Updated: Nov 15, 2020
PHHS '18, Rice University '22
If you’re looking for a new hobby that promotes physical and mental wellbeing while also being easy to start, why not try running?
It’s common knowledge that participating in light to moderate exercise, like running, a few times every week can greatly improve cardiovascular health, but the mental benefits of a quality run are often understated. Running builds self-confidence, clears your mind, and is a healthy coping mechanism. I interviewed my long-time friend and fellow PHHS graduate Karan Chauhan, a rising junior at Georgetown University studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs, about his running tendencies and how new runners can approach the sport. As a member of Georgetown’s Running Club, Karan’s insight on safe and effective running is invaluable, but don’t let his fast times and prowess intimidate you: his advice is applicable to all runners, regardless of experience.
A quick run in the afternoon is a great way to recalibrate and wind down, and after his Zoom classes and other obligations, you can often find Karan lacing up and hitting a stride on his neighborhood run. “It’s a great way to recenter after class everyday, focus yourself, and reflect before starting your other work,” he elaborates. One of the most valuable aspects of running for him is the discipline it instills: by making room for five to six runs per week, Karan dedicates time towards himself and establishes something to look forward to. However, by no means do you have to run six times a week to reap similar benefits: in fact, running in an unsustainable manner will certainly lead to injury and a blow to your confidence! The vast majority of amateur runners only run two to three times a week at a modest pace; no matter what pace you run at, how many times a week you run, or even if you have to walk during your run, running is an easy and sustainable way to get outside and take a break from your hectic daily duties.
Current social distancing guidelines forbid most larger-scale gatherings, and group runs certainly aren’t exempt. Nonetheless, Karan’s favorite aspect of running is the camaraderie he establishes with his club teammates, and he advises to find running buddies as soon as it is permitted to gather outdoors. For him, bantering with his teammates can provide a much-needed distraction from occasional monotony: “I let my imagination take over and debate wack hypotheticals with my friends on a run -- like what would happen if we had space travel to Mars?” He also mentions deriving motivations from his running buddies, noting how he doesn’t have the motivation to do harder speed workouts without his teammates. Even if you aren’t doing speed workouts like Karan is (and you don’t need to if you’re just starting), running buddies can hold you accountable, accompany you on runs when you’re unmotivated, and make your running journey safer and more enjoyable. Even though running most or all of your mileage alone is valid, being social and reaping mental health benefits together with fellow runners is a major appeal for all runners, from park joggers to Olympic marathoners, so don’t be afraid to ask your friends out on a run or join your university’s running club!
A common complaint among new runners is that running hurts or is excruciatingly tiring. Indeed, moving into a more active lifestyle will be challenging for anyone, but for most, a drastic increase in running volume or pace will undoubtedly lead to physical injuries, like shin splints, and burnout. No matter what your reason for starting to run is, your running plan should be sustainable, according to Karan. “If you’re just starting out, you’re not gonna instantly be a D1 athlete, so don’t push too hard too early and focus on longevity.” So, what is some practical advice for newcomers? Most coaches and top runners will recommend maintaining an easy to easy-medium level of physical exertion for a thirty minute effort around two to four times a week. This effort can be running or even briskly walking with short, modestly-paced running spurts every few minutes. Don’t increase pace, distance, or time by more than 10% each week, and remember to stretch after runs. Lastly, Karan mentions to cross-train or rest on days you feel hurt, and to change your running shoes when the tread starts wearing down. At the top level, running is one of the most physically demanding sports, but it can also be practiced modestly and sustainably by almost anyone!
Whether you’re a seasoned runner with long-term goals like Karan or a complete newbie, running is fun, challenging, and a healthy and sustainable coping mechanism. While some runners will be able to take their passion to the national or international level, most have no competitive aspirations whatsoever and are content with going on easy runs to pass the time and appreciate the outdoors. Whatever your motive may be to begin, make sure you have a solid training plan and try to find friends or join a club or community when you can. Karan, as well as many others, agree that running is one of the simplest, most accessible, and most universal sports, since you really only need a good pair of shoes to start running anywhere around the world. So I must reiterate, if you’re looking for a hobby that promotes physical and mental wellbeing while also being easy to start, why not try running?