Cool Runnings

by Alison Hagen | 10/5/16 12:26am

There is something constant about running. Whether it is the recurring movement of your feet below you, the wind bracing your cheek or the blurred colors passing by, running becomes smooth and continuous. Within this repetition, runners often find that other thoughts or concerns fade away, and they are left solely with a clear mind.

Running, as evident by the numerous runners who cross the Green daily, is a popular activity for students. Many Dartmouth students claim that they find a comfort in the constant of running.

“If you’re really in the zone when you’re running, there’s not a lot of other things you’re thinking about besides just taking the next step, so it’s a really good way to put behind all of the little stresses that add up,” said Rachel Van Gelder ’18, a member of the Dartmouth Endurance Running Team.

DERT members elect to run frequently and usually for long distances. Member Ethan Isaacson ’18 focuses on running for its competitive aspect, but he also thinks it can provide a calming break.

“I do enjoy the escape of not having to think about anything,” said Isaacson. “Besides running, it’s really relaxing to be outside on a day when nothing hurts and everything’s really good, it’s kind of an amazing feeling that makes you forget about other things that you might be worried about.”

Other than contributing to staying fit, running also has numerous mental health benefits. While the phenomenon of clearing your mind by running is not yet explained by science, there are proven connections between exercise and enhancing brain structure and function. Running or other aerobic exercises cause the creation of neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain affiliated with learning and memory. The hippocampus is highly active while people run, and perhaps this explains why students enjoy running as a study break.

“There’s definitely time where I’m really upset about something or just super stressed out and I’ll go on a run and I do feel like I’m running away from whatever stress I have,” said Ben Roberts ’20, a varsity track athlete. “It’s like you turn off your mind in a way and just let your body go free.”

Not all students feel that they are running away from something. Each student finds running as beneficial in different ways.

Van Gelder said that as opposed to running away from her problems, she “runs them out.”

“So I’m taking all that stress and just pounding it out. And at the end of a long day, that’s happened quite a few times. You just kind of sweat it out and release all the bad feelings, all the negative things that happened to you that day and get it out of your system.”

Running can be difficult and straining on the body, yet students often find running to be relaxing. Runners even use the term “runner’s high” to explain the euphoric feeling they acquire.

“My favorite part is the way that it feels on a really good day when you feel like you’re running fast, but not fast enough that it hurts, and it’s just completely relaxing,” Isaacson said. “Usually in the fall when the leaves are falling, the air smells good. That’s what I think about when I think of the best days of running.”

Especially at Dartmouth, the impressive landscape and the vibrant fall colors can be an appealing aspect of running outside. Popular runs around campus include Occom Pond and Pine Park.

A benefit of running over swimming or other sorts of exercise is the scenery, said Sarah LeHan ‘20, another member of DERT.

Throughout high school, LeHan ran on her varsity track team and found running as a crucial way to balance work and relaxation. However, LeHan felt running could create unique “escape” beyond school.

“A lot of times girls worry they’re eating too much of this and that, but if you ran seven miles you get more leeway,” LeHan said. “So that actually is another aspect of escape that played a role in my high school experience: the escape from having to worry like, ‘Oh no I’m getting fat.’”

Both Van Gelder and Isaacson said they feel “antsy” after a long period without running; luckily, they can look forward to DERT sessions. DERT can help students create a commitment to running more frequently in a recreational environment.

“Running here is really fun,” Van Gelder said. “It’s a great way to socialize, which also takes your mind off all of the rest of things.”

Running may not directly help with acing a midterm or finishing your paper, but the evidence suggests it can certainly improve your attitude. With enough focus on a single action, such as taking the next step, all of the negative background noise tends to fade away. Students have various outlets for clearing their minds, but it seems runners can justifiably brag about the advantages of their medium.