Charlie, preparing to run along the Grand Union Canal Charlie, preparing to run along the Grand Union Canal

Meet Charlie, towpath runner

Charlie initially turned to running in an attempt to heal her body after IVF treatments. After contracting coronavirus in March 2020, she once again took to the towpaths as part her recovery process. Living in north-west London, the Grand Union Canal provided the perfect respite from the city and gave her a connection to the seasons and a new community.

“I'd been through so many fertility treatments I felt like I couldn’t control my own body and I hadn’t been allowed to do anything, bits of me were numb. I was trying to reclaim it.

Mental and physical health

“That was how I got into running, it's always been linked to mental health as well as physical health. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my mental health over the last 12 months. It's so positive being outside. You get that endorphin rush, that adrenalin hit from being outside, even when it’s pouring.

“Running along the canal makes such a difference, it's the whole environment. I had a heron fly down and land right in front of me. You see how nature changes over the seasons. One day, not that long ago, I was running and there was thick ice on the canal and the next time the weather was beautiful, and everyone was out, people were walking. You have a real connection.

Connecting to the environment

“My bit of the canal isn’t the prettiest, it's quite industrial. It's amazing to see herons and other creatures. What’s really lovely is when you when you follow the creatures over the seasons, you see them being born, small and fluffy then one day they’re not there.

“What’s nice about the canal is that there are so many different kinds of people that use it. You’ll see people walking to Sainsburys, older people, people on their bikes, runners, people taking dogs for walk, all ages, people using it as a cut through, people using it for leisure. Life completely changes along the canal. Around my bit is super industrial but one section further down is Notting Hill with all the architecture and it opens up into parks. Then if I go north towards Wembley there are golf courses and flats. The people are different, the smells are different. It’s amazing how life changes along one canal.

Culture trip

“My friend was training for a marathon. The longest run that we did was from north west London, through Notting Hill, Paddington, round Regent’s Park, Camden; we basically ran to Victoria Park in East London, sixteen miles. That was fascinating, it was a little culture trip. East London was all artisan bakers and canal boats. Paddington was coffee boats and books.

"There have been lots of changes along the canal since I started running. This past 12 months I’ve seen a lot more helpers out de-littering the canal, especially in the last few months, volunteers clearing up. I’ve seen new builds springing up that have access to the canal so they can enjoy the whole waterside experience.

Rebuilding health

“I’ve seen more people use the canal recently. When lockdowns have been lifted, when you could go out with one other person, goodness there were lots of people.

“Running along the canal has really helped with rebuilding my health. In the last few weeks I’ve had my coronavirus relapse and I’ve really, really missed it. I haven’t done a thing, I’m desperate to get back out there. I’ll be back this weekend.”