How running helps me deal with exam stress

With exam season looming and deadlines creeping dangerously close, revision and research seem to be the topics at the forefront of everyone’s mind at the moment. We’re all trying so hard to persevere and maintain our focus, just for these last few weeks so that we can relax and unwind over the summer, that a lot of us are forgetting to look after our well-being and health at the same time. It’s important that we try to achieve a balance in our lives, and something that’s really helped me feel a lot more uplifted is running. Here’s a little bit about how I got started as a beginner and how you can get involved, too.

I’ve been running regularly now for about three months; I took it up during the January exam season to help me manage the pressure and anxiety I started to feel around that time. Before I started running more seriously, I noticed that when I felt stressed or overwhelmed, I liked to go for a walk, or just be outdoors and alone. The fresh air and beautiful scenery refreshed and distracted me, taking my mind off the issues that seemed to irk me before. I then returned to my studies feeling clear-headed and optimistic. After a while, then, it occurred to me that maybe I should invest more time in exercising rather than waiting for the stress to mount.

Something I’ve always been interested in, but never actually pursued, is running, so I decided to conduct a bit of research into the basics and get started. I spoke to my lovely friend Megan about my endeavours and she was only too pleased to offer her athletic expertise, recommending I take a look at the Couch to 5K plan. (She has been trying for several years to try and get me to participate in various sporting activities and I have succeeded up until now in warding her off.) Couch to 5K is a nine-week programme of structured runs that has been developed to gradually increase your stamina and cardiovascular endurance so that you are able to run 5km without stopping. It’s recommended that you repeat these runs three time a week so that your body gets used to the high intensity of the workout. The first week, for instance, you’ll be alternating between 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking, for a total of 20 minutes. What I really liked about this programme was that you can tailor it to your own abilities. You don’t have to progress on to the next week if you don’t feel ready, it’s completely yours to do whatever you like with, but provides a basic scheme that you can go to for pointers. If you were interested in having a go yourself, amidst its Social Sport programme, the University of Sheffield runs its own Couch to 5K running group that meets every Sunday at 3pm outside the Edge, Endcliffe Village. It’s completely free and lead by student volunteer Run Leaders!

As well as the amazing health benefits running offers, I love the social side; sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of company for support. (To be honest, I don’t really do much talking when I run. I physically cannot or else I lose my breathing rhythm and then everything just goes pear shaped.) There’s so many running groups around Sheffield, such as the Steel City Striders, Valley Hill Runners and Sheffield Running Club. A recent phenomenon that’s risen in popularity is Parkrun, a free, weekly timed 5km run that is organised at various different locations worldwide. I noticed, about four weeks into the Couch to 5K programme, that I was able to run for longer than the podcasts required me to, and so the Parkrun sessions allowed me to push myself that little bit further. People of all abilities can take part, there’s no pre-requisite to join. Sheffield University have their own Parkrun group that meet on Saturday at 9am at Endcliffe Park, but there are loads of others in and around Sheffield, such as the Hillsborough Parkrun you can find one near to you here.

My first running number

My first running number

Ever since I have started running regularly, I’ve noticed a lot of differences in myself. Being active has encouraged me to shake up my diet (this involved getting rid of the biscuit barrel) and, although it’s incredibly clichéd to say, I do feel a lot more energised. I’ve stopped going to cafes so regularly and wasting money on cappuccinos nearly everyday and instead only go once or twice a week. This has also had a very positive effect on my bank balance, which, really, I can’t complain about. I also read somewhere that dark chocolate and almonds are supposed to be rather beneficial to runners (can anyone confirm this? Am I merely kidding myself here?), and this is another motivation for me wanting to continue running.

Running has given me something to aim for aside wanting to do well in my studies. My first ‘official’ running event is in July. It’s a 5K charity run called Race for Life, organised by Cancer Research, which I’m really looking forward to! The second event I’ve signed up for, and the one I’m slightly more anxious about, takes place on 27th September, and it’s the 10K Great Yorkshire Run. I’ll be fundraising and running for the charity Mind for this race, an organisation working to end the stigma against mental health, a cause I care deeply about, and am passionate about supporting. I haven’t started fundraising yet because I wanted to get past the 5km mark in my training (I have – I can now run 7km!), but here’s my JustGiving page if you wanted to see how I’m getting on.

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What I hoped I managed to show here is that things do get better. Look after yourself, your mind; strive to achieve that balance, then work to maintain it as best you can.

3 thoughts on “How running helps me deal with exam stress

  1. 9 weeks from couch to 5K and beyond! That’s amazing! It took me nearly a year to do that! I, too, loved using interval training. Like you, I like running with people, but also like focusing on my posture and breathing.

    Best wishes with your fundraising as you move on to 10K 🙂

    Like

    • Thank you very much! That’s really lovely of you. Currently I’m suffering from an injured knee after falling on it a few weeks back so I’ll have to rest for a while, which is incredibly frustrating. But hopeful I’ll be back up again soon 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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