Farmers and rural dwellers have swapped wellies for running shoes this winter as part of a fundraising drive which has raised almost £50,000 for five rural charities. Hannah Park finds out more.
After rekindling her love of running via locally organised park runs just over a year ago, chilli farmer Sheena Horner had begun to enjoy the activity and camaraderie it brought.
But when these events were cancelled due to lockdown, she felt there had to be something which could be done to inspire others to take to the countryside for a run or walk and feel the benefits she had.
Sheena says: “I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and started running on my own during lockdown.
“I really started to notice the benefits running was having on my physical and mental health. I felt more energised and better able to deal with problems for taking just 30-45 minutes out of a day to go for a run or walk.
“I got thinking about rural charities which had missed out on their usual fundraising events because of Covid-19 and started talking to friends in the farming community about ideas and whether we thought could get something off the ground.”
Discussions with The Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI) and other individuals about the possibility of raising some funds while promoting the importance of looking after mental health, as well as physical health, in rural areas followed.
It was not long before #Run1000 started to gain momentum.
Sheena says: “I got talking to Peter Hynes [farmer and captain for Team Ireland] and we decided to launch #Run1000 to coincide with Ag Mental Health Week on October 12, 2020.
“We thought that would give us a bit of time to begin spreading the word, which we did via social media, mainly thanks to each of the team captains and vice-captains, and also give people time to get signed up and get in some training if they wished. It really just snowballed from there.”
The idea saw individuals from around the UK and further afield sign up to represent their respective nation, with Sheena serving as captain of Team Scotland, Charles Anyan captain for Team England, Emma Picton-Jones captain for Team Wales, Peter Hynes for Team Ireland and Jason Meadows leading the rest of the world.
“There have been loads of feel good stories, pictures and chat among team members from farmers running in their wellies in the snow to fancy dress and more”
The ‘mission’ was for each team to clock up 1,000 miles by the end of January 2021, with money raised via each participant paying a £20 joining fee, alongside a JustGiving page which remained open to donations until the end of February.
Sheena says: “Our aim was to inspire rural dwellers to take to the countryside to get out for a run or walk, to combat the January blues, as well as helping people improve their mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is often something you don’t feel like doing, but once you get back, you’re so glad you did. We also wanted to give people a forum to talk, to compete and to have fun during the darkest months of winter.
“It was never about the number of miles people did, just about being involved.”
And with a total 1,200 participants clocking up 64,785 miles of running or walking on Strava during January, the 1,000 miles per region target was quickly blown out of the water.
Sheena says: “I was gobsmacked with the uptake. It has been phenomenal.
“January is probably the worst month weather-wise to have something like this, but with the faming calendar in mind, it is probably the best month to get people from the farming community involved.
“Two teams had actually completed the 1,000-mile target in 24 hours and, because the involvement was so good, we decided to introduce some other winning categories.”
The first team to reach 1,000 miles was Wales; the 567 supporters also had the most Strava group members, clocked up the most mileage in January and raised £12,750.
Team Scotland logged the most distance per group member and raised £7,750, while Team England raised the most money at £19,105.
Sheena says: “The most improved runner was Peter Hynes, and we had some real stars who were consistently running more than 120km a week.
“There have been loads of feel good stories, pictures and chat among team members from farmers running in their wellies in the snow to fancy dress and more.”
One of the biggest rewards, Sheena says, was feeling part of something and connecting with others.
She says: “Even though all the individuals taking part were spread around the country, the camaraderie was fantastic.
“Each team had a Strava group and it was great to be able to chat on there and encourage one another, which really spurred us on. The Strava groups have stayed open too, so individuals have been able to continue to chat and stay connected.”
A total of £47,775 for five rural help and mental health charities has been raised so far, with the beneficiaries of the funds being The Farming Community Network, Embrace Farm, The Do More Agriculture Foundation, RSABI and DPJ Foundation.
Sheena says: “The money we have raised has surpassed any kind of expectation I had. If we had just hit five figures I would have been amazed.
“But the money raised to me is a bonus achievement. For me, #Run1000 was about getting people out there to exercise, chat to one another and feel they were not alone.”
Given its inaugural success, plans for #Run1000 2022 are already underway.
Sheena says: “Now we have got the ball rolling, we are hopeful momentum will continue to build. We are working together to set up next year’s event and hope you will be ready to do it all over again in January 2022.”
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