Psyched Online

A Runners Life

By Sarah Snyderman

In today’s modern world, there is no excuse for anyone to be out of shape. There are so many types of exercise varying from football to rowing. Even so, people may still complain that these sports require extra equipment, time, and money. There is, however, one form of exercise that is so simple, that it is sometimes referred to as “the purest of sport” (Aaseng 9). This sport is track and field, in which all you need to participate is a pair of sneakers. It is true that at times, running can be painful and tiresome. However, despite the physical challenges running poses, I continue to run everyday because of the psychological and physical benefits I receive.

For my I-search, I wanted to learn more about the benefits of running and why I continue to run, despite the physical discomforts associated with it. Being a runner for the Council Rock High School South winter and spring track teams, I am involved in running everyday after school. This also entails participating in track meets every Friday night. Since I am involved in other extracurricular activities, staying after school for track each day and making time for homework can become hectic and overwhelming. However, I make time for running because it is a way for me to relieve stress and stay fit at the same time. Obviously, running isn’t always enjoyable. It takes a lot of persistence and determination. Many people do not like running because unlike other sports, it is continuous physical exertion. However, as my teammates and I say, you have to “run through the pain.” For my I-search, I also wanted to learn more about not only the physical aspects of running, but also the psychological. Prior to my search, I had already heard of something called “runner’s high.” Other runner’s explained this high as a sense of well-being and a heightened feeling of invincibility (Kahn 295). I wanted to learn more about this high and the other benefits of running. I hoped that this would help me to better understand my desire to run each day.

When people hear that I am a member of the Council Rock High School South track team, their first response is usually, “Why would anyone want to run? It’s painful, hard, and boring.” I usually respond to their question with the most common reasons people choose to run: to lose weight, become fit, or to meet new people (Galloway 6). To me, however, running is so much more.

Associated with running are a wide variety of physical benefits. First, running helps to improve respiration. When a person runs, their body needs more oxygen (Liberman 7). Their lungs are working harder and faster to supply more oxygen to the body (Liberman 7). As the person continues to run, their lungs become more proficient at supplying extra oxygen to the body, which in turn makes breathing easier at rest and when the person is active (Liberman 7). Having asthma, breathing was difficult for me when I first started running. However, tests have shown that as I continue to run, my lung capacity is increasing. Although I still have asthma, running has decreased the chances of me experiencing an asthma attack.

One of the major benefits of running is that it improves muscular strength, endurance, and bone density. Running keeps your muscles functional and strong (Liberman 8). Muscles are attached to bones, so as your muscles move during a workout, it is forcing your bones to grow (Liberman 8) This helps to keep bones dense, firm, and healthy (Liberman 8). Everyday that I run, my legs are increasingly getting stronger. I know this is happening because each week, I am able to add more weight to the machines I use in the weight room.

Running also helps improve a person’s nutrition. Before you run, it is important to have a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat to give you enough energy to make it through the workout (Galloway 226). Running also makes your body much more sensitive to overeating or eating the wrong foods (Galloway 233). I can agree with this because during track season, I always find myself eating healthier, having an apple instead of a candy bar.

People who run also tend to have renewed energy, a better outlook on life, an improved quality of sleep, and more self-confidence (Liberman 6). Running is also highly motivating (Averbuch 145). Whenever I run a personal record, it makes me feel like all of my hard work has paid off. Nancy Gerstein, editor for The New Yorker and a daily runner describes her feelings about running, which are similar to mine:

Running gives me a sense of controlling my own life. I feel I’m doing something for myself, not depending on anyone else to do it for me. I like the finiteness of my runs, the fact that they have a clear beginning and end: I set a goal and I achieve it. I like the fact, too, that there’s real difficulty in running; when you have to push yourself to finish a run, you feel wonderful afterward. A good run makes you feel sort of holy. (qtd. in Fixx 14-15)

Along with the physical benefits gained from running are a variety of psychological benefits. Running causes the production of endorphins, which are natural morphine-like hormones (Liberman 9). These endorphins are believed to reduce stress levels and improve your mood (Liberman 9). When these endorphins are released, a mental change called runners high takes place (Kolata). John Donahue, a 43-year-old man who runs five miles everyday, explained this high by saying, “After about 35 or 40 minutes, it seems as if all sorts of tension are relieved. It’s almost like floating” (Glover 339). Paul Schienberg, publisher of Psyched Magazine, also described this high by saying, “It is a point where all biological and psychological systems are running in harmony and it is effortless.” This high, however, does not usually come easily. It often occurs after a period of continuous exercise when the cardiovascular system is working harder (Kahn 295).

Running is also one of the leading ways to reduce stress. During a run, you can use the time to reflect, plan your day, or clear your mind from pressure (Liberman 9). Because of these positive effects, runners are usually calmer, have higher self-esteem, and have less anxiety (Glover 342-343). Ben Bobrow, a runner, says, “Being an emergency physician, I encounter my share of stressful days (and nights). I have consistently found, however, that I feel better, perform better, and am actually a more empathetic doctor when I work after running” (Liberman 5). I have also found that I am less stressed after I run. Especially when I have a lot of homework due the following day, I always find it helpful to run to make me feel less overwhelmed.

Running also teaches the body how to handle, in a productive way, substances that are produced by running and stressful situations, which can have both positive and negative effects (Jonas 38). In the positive aspect, running can cause the athlete to have more responsibility, persistence, courage, self-discipline, and independence (Griffin 27). However, by exercising 30 minutes, several times a week, runners can develop an addiction to the relaxed feeling associated with running (Galloway 20). The body and mind begin to anticipate the after exercise effect, and yearn for it when they don’t exercise (Galloway 20). Withdrawal symptoms can vary from irritability to tiredness (Galloway 20). Although I do not feel as though I am addicted to running, I did experience some of these withdrawal symptoms when I performed my experiment of not running for a week. The first few days I did not run, I felt weary, tired, and overwhelmed. However, as the week continued, the symptoms progressively became less detectable as I became accustomed to not running.

Although I am a regular runner, it does not mean that my workouts are easy and effortless. They are, however, much the opposite: hard and tiresome. Up until my completion of the I-search, I had found myself questioning my motives to run. Why do I exert myself to physical discomfort? The I-search has led me to the answer to this question. From this research project, I was able to learn about both the physical and psychological benefits of running. Just as listening to music or reading is a way for people to release stress, running is a way for me to release my tension. Now that I am aware of the numerous advantages of running, it will make my workouts seem easier because I am aware of the benefits I am gaining. Running is a state of mind; the way you think about your running determines your success (Burfoot 112). When my workouts become hard or tiresome, I can think of the positive effects my training will have, and it will help me to continue my workout.