Aarhus running: rural and urban exploration

We run for a number of reasons, from the physical aspect to the personal. Jutland Station author James Whitehead tells us how he has taken up running in Aarhus, from the rural landscape to the urban maze of the city.

By James Whitehead

Denmark is one of Europe’s running capitals. On the continent, 50 million people run on a regular basis, with associated yearly spending estimated at €9.6 billion. The exercise industry is big business, especially in Denmark, where one study found that 31 percent of Danes run regularly.

It then appears fitting for Aarhus to be home to an active running scene. Whatever the weather throws at the city, the constant stride of footsteps braves yearly climates, from winter’s piercing winds to summer’s stiffing humidity. I saw this throughout the dark days of Danish winter, as I never failed to see a band of dedicated runners braving the biting cold, with every stride leaving footprints on the sheets of snow that carpeted the ground.

From the camouflaged Risskov forest to alongside the winding Aarhus river, Aarhus offers many running routes.

Rural footsteps

The city is dotted with urban parks and forests, that offer respite from everyday urban life – the concrete spaces, constant humming of cars, the crowds wandering along pathways.

Sidestep the hard urban space and head for the fresher, greener air; the smell of fresh mud; the camouflage of trees; the silence from the city. By running in these environments, the city is experienced as something on the “outside”, away from the green and brown patches of the park.

My local running route is in Hastle, in northern Aarhus, where a compact golf course and a handful of football pitches connect to form Marienlyst Golfklub. The terrain is partly pavement and mostly dirt, soil and grass.

Running helps me to regulate the mind, and can produce clarity of thought – which is often a struggle to do while idly sitting in a room hunched over a laptop. I run not to “clear my head” but rather to think clearly. At the end of a run I often write down thoughts and insights that I’ve had along the way. One reason for this is that running removes distracting technologies; being digitally disconnected recovers greater capacity of the mind to think more clearly.

Since starting in January, it’s been an interesting experience running through the seasons. In the depth of winter, the park stood stoic and fell silent. Bare and lifeless trees; the soil carpeted in snow, thrown to the ground from the endless white skies above. It was tricky navigating my way over stretches of path inch deep in snow, which often camouflaged thin sheets of ice and puddles. It was common to be given a quick icy shower by splashes made in these hidden pools of ice water.

With temperatures gradually climbing through March and April, the park has recovered its vitality. Colour has returned, and so have much of the parks inhabitants: the runners, joggers, dog walkers, wanderers, horse riders.

I sense that runners with a preference for rural landscapes enjoy the anonymity that it appears to offer – being less populated and less exposed to that “outside” world where everyone happens to be.

Urban exploration

Road runners see the city as their playground. Navigating your way through the urban maze, between buildings and through the crowds is an experience – in contrast to rural runners – of being a part of the city.

Urban running also helps to understand the city – its suburban streets, its overlooked points of interest. If you’re new to a city, exploring it on foot is incredibly useful. And by seeking out fresh running routes, the city will open up to you evermore.

But the buzz of urban jogging is beset with health implications. If your running environment is often plagued by pollution, then exposure to this can have adverse effects both on the brain as well as the lungs. That’s why if I do run in the city, I begin tying my laces as the sun settles behind the horizon, when the streets and traffic come to a rest.


Photos by Isabelle Bonenkamp

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