How exercise became my favorite type of self-care

It’s not always bad to run away from your problems

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Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

About a month ago, I told my friend that I’d run a half marathon with her. She ran one last year when we were first-years, and we agreed that training together would make it more fun. This was a bold move considering I was struggling to run for more than 30 minutes at the time, and running 13.1 miles seemed unthinkable — even when I was in my best shape.  

Equally bold, I began telling others so they’d hold me accountable to show up on race day. I said yes with a small knot of dread in my stomach and hoped the sign-up fee wouldn’t be wasted money.  

Although I ran throughout high school, I broke the habit after coming to college and hardly ran my first year. It’s easy to remain consistent with workouts with a coach watching your back, but no one batted an eye when I skipped the gym for a few weeks … or months.  

I stopped running because I didn’t prioritize it. If I had an extra hour after a long day, I would want to spend it napping instead of running. If my schedule was packed with reading and assignment deadlines, why would I take the extra time to run?  

This logic failed once I realized how running made me more alert during the day — making studying more effective and eliminating the need for the nap. More importantly, it also dramatically reduced my stress levels.

When I asked a graduating fourth-year about her best piece of advice for incoming first-years, she said to create a consistent workout schedule. Not only for physical health — though that’s important — but for mental health too. I ran in high school for the fun of competing with friends, but in college I run to stay physically and mentally healthy.

I don’t know enough about meditation to say if it’s similar to the effect of running, but I imagine there’s several parallels. After the first mile, my thoughts fall away, and my mind goes nearly blank. My focus shifts from stressed thoughts to putting one foot in front of the other, steadying my breathing and not smacking into anyone on the sidewalk.

Some people like to run in silence, but I prefer listening to a carefully curated playlist. The combination of high energy beats with empowering lyrics for an hour can shift my mood from lousy to upbeat, and I finish feeling tough and strong.  

The music replaces my thoughts until I reach the most difficult portions of the run — like some of the nasty, gradual uphill climbs. During these moments, I still only think, “You can do this, you can do this, you can do this.” 

I might feel worn out at the end, but my mind always feels at its most energetic. It’s pretty powerful to engage in concentrated positive thinking for an hour straight — you can’t finish the run if you lack the confidence or are tearing yourself down.

I never thought I’d prioritize exercise as much as studying, but I now will squeeze in runs even if my work is incomplete. I’ve found I work much better afterwards anyway, especially once I’ve cleared my head. I’m definitely guilty of wanting to look more in shape, but after a long day, I’m only motivated to lace up my shoes for the runner’s high.

I pass on that fourth-year’s guidance to others when I’ve been asked for advice, but I understand that running isn’t for everyone. Her point was to prioritize self-care, even at the expense of things that may seem more important at the time, like studying. Prioritizing self-care you enjoy allows it to become routine, which ultimately makes it more beneficial.

The half marathon is about a month away, and I’ve stuck to my training schedule so far. I’m not one to back down from a goal, especially if others know about it. I’ve now told you as well — feel free to call me out if you don’t see me at the starting line next month. 

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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