits

Because I’d really struggled with running in the early days I was drawn to helping other people who I could see were going through the same thing, and that was a lot of my motivation to start coaching.  I set up my own small running group for women and ever since then I’ve coached beginner and intermediate women runners.

I get huge satisfaction in watching them discover the emotional and mental benefits of running, not just the physical ones – the confidence and empowerment, the improved mood and stress management, the pride and sense of achievement.

As someone who has experienced depression and anxiety, I knew that running had helped me manage that and was thrilled to see some of my runners discovering that for themselves.

Starting 'Up and Running'

When a running friend, Harriet Heal, suggested we set up another group together with a particular focus on mental well-being, I was immediately interested.

Harriet is a clinical psychologist and she felt that the benefits of exercise for mental health needed to be more widely known and practised.

We founded ‘Up and Running’ in Sevenoaks seven years ago; specifically aimed at women with mental well-being issues who might feel anxious about starting to run or might struggle with their motivation.

We set the group up as a very gentle 10 week beginners running course, which focuses on a gradual and manageable walk/run progression so that the participants never feel under pressure.

It’s very important to us that the group be something that makes people feel better about themselves and doesn’t stress them or make them feel that they’re being asked to do more than they can cope with.

We’ve got well over a hundred women started on their running journey over the last seven years.

Many of the women who’ve attended Up and Running have continued to run, either alone or with other running groups or with me, and tell us that through the group they’ve found new friends and new confidence, and that running is now for them a valuable tool in helping them manage their mental well-being.

We’re really happy to advise other coaches who want to set up similar groups – we even have a sister group in Canada – and we’re delighted to see the work that’s going on around mental health and exercise, such as the England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador programme.

Running and coaching have genuinely changed my life in ways I’d never have dreamt of, as the unsporty, unfit girl I used to be.

The joy of watching my runners grow in confidence and sense of achievement is one of the biggest pleasures in my life, and I’d heartily recommend coaching to other women – it won’t just enhance your life, it’ll enhance other people's too, and what could be better than that?

Behaviour Change Tips

Learn useful strategies to help people get active, and innovative nudge techniques to ensure they stay active in our Behaviour Change Tactics workshop

Full course details here

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Shona Campbell