6 March 2024

Running groups in Canberra: a phenomenon with physical and social benefits

| Tim Gavel
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The first Mount Ainslie Parkrun on 28 April 2018.

The first Mount Ainslie Parkrun on 28 April 2018. Photo: Supplied.

In recent weeks, our local pub has been inundated with pub runners on a Tuesday night.

It’s a trend happening across Canberra.

Once the exclusive domain of a few through organisations like the Hash House Harriers, which is still going strong, people throughout Canberra are actively engaging in social running groups.

In the wake of COVID, these informal community running groups seem to have noticeably taken off across the city.

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Talking to the pub runners, who venture into the wilds of Mount Ainslie and then return for a couple of social drinks, the activity has many benefits beyond the physical.

Given that the activity ends up at a pub, the mental health benefits of exercising and socialising are combined. And we all know that these two aspects of life are scientifically proven to be highly beneficial to both health and well-being.

Runners in Canberra

Many people in and around Canberra engage in running groups, gaining physical and social benefits from the activity. Photo: File.

For former Brumbies and Wallabies prop Ben Alexander, community running became an important part of his transition from a professional rugby player to what is deemed to be a regular life.

Ben’s battle with mental health issues relating to that transition from professional football has been well documented.

Rather than retreat, though, he appears to have embraced the challenge in the same way that he took on the All Blacks front row. He’s living proof of the benefits of community running as it relates to mental health and social interaction.

The key is getting started.

In the lead-up to his retirement in 2018, Ben took up Parkrunning.

Parkrunning is a phenomenon across over 20 countries and over 2000 locations. It began in London in 2004 and was established under the principles of being free for everyone, on a weekly basis and forever.

Tuggeranong parkrun team

Tuggeranong parkrun group. Photo: Supplied.

Parkrunning itself has been an incredible success story across the ACT, with groups running from many locations between Gungahlin and Queanbeyan in the Canberra region alone.

Ben Alexander says, “Parkrunning helped me a lot with the transition from footy. Running with friends became an important part of my life. I still do a parkrun every weekend in Canberra and I have now completed my 215th run. I love the consistency. I know at eight o’clock every Saturday morning, I can put the run in my diary.”

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Running has become part of Ben’s DNA, so much so that he has helped develop his own brand of running with friends.

When Matt Breen read about Ben extolling the virtues of community running, they got together and the group now known as Running for Resilience was born. Its home is Ben’s pub, The Dock, located at Kingston Foreshore.

Running for Resilience. Photo: Supplied.

The Running for Resilience group outside The Dock, Kingston, in 2021. Photo: Supplied.

“Matt contacted me and we organised a one-off run for mental health. It was fun, so we have done it every week for four years. When it all began, we had 20 people taking part. We now have between 350 and 360 people on a Wednesday night.”

To encourage that many people to get out at six o’clock on a Wednesday night and either walk or run between three to six kilometres is nothing short of phenomenal.

The Running for Resilience brand has expanded to include Strolling for Resilience on Thursday mornings and community runs every Monday and Friday morning.

Ben emphasised that the focus is not so much on running, with many coming along for a walk. The focus is clearly on supporting people. It is about physical activity that supports a mentally healthy society.

Ready to pull on the sneakers for a parkrun? Visit Parkrun and get started. Interested in running/strolling for resilience? Visit Running for Resilience for times and registration.

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