Running is Life-Changing
Written by Chris Henderson
Cross country running, or distance running, is an activity that can make a huge impact on one’s life. There are many medical and recreational benefits to hitting the open trail. Seeing how long and how far one can push oneself allows that person to become stronger, both mentally and physically. Good health is important and is directly attributed to regular exercise, especially running. For instance, running strengthens bones, ligaments, and tendons. This, in turn, helps prevent injury and illness that may eventually occur.
Runners tend to have a great deal more endurance and stamina than the inactive person. This is due to the increase in size of one’s capillaries, which enhances blood supply. As a result, more oxygen is carried to muscle fibers. Runners also experience a larger supply of energy. Running tends to concentrate key aerobic enzymes, which help to break down fuel into usable forms of energy. The body also develops a higher fat-burning capacity by optimally tapping into one’s fat reserves. A runner’s muscle structure becomes stronger due to the build-up of more myoglobin, thus sculpting the physique. Running stimulates the heart and respiratory system, and reduces cardiovascular mortality. There is an added benefit, involving the brain, as well. Running helps you develop mental toughness by stimulating the brain. Chemicals are released causing a euphoria known as a runner’s high. Mood changes may also occur while running. The body releases serotonin, which improves mood. Kynurenine, an amino acid that accumulates when stressed, is purged from the blood. This seems to reduce depression. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, long-distance running can lift the effects of depression just as well as some prescription antidepressants.
From a personal standpoint, I have witnessed many of the above-mentioned factors for myself, as have my cross country team members. I notice that when I run with my runners, my awareness and mood totally change for the better afterwards. I notice that same phenomenon with my runners as well. One of my athletes may come to practice after having a bad day. But after a run, he or she is in much better spirits. Another added benefit is that running burns fat very quickly, and has actually helped me with substantial weight loss. As a result of running last summer, I experienced a decrease in my weight from 241 pounds to 210 pounds by the start of the school year. The physiques of many of my runners have changed as well over time, since the beginning of the school year. Muscle development, energy, and endurance levels have increased dramatically. I have noticed that as time passes in the Fall sports season, the self-confidence of my runners has increased dramatically. The more they run, the better they become, and the more successful they will be in meets.
Since the beginning of the school year, I have moved three of my JV runners to the varsity team. This was the direct result of logging many miles, in a short amount of time to build their endurance levels. In turn, they have become more confident in themselves and their teammates. Running has also increased the level of chemistry among our team’s athletes. They seem to push and encourage each other when running. New friendships have been spawned from running together in practice. On the academic side, many of my runners have spoken of an elevation in performance due to running long distance. They seem to be able to focus on homework better in the evenings after practice. In fact, some of my athletes have conveyed to me that they will sometimes go for a run in the morning to get their mind “right” for upcoming classes that day. Overall, the most amazing phenomenon that I have experienced over my long career of coaching, is the strong chain of bonds I have formed with my athletes and that my athletes have formed with each other over the years. I still keep in touch with many of my alumni athletes, and a good number of them still run today. Deron Molen, an Oakridge alumnus and friend, received a running scholarship to college his senior year at Oakridge five years ago. He realized his potential and put in the hard work. It paid off for him. Deron still runs to this day. Carl Kohler, another Oakridge alumnus shifted from straight distance running to competing in triathlons. He has definitely taken it to the next level. There are still so many others that continue to run for health and for fun, even after leaving their Oakridge cross country family behind for college and the real world.
It seems that running is a discipline that becomes ingrained in a person over time. As a coach, it has been a privilege for me to be able to instill that passion in my athletes. Running is truly a sport that can bring generations together, and can help one lead a better quality life. Whether you want to shed a few pounds, build your endurance, or add some years on to your life, running can have a terrific impact. Next time you hit the trail, run with purpose and for fun. It will do your body and mind a lot of good. If you get an urge to really push yourself, come have a run with the Oakridge varsity cross country team. We would love to have you join us.
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