Thrive on Campus//

College Running by Comment

Running kept me sane, and might help you, too.

Klisarova/Getty Images
Klisarova/Getty Images

Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.  

“Running gets boring.”

“The last thing I want to do after a long day of classes is make myself go for a run.”

“I don’t have time to run.”

“I don’t like feeling like I can’t breathe, and I don’t like to sweat.”

The above comments are all responses I have gotten from peers after mentioning that I am about to go for a run. (Okay, so the last one is actually my little sister, but she hates running more than anyone I know, so her opinion was important to include.) While certainly not indicative of the entire campus population, these responses are pretty standard, and though I don’t agree with them, I absolutely get where these statements are coming from. Despite playing sports in grade school and running track in junior high, I hated running until my junior year of high school. It was during this time, and especially during college, that running began to go beyond promoting my physical health, and was essential to my mental health, too. Because of this drastic change in the role of running for me, I’d like to share some of the reasons how running has helped me, and may be helpful to other college students, too.

“The last thing I want to do after a long day of classes is make myself run.”

This comment highlights two points: the first is the constant sense of exhaustion that is college. While it might seem obvious, running is a great way to get more energy and a much-needed rush of endorphins before diving into difficult homework for school.  

The second, and perhaps more important point, however, is that running is often framed in a negative way, as if it were a chore. But by seeing running in a positive way — as a chance to care for your body, for example, or take advantage of any of the following benefits that I will mention below — it can become something that you “get” to do, rather than something that you must “make” yourself do.

Moreover, college stress and pressure can be all-consuming, and is hard to forget about when you are stuck on a college campus.  At my school, we call this being stuck in the “Harvard bubble,” which, like in a real bubble, magnifies pressure, with you trapped inside of it. Running is one way of consistently and successfully escaping this bubble, by getting you outside and off campus.

“Running gets boring.”

Getting off campus in itself and switching your running route frequently can keep things interesting, so that you do not get bored while running. It gives you a chance to see sights you might not get to see otherwise, and is a great way to discover new restaurants, stores, and parks that you can revisit later.  

Finding a running buddy is a great way to make running something to look forward to, and can facilitate some of the best friendships you might make in college. Running buddies are fantastic not only to help the time pass faster, but to have someone who knows you well enough to hold you accountable to run when you say you will. In addition, running with a friend can help you to reframe what it is that you are doing — and can make running feel more like a reward.

“I don’t feel like I have time to run.”

Addressing this comment requires making running easier on yourself and on your already busy schedule. First of all, getting a running buddy, as I mentioned above, can be very helpful to busy schedules; if running becomes a social activity, you can kill two birds with one stone. Additionally, setting aside time to run beforehand is essential; planning ahead assures you that you are not “missing” out on other things.  

Depending on when you run, it can also be helpful to lay out your clothes and shoes beforehand, so that it is less of a process to get going when you are mentally ready — for example, if you are a morning runner, all you have to do is put on your clothes and head out the door.

“I don’t like feeling like I can’t breathe, and I don’t like to sweat.”

While my sister’s comments are slightly comical, I think they are worth addressing.  One way of making breathing and running in general easier on yourself is by starting out slowly and with small distances. I promise you, if you start your run out slowly, your body will help you speed up over time.  And regarding her last comment about sweating — what better time to start running than during the winter cold?

If you ever want to de-stress after classes, discover the world around your campus, make new friends, or start steady and slow with exercise, running is the way to go. It has helped me to not only get through the last four years of college, but to truly enjoy them, and now, I’m preparing to run my third marathon — the Boston Marathon — next April, with that running buddy that I mentioned.  I sincerely hope that some of what I have said has resonated with you, and has allowed you to consider how running — even occasionally — might help you survive and thrive in college and beyond. 

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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