More Kenyans have realised that running outdoors and as a group has more benefits that extend beyond the extra calories burn. Running on nature trails or forests while navigating uneven ground works on different muscles than one would not have on a one flat treadmill. It also melts away anxiety, sadness and you find incredible camaraderie in the trails.
Matthew Mathe is one of the many Kenyans who have taken up group nature trail running. He joined a running club last January that had three people.
“We started by walking and running but with time, our endurance grew and we ran for longer distances. Then the running club attracted about 30 people,” he says.
Races at the Bamburi Forest Trail on Mombasa-Malindi highway start at 6am and each runner can pick out their route.
He says the club members motivate each other to run for many kilometres and do it consistently. The nature trail was previously a butterfly pavilion.
“There are those who are fast, others are slow and some walk,” he says.
Besides pumping up often-neglected muscles, running on uneven grounds improves balance and stability.
“It is also one of the easiest exercises and it is cheap,” says Mr Mathe.
For first-timers on nature trails, start by walking. Then do five kilometres runs and move to 15 kms and 30 kms every day.
“Start slow. Just listen to your heartbeat. If your heart is pumping fast, reduce the pace,” he says.
Since he started running, Mr Mathe says he has lost 10 kgs, he is also more flexible because he stretches afterwards to ease strain on the legs and arms.
Mwenda Thuranira, the CEO and founder of MySpace Properties in Mombasa is another ardent runner who has built endurance on nature trails.
“I started running last year. I was 105 kgs and now I am at 85 kgs. Apart from the weight loss it is also good for the mind. It has helped me cope with more pressure at work,” he says.
Every Saturday he hits the trails together with a group of runners who have formed the Mombasa Running Club.
“I joined the runners at the newly refurbished park that now features a new trail course with obstacle courses and children play areas. Each route is signposted to indicate the defined race areas,” he says.
Mr Thuranira says now he mostly runs for 10 kms or 21 kms yet a year ago, he could barely endure a three kilometres jog.
Running in nature trails, he says, means less interruptions. It also helps him break the monotony of staring at gym walls.
“On the road, there are cars, bicycles, and motorcycles. When you run on a nature trail there is the fresh air and the trees, just a cool ambience,” he says.
When in Nairobi, he runs in Karura Forest and The Nairobi Arboretum.
Ann Otieno is another runner. Apart from strengthening her hip muscles and knees, she says running has made her feel lighter and more flexible.
“Running has become part of my lifestyle. Every day, I build resilience because when I do two to three kilometres today, tomorrow I will do 5 kms,” she says.