As the semester approaches, Fiona Hallett discusses how running can help to maintain a clear mind during your studies
I’m the first person to admit that running is horrible, hard, and painful. As anyone who’s ever had the pleasure of running with me will know, I can barely get my trainers on without complaining about running for a solid 10 minutes. And then I’ll complain about it during the run… and after.
Nevertheless, I continue to lace up my trainers, put in my headphones, and head out that door for a run a couple of times a week, as I have done for the past 5 years. And I love it. Because despite all this complaining, or arguably because of it, running is actually glorious.
When I started running five years ago I did it with the sole purpose of losing weight. Although that was just enough to push me out the front door, it wasn’t enough for me to actually enjoy the activity. Ever since I realised that running isn’t about burning off the calories from what you’ve eaten, or about making yourself fit into those endemic contemporary beauty norms, I discovered what running is really about.
Running is about a celebration of what your mind and body are capable of, at whatever level that may be. I’m nowhere near the best runner I know. I don’t run very long distances, I don’t go super fast, I don’t always keep to a consistent running schedule, and that’s fine. As the This Girl Can campaign reminds us, “No matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch”.
Yes, running is hard. Running for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour without stopping, powered only by yourself, is bloody difficult. But it’s this challenge that makes running so rewarding. The determination that it takes to run to the end of your street, to run around that park, to run up that hill, to run that half marathon – that determination takes both physical and mental strength. With each run, you rise to that challenge, and you become stronger with each step.
I’ve been in a personal running slump over the summer and have only recently got back into it. As always, the first few times after a break are the worst. Your physical fitness levels are down (My legs are on fire, how is no one outside noticing that my legs are literally on fire.) and your mental stamina is in dire need of improvement (There is literally no way on this planet that I can keep running. I’m turning back, shuffling home, and spending the rest of the week watching Gilmore Girls.)
But yesterday I started to break through that wall. For just a small part of my run, the ground felt like it was working with me, not against me. I was admittedly running downhill for that part, but the point still stands. Those moments — when it feels like you are pushing the whole Earth backwards with each step — that’s when you can really become aware of your potential. This appreciation of your physical and mental strength is where running becomes such a powerful tool. Running is hard, so when you do run it’s a great reminder of how strong you are. And that reminder works wonders on mental health.
On a more pragmatic level, running simply provides a platform for de-stressing — the release of endorphins helps enormously. When I’m at my most stressed and my mind is set to overdrive with various pressures, running lets me switch off and focus only on the immediate challenge of running to the park and back.
If you have a pal who will run with you, that can be even better. Many a Tuesday evening has been spent running with friends at Run Wild Manchester, a society you can easily become a part of, blabbering their ears off about various problems and anxieties I’ve had. There’s just something about ranting while running that is so refreshing. You come back from a run reinvigorated and ready to tackle your problems with a clear head. After a shower and a snack, of course.
This article isn’t meant to shame anyone who doesn’t participate in the terrible and wonderful activity that is running. We all have different abilities. We all flourish in different areas. That’s part of what makes us humans great. I do hope, however, that I have been able to convince some of you that although yes, running is hard, every drop of sweat, every aching muscle is more than worth it for that well-earned glowing sense of empowerment.