I remember the first time I went for a run while at uni; I dragged myself out of bed at 6am. This wasn’t because I was a dedicated athlete who jumped up at the crack of dawn just to throw on some trainers and run like Forest Gump. No, it was because after a year and a half at uni, with spontaneous nights out and take-aways galore, I didn’t want anyone to see me huffing and puffing as I jogged down the Taff trail.
Before my mile was up, I was cursing between wheezing breaths and swearing to myself never again! While it was a slow and sometimes gruelling process to get into the routine of going for regular runs, ultimately it was worth it. If there is one thing I could go back and tell myself it would be to take it easy instead of feeling like packing it all in after one bad run (a particularly shameful moment springs to mind, where half-way through a run with my friend, we decided to give up and go buy pizza instead). Despite such hiccups, after just a month of running the whole thing got a lot easier. It quickly became apparent that running didn’t just help my fitness, it helped me better manage stress and generally improve my life as a student.
Getting fitter doesn’t have to mean long runs or three hour gym sessions. Even just small changes can make a big difference. Cardiff has some beautiful parks which are great for gentle jogs. The Taff River actually looks quite nice –and slightly less eerie- when you run by it at sunset. It doesn’t even have to be a solo activity either. With a railcard, it’s less than a tenner for a return ticket to Abergavenny. You can embark on some beautiful walks with friends (and have a well-deserved pint in the town after). Granted, Wales isn’t always the most accommodating of such outdoorsy activities but you can always try and work off some stress at the gym or in an exercise class.
One of the things I found most helpful in getting fitter was having a goal to work towards. When I first signed up to run the Cardiff half-marathon, the furthest I had run was 7k (not even half of the 21k distance required). I realise that people run far more impressive distances and generally complete more heroic feats than one measly half-marathon, but to me, it felt like a challenge and really motivated me to keep running. The first ever goal I set myself was running 5k. Small or big, having some kind of target can be massively helpful in progressing with any fitness pursuit.
There’s no doubt that uni can be a stressful time. You’ve probably heard before that exercise can be beneficial in combating anxiety and generally makes you happier. It isn’t just a cruel myth made up by P.E teachers- its science! Exercising produces endorphins which make you feel more positive. Running helped me with so many things, from improving my quality of sleep to managing academic pressure. Overall, don’t forget to consider the benefits of exercise for not just your physical but also mental health.