Tom Ryder talks all things ‘Active’ as he continues his look at the SCALES system for good mental wellbeing
This article originally appeared in The Bishop’s Stortford Independent in July 2020
I’ve discovered somewhere new during lockdown. Despite living in my flat in Stortford for almost two years, I had never ventured into Birchanger Wood, which turns out to be a mere five minute walk away.
And what a discovery. It’s peaceful, beautifully maintained by a woodland trust and, aside from several polite dog walkers, is relatively traffic-free. Once I came across it, I knew that I my ‘excuses to not go running’ list was looking short. So I set off.
I’ve had a very hit and miss relationship with running over the years. Completing the odd 10K left me with a feeling of achievement, but no great desire to go much further. After speaking to friends and family about their exercise habits during this odd period, people reported that they had gone one of two ways: they’ve either hit the ground running, or hit the booze and snacks sitting.
Nevertheless, with some help from my sister – who was training for the London Marathon prior to its postponement – I started to get into my stride. I’m now running the equivalent of half a marathon a week, and noticing not only the physical improvements but also the mental clarity. My mind is less fogged up, and I feel more equipped to navigate these bizarre days. The positive effect of exercise on mental wellbeing is abundantly clear.
‘Active’ is the third ‘string’ in Retune’s SCALES system (Sleep, Creative, Active, Listen, Earth, Social). While we work to develop our mobile app (more on that soon) we’ve created a club on Strava called Retune Runners, which is already generating some healthy competition. But I wanted to find out how some of our town’s top sportsmen and women have been getting on, in the absence of large, full contact group training sessions, and with gyms firmly closed…
“I've actually found it quite easy to stay active, especially when lockdown first started,” says Sam Winter, who will be captaining BSRFC once more when the rugby season resumes. “I got quite into middle distance running at the start of lockdown; among mates there was some healthy competition to beat each other’s times.
“However I soon realised this wasn't the best fitness for rugby, so have been doing a lot more sprinting and high intensity training recently. Our strength and conditioning coach at BSRFC, Ben Sheath, has done a fantastic job at sending out 'fun' challenges for the lads. We all then post our times on the WhatsApp group. With the absence of any sport, you have to make your own competition!”
Sam usually plays rugby three times a week, so is only ever a day or so away from an opportunity to let off steam and get the endorphins flowing. “It's hugely important to me. If you're bogged down at work or something is on your mind, there's no better way to take your mind off things that are bothering you.
“I don't think it needs to be high intensity stuff though. At the moment my wife and I have taken to heading out for a 15-minute walk about 9.30pm. I find this really helps me relax and sleep well.”
What is he looking forward to most once things return to normal? “It's the obvious answer, but for me, getting back in the changing room and running onto the pitch at BSRFC for the first game back will be great fun. I suppose the beers in the clubhouse after will be alright as well…”
Lexie Guthrie has played for the Bishop’s Stortford Hockey Club 1st Team for ‘what feels like an eternity’. She has embraced the working from home culture to the best of her ability: “The biggest pro for me is that I don't have to worry about what I will be wearing to work every day,” she comments. “Living in comfy clothes with messy hair certainly has its perks. I also think it is completely normal for people to have good and bad days while in lockdown. If I find myself having a bad day, I will sing along to some of my favourite songs, and I am attempting to teach myself the guitar. Don’t be surprised to see me on the stage at Glasto next year!”
Staying active and fit is paramount for her. “I have really enjoyed going on walks. This is something that I never used to do but now I find it so relaxing after a day at work. I like to try and exercise daily but vary the activity, to stay motivated. It doesn't always have to be high intensity sweaty workouts.”
She likes to look on YouTube for HIIT workouts and beginner yoga classes, adding that her ‘hockey hamstrings’ aren’t the most flexible. As well as purchasing a skipping rope, she has unearthed a new love for frisbee.
“Our hockey manager does a Zoom HIIT workout on a Wednesday evening for the squad. This is always a highlight of the week because we get to have a quick catch up and work out together to try and maintain a good level of fitness before we start pre-season training.” The team were promoted to the premier league last season, so being able to keep up with the pace will be a priority.
Maintaining good mental wellbeing is a very important part of Lexie’s life: “Life has changed a lot for everyone and I think it can be quite easy to feel down and a bit lonely at times. Staying active has really helped me to maintain a positive attitude. Even just a short walk helps me to sleep better and feel less stressed. Fresh air is a huge mood lifter.
“I also find that speaking to friends about what they are doing can be very motivating and give you some fresh ideas to keep your body and mind active. Make sure you talk to people. Open up. Meet friends at the park for a socially distanced jog (or just chat and sneak a beer in).”
She can’t wait to get back on the pitch with the team: “I am really missing the banter. I also didn't realise how much of a hugger I was, until I was told I’m not allowed within two metres of people. I hope all my friends and family are prepared for the bear hugs they will receive as soon as I am given the green light.”
Tom McCrone, another BSRFC first-teamer, has enjoyed working from home throughout lockdown, and hasn’t missed his daily central line commute. “I ran quite a bit at the beginning of lockdown, mainly 5Ks, but I'm not really built for those distances! I bought a bike at the beginning of April and it has been great getting out and exploring Epping Forest and the countryside surrounding Epping. My girlfriend and I have also been on a lot of walks and found many places we didn't know were on our doorstep.
“I have also been lucky that the rugby club have loaned some of the gym equipment out, so I've been able to get some weight sessions in. Restrictions are now easing so I've been able to do some running sessions with Will and Jamie from the rugby club, as we live very close to each other. I've been out on the golf course a fair bit since they reopened. This is a great way to spend time with some mates, whilst also getting those steps up.”
The key to Tom’s wellbeing has been ensuring he leaves the house every day. “I think when you're working from home it can be quite easy to get caught up in that bubble. But getting out, whether for a walk, cycle or something more strenuous is a great way to keep your mind clear and healthy.”
Training, whatever the sport, helps to put structure into the week, and the social aspect of team sport cannot be overstated, all of which is great for the mind. It will be reassuring to all sports teams in Stortford that things are finally moving in the right direction. “It will be great to see the lads from the rugby and catch up – I haven’t seen them since all of this began,” Tom concludes.