By: Michael Hahndorf
As the saying goes, “my sport is your sport’s punishment”, so why does anybody ever choose to actually run? Personally I have a few ideas as to why, but the first is obviously the fact that it is one of the best ways to exercise overall. Not only does it decrease your risk of cardiovascular related conditions and disease, it also tones and defines muscles while keeping joints moving. They are moving even though they may be painful movements. Being a runner is one of the easiest ways to be active and stay fit, all you need is a pair of shoes and trail or road to run on. I believe that there is a reason other sports utilize this type of activity in order to increase endurance, or even punish their athletes and that is because it works. Running is a proven method for an individual to get into shape, as long as one can endure the side effects that accompany this activity, which is one of the hardest parts. And this leads me to one of the most devastating aspects of running. Injuries.
Mental health can also be strongly associated with running as exercise. On a personal level, if I have a bad day or even got into a fight with a friend or family member, the best way that I have found to relieve that stress is by going for a jog. This allows me clear my head, and even take out some of the frustration that built up. Somehow, by getting out there and even running a couple of miles or even a couple of quarter mile sprints, I am able to exert my energy towards something, and by doing so I feel much better. It usually leads to me feeling in more of a relaxed state, which sometimes people refer to as a “runner’s high”. I think that in this scenario and upon finishing a great race, or workout are the only times I experience this phenomenon. I feel that running also keeps me mentally healthy for other reasons, such as allowing me to build a schedule with running involved. This leads to, overall, a more structured schedule that allows me to stay on task. Running usually is a pretty strenuous activity so doing it every single day leads to me being more tired, and usually being able to fall asleep more easily. By doing so I am sleeping for longer periods of time and in the recovery stage for longer time leading to more rapid recovery.
Honestly, one of the only reasons I stuck to running and competing in this sport for so long was because I was good at it. When I was younger, it wasn’t exactly the most attractive sport considering all you do is, well, run. And run faster. And when you compete, you race other people who want to beat you with fast times. It didn’t exactly have the same appeal as other sports such as basketball or baseball, and that is why I feel that sometimes it does not receive the proper attention it should. It is the most accessible sport as I stated earlier, all you need is shoes and a place to go.
As I progressed in my running career, it became more evident that sports that involved using balls or defensive schemes did not really fit into my life and my skill set. I slowly phased those out and decided to fully commit myself to the sport I was falling in love with. I think the first time I ran a fast time was all it took for me to realize that this is the activity I really needed to work with and especially understand. I would argue that racing probably brings out the biggest rollercoaster of emotions in a person, and I have experienced them all first hand. From throwing up because of nerves before a race, to the pure exhilaration that happens when you win your first race, to the disappointment and sadness that accompanies a race that had high expectations but didn’t exactly end in your favor.
That is why in order to succeed in this sport, one must focus on not only the physical aspects such as training and weight lifting, but also the mental preparation that goes hand-in-hand with it. Especially in things like practices, interval workouts, pre-meet runs, and most importantly, races. I am not saying that one should perceive everyday as a race because that is not realistic and it will lead to the season ending early by overuse and burning out. I am saying, though, that it is vital to take interval work seriously by pushing yourself, and also envisioning yourself in races. I tend to think about races, how I will feel during them, what my strategy will be, and other things and by doing so it helps me succeed in these situations by making my thoughts realities. This in turn leads to a building of confidence, which is very important for a runner to have, and to be able to trust themselves, and especially his or her body.
Finally, I believe that through running, a person will build lifelong relationships. I have done so myself and still talk to the teammates that I had in my first year of running in sixth grade. I do not think that there is anyway to break a bond that forms over the course of a running season such as Cross Country. By progressing through the ups and downs of a season together, the team slowly forms strong relationships. These relationships are built by suffering together through workouts and then recovering other days on easy runs, being able to talk to each other and form personal bonds. But specifically, through workouts. Even though all runners are on different levels, some slower and some faster, when a group of teammates is doing the same workout, struggling on similar reps, it is much easier to reach out and pick them up. Even by saying a few words such as, “keep it up”, or “I know you have one more rep in you”, or even by telling a stupid joke could be enough to motivate that teammate through the end of even the toughest workouts. And that is where a team is made or broken, through the experiences in workouts like these, but also by sticking together and running as a whole on other days. This also leads to situations where older guys on the team can take in the younger ones and “mentor” them on how to be successful in this sport.
Situations like these are how teams are able to pass down the specific morals throughout generations of students, even when students leave after their four years. Running against kids from other schools in the community also builds a community like atmosphere between all runners. It leads to opportunities for us to get together and run. I liked being able to come back to my hometown and get together with my old teammates for a run to catch up.