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Up and Running Guelph stays connected during trying times

Since 2016 Up and Running Guelph has offered supportive running and walking programs for women looking to improve their mental and emotional well-being
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Shirley Hunt, left, and Monica Forget of Up and Running Guelph. Barb Geernaert for GuelphToday

Nature, exercise and social connection.

Bring the three together and the benefits are powerful.

Outdoor exercise boosts the body, mind and mood and for Shirley Hunt at Up and Running Guelph, it’s all about leaving the house and getting started.

Hunt, the co-founder, executive director and running mentor at the charitable non-profit organization, says that now more than ever, keeping social connections strong is what keeps participants motivated to walk and run during the C0VID-19 pandemic. 

Thanks to social media and virtual programming, women are staying engaged and are continuing to venture outside to keep fit. 

“As soon as the pandemic hit, we knew we had to do something to stay connected, so we got creative and all of our volunteers came up with ideas. I’m so amazed by their energy and the gifts that they continue to bring,” Hunt says. 

“Our winter program ran until March Break and then that was it. We heard about the pandemic and we talked about it, but we thought we would see everyone again in April. That didn’t happen. So, we’ve been offering programs virtually, to keep everyone connected.”

Since 2016, Up and Running Guelph has offered friendly and supportive running and walking programs for women looking to improve their mental and emotional well-being. 

“With the pandemic, we know there are so many stressors. People are scared for the future, there’s financial stress and loneliness,” Hunt said. 

“Because of self-isolation, mental health issues have increased and and we knew we wanted to stay connected with our participants.”

Running and walking coaches with the organization stay engaged with participants through e-mail and text. Some coaches continue to run on their own encouraging others to do the same, then talk about their experiences via Zoom. 

“Many people are stressed right now, and we know that exercise is a tool to improve low mood and for many, this can be a struggle. It can be hard to start moving and to get active on your own. And if you are feeling lonely, it’s so much harder,” Hunt says. 

“This is why we started this program originally, so women can experience the benefits of exercise in nature and bring it into their own lives.”

Studies continue to demonstrate the many health benefits of ‘green exercise’ including elevated mood, improved self confidence, stress relief and reduced anxiety. 

“It’s that lift you get being outside, the mood boosting power of nature. Even five minutes outside can get you moving. The benefits are multiplied,” Hunt says. 

Most runs and walks take place along the trails at Royal City Park. 

“There are so many trails in Guelph. We are so fortunate to have all of our green spaces,” says Hunt. 

For Up and Running Guelph, it’s also about being inclusive, with programs designed to feel like a ‘walk with friends’.

“You don’t have to worry about how you look,” says Monica Forget, a walking lead coach who began the walking program in 2017.

For many women, the idea of running as part of a fitness program, might seem intimidating. 

“With walking there is no pressure. It’s amazing to hear that from the women They feel understood. There are many benefits of walking and running is hard for some, so this has been very popular. It’s a nice option for people,” Forget said.

Running and walking programs are usually offered in the fall, winter and spring and during the pandemic, a ‘pilot’ walking program is helping keep past participants connected this summer.

“We thought we would offer the summer walking program to our past participants. Bringing in new people during this time did not seem like a good idea. Our walking group meets twice a week. We follow a walking formation where we can still keep distance from each other and still be social. The feedback has been great,” Forget says. 

Up and Running Guelph hopes to offer the same program in the fall, following public health regulations. 

“It’s just been such a lift to be outside and be with people again, safely,” Forget said. 

“And participants say that knowing that the group was waiting for them, it’s what got them out the door.”

Walking sessions end with stretching exercises. 

“We always end with a few stretches and a few deep breaths and often, participants don’t want to leave. They want to linger and chat. For some, they haven’t had much contact with others during the pandemic, so it is so beneficial for them,” Forget says. 

And with virtual programming, participants can keep the conversation going. 

“Knowing that we can’t do our regular in person programming, we will continue to launch on-line campaigns and programs,” Hunt says. 

“This is to encourage everyone to stay active and even alone, we are all still in this together. We can still nourish those connections.”

One challenge, ‘#SoloButSocial’, encourages women to take a photo of themselves while being active outside and then to share with everyone. 

The ‘Bruce Trail Adventure’, had participants track how many kilometres they ran or walked over four weeks comparing distances to that of the length of the Bruce Trail. 

“A volunteer collected that information and researched how far we would have gone on the Bruce Trail along with photos to see where we would have gone and we did it. We actually did do the Bruce Trail. Just to see the kilometres and to know that they made it, it meant so much to them,” Hunt said. 

An Up and Running Guelph social media campaign, ‘#WalkingWithIntention’ is also attracting a number of participants. 

“It is about exploring eight different neighbourhoods in Guelph where participants can share their experiences with pictures,” Forget says. 

“And I have learned so much about Guelph too doing this.”

A ‘#PickUpThePace’ virtual fundraiser is also in the works for September. 

Participants can run or walk 5, 10 or 21 km.  

“You can create a team and collect pledges to help us support the needs of the community.” Hunt said. 

Registration begins Aug. 11 and Up and Running Guelph is looking for more sponsorship support for the event. 

“Kudos to all of our volunteers. We are volunteer based and we could not do this without them. We are helping people and we love what we do. We get lifted by it all ourselves. The volunteers get as much out of it, as the participants. We see them get healthier, mentally and physically,” Hunt said. 

Up and Running Guelph continues to “take steps together to promote mental well-being” and as they grow, they hope to reach out to other populations and perhaps begin a men’s group in the future. 

“We want people to know about us especially if they suffer from mild to moderate depression. We see ourselves as being that first step, of getting people together outside and bringing exercise into their lives,” Hunt said. 

“Nature, exercise and social connection. This is the magical connection and it’s these three that are so powerful for overall mental health.”

For more information about Up and Running Guelph, visit