The benefits of running

  • 10 November 2023
  • 3 minutes

The meditative benefits of running are what encourage Sarah Pemberton (Education 2022) to pull on her trainers and pound the pavements – or more often the off-road tracks – of Cambridge.

Sarah is an accomplished trail runner. She finished third in the July 2022 Ultra Trail Snowdonia, Wales to qualify for the 100-kilometres world-leading Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc – Courmayeur/Champex/Chamonix event, which took place on September 1 in France. Her preparations featured victory in the two-day 100km Lake District Challenge, a third-place finish at the South Downs 50km, and holidays in the Swiss Alps which featured plenty of running.

But it is the simplicity of running which appeals most to Sarah, who is supportive of the Caius Health Centre’s Couch to 5k programme, which began in Michaelmas Term and has seen students get together to run together at the Barton Road sportsground.

“If you're new to running then it can be really satisfying because you can improve pretty quickly,” says Sarah, who in a June interview with the College website discussed her own discovery of a love of running.

“That type of feedback is what I experienced with rowing last year; when you're new to something, the progress that you can make every week, every two weeks is this nice reinforcing cycle.

“It can be a social thing where you run with a friend or you run with a running group or it can be a solo, more meditative experience, especially for me. I don't really meditate. I've tried a few times, but when you run, it's similar as you're focusing on the movement of your body.”

Alongside her longer training efforts, Sarah has found a social running group in the Cambridge University Hare and Hounds Club.

Training in Cambridge is hardly ideal preparation for the Alps, but Sarah says she enjoys uphill running on a treadmill and believes the strength built through speed work is transferrable to hill climbing.

Sarah completed the 100km UTMB CCC event, which featured more than 6,000m of ascents (for reference, Everest is 8,849m tall), in an impressive 16 hours 52 minutes, with practical and moral support from her boyfriend, Julian. They had run the Haute Route together in June as preparation, but so deep was the snow in parts that they had to proceed at a snail’s pace.

“For a lot of trail runners, doing UTMB is the pinnacle. There's a lot more hype around this event, compared to some of the other races that I've done,” she adds.

Sarah’s forthcoming challenges are smaller, with a view to further ultra running in 2024, but there will be plenty of opportunities to focus on the physical and mental benefits of running.

“I've signed up for a bunch of marathons – Valencia in December, Hong Kong Marathon in January, and then London in April,” she says.

Caius members can find suggested routes to explore the city and countryside, for exercise (not just for running!), and to support your general health and wellbeing, on The Venn (College intranet).