Lifestyle06 Jan 2021

The Athletic Life: how new adventures can be unlocked through exercise


Having fun while out running (© Christel Saneh)

Kate CarterFeeling a little lost as we head into another year of uncertainty? Or simply lacking in motivation? Fear not, as there are ways of adding more fun into your running.

Kate Carter (@katehelencarter)


If there is one thing January tests, it’s quite how much I really do love running. I know running in heat can be tough, but the envy I feel for anyone in the Southern Hemisphere who can run outside right now goes very deep. What I wouldn’t give to go out in shorts and a vest, rather than three buffs, two pairs of gloves and a nose running faster than I am. I even pine for the gym treadmill, with its unchanging view of the worst angle of the gym mirrors and the box of foam rollers.

This January, getting out of the door seems harder than ever – for all that I feel trapped in the eternal lockdown cycle, the idea of heading out into the dreary, wet, English winter is deeply unappealing. Desperate to escape, and yet also weirdly glued to the sofa with inertia. And then there’s the lack of urgency. I like a goal, and I like structure for my runs – but like many, if not most of us, my next realistic goal race seems so far away it might as well be a parallel universe. So, when motivation is at a low ebb, and your running goal is really just ‘don’t get unfit’, what do you do?

During the late summer and autumn, when rules allowed, a group of us from my running club tried a whole variety of new approaches. Runs where the running was simply a way of getting between different locations a bit quicker – no training goal, no need to worry about pace – just riddles to solve and tiny objects to find.

Firstly, we embarked on a treasure hunt. A friend found and downloaded an ingenious treasure map from Treasure Trails – a UK company, but I’m sure others exist around the world – and we broke into pairs and solved riddles, hunted for landmarks, running in between them. We confused passers-by by scouring the underside of benches and scratching our heads by plain brick walls – all while trying to use a biro on the run and not let the precious pieces of paper disintegrate when it started raining. A few hours flew by, miles disappeared without my legs even noticing. Of course to do it in company was marvellous, but I’d also do it again on my own like a shot.

Then we tried geocaching. This, for me, was like opening a door and discovering a whole new landscape beyond, rather than the dusty cupboard you were expecting. Just out of sight, hidden on the reverse of road signs or behind street furniture are countless tiny little geocache markers. You can use your phone GPS to locate them and tick them off virtually. Clues vary from literal locations to slightly more cryptic, from easy-to-find to almost impossible. And again, this can be done with others if rules allow, or alone. I cannot recommend it highly enough – give yourself a time limit, and see how many local ones you can find. Then challenge a friend to see if they can find more in the same time period. If you can’t run together, you can at least do the same route together on different days. You could even challenge someone on the other side of the world, come to that.

Next up was orienteering. Here I had flashbacks to getting very lost on a school camp, convinced I was miles from base and would be lost in the wild woods for all eternity, with nothing but brambles to eat and rainwater to drink. I was probably about 100m from the dorm room. There is very little danger of getting lost now – again, there are apps now that allow you to orienteer using your phone GPS. You just get near enough to the target spot for it to register on your phone, and off you run to the next one. Again, the key is to 'collect' as many as possible – some are worth more points than others, so ideally you plot a rough route before you set off to scoop up the high value ones and get you back to the virtual base in time. There’s usually a strict cut-off and you start losing points within seconds if you aren’t back in time. Street orienteering is perhaps simpler than a more trail-based map, given that there are fewer opportunities to take the wrong path but both have their own charms.

And all these adventures made me realise anew something about being able to run: it gifts you the opportunity to try so many other things. If you can run, you can – forgive me for stating the obvious – cover so much more ground. So if you are feeling a little lost, and lacking in motivation, why not treat running as a tool to open a box of other adventures, other sports and hobbies? It doesn't have to be a means in itself; it can also be simply a method of transport that lets your horizons get that little bit wider.