Weekly exercise series: Long-distance running
A U of T track and field student athlete shares the mental benefits of running long distances.

Track and field is the second most popular sport in the world, following soccer. In track and field competitions any running event 1500m and up is considered distance running. As you run for long distances your heart pumps harder, pushing blood through your body at a faster rate. As you push yourself to go harder and faster, your body starts releasing endorphins, which can lead to a “runner’s high.” Endorphins are naturally occurring chemicals in the body that reduce feelings of stress and pain. 

Running is an exercise that requires minimal equipment and offers a full-body workout that benefits your cardiovascular health, brain cell development, and mental wellbeing. It also encourages people to socialize and go outside more often. Running on a sunny day allows the body to enjoy fresh air and soak up Vitamin D from the sun, crucial to maintaining optimal energy levels and an elevated mood. 

The Medium spoke to Olivia Karn, a long-distance runner with personal bests of 1500m 5:00.01 and 6km cross country 23:53. Karn is a first-year life sciences student athlete on U of T’s track and field Varsity Blues team. She discussed her journey with running and the positive effects she noticed on her mental health, self-image, and coping with the loss of a loved one during the pandemic. 

Karn was introduced to running at an early age. “I started running when I was about four or five, my dad used to run when he was younger so he would take my sister and I out for small runs with him. After he got me started, I just developed a passion for running and I haven’t stopped since. Running just makes me happy.”

As Karn began to run more frequently she mentioned that one of the main benefits of running was the community that she felt a part of, which enabled her to cope with hardship. 

“Running isn’t a sport that just benefits my physical health,” says Karn. “Running has benefited my mental health, made me more confident in myself, and provided me with lifelong friends. The running community is one big family, and this community has helped me through multiple challenges I have faced in my life.” 

‘This past year was especially hard for me because this past May my aunt passed away from Covid-19,” continues Karn. “Running provided me with a space to deal with my emotions. Running is an empowering community that lifts people up and encourages them to be the best that they can be.”

Karn advises new runners to never “worry about whether you are too slow because runners don’t care whether you are faster or slower, we just love meeting people that share our passion for running!” 

The mental benefits of running are numerous. Whether you are a beginner or have competed in multiple track and field competitions, running provides a way for many people to reach new goals and take on new challenges. The running community fosters a space for newcomers and seasoned veterans to achieve mental clarity and simultaneously get fit. 

Karn has one final tip for anyone interested in running, “Oh, and get a good pair of shoes because you don’t want to get injured.”

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