I joined DUHAC two years ago this freshers week. I actually half joined on the bus on my way into Front Square, I met the Captain who was also on her way in, and told her that I was joining (she didn’t actually have a choice). I knew I should do a sport, I had tried and tested many through the years, but the hand-eye coordination just became too much to master (I really just wasn’t great). Running seemed like a good choice, no particular skill set necessary, just commitment and the ability to concentrate, or zone out on my ipod. I started running for my physical health alone, to keep fit, active and en pleine forme. This was my last shot.
Although there are obvious physical benefits, I kept going during those first few months, when fitness was a real struggle, for social reasons. It was something to do, and I knew that if I stuck at it long enough I would eventually make a few friends. Luckily that plan worked out very, very well for me, as the friends and experiences I gained from DUHAC and my local club certainly define a large proportion of my college experience.
It can be hard, running fast isn’t easy, and there are days when you seriously question your sanity. Why you push your body so hard, only to be tired for the rest of the day? But training isn’t just a thing we do at a certain time each day, it’s a daily social event that we look forward to. Seeing friends, meeting coaches who are wise beyond their years, and seeing those people who you would only ever see when running. A Sunday morning run along the coastline, followed by an absolute feast – what could be better? Doing a sport means you’re not adverse to early mornings. It is quite an impressive trait, that someone will come to my house at 8am on a cold winter Sunday for a jog in the dark before work.
There is fun in following the elites, the same way soccer and GAA is followed religiously. From supporting Paula Radcliffe on her final marathon as a professional athlete early this year, to watching Bolt beat Gatlin twice at the World’s in Beijing this summer, there is excitement, inspiration and awe.
However, this year, particularly since moving to France on erasmus, it has become clear that running, or sport in general, is not only beneficial to your physical health and your social life, it is also key to good mental health. The saying goes that “A healthy mind is a healthy body”, but I would argue that actually, “A healthy body is a healthy mind”. Of course, it is not the eternal solution to mental health problems. I know that even the most accomplished athletes can suffer from mental health issues, meaning that nobody is immune. It affects everybody. But sport certainly contributes largely to a person’s state of happiness, and is a huge source of stability to me.
I have always maintained that running helps maintain sanity, it prevents you from losing it when you’re stressed, and keeps your life on track. It is the solution to 90% of your problems. The practice of sport increases the flow of endorphins and hormones both during and after, and I think that I am at my most alive state of being while running.
Hungover? Get up and run, you will have done something with an otherwise wasted day. Had a fight? Pound your anger out on the pavement. Heavy week of booze and pizza? Get your life back on track and feel good about yourself. Exams looming? Get those endorphins pumping to remember that there is life outside of summer exams. Bored? Nothing to do? Some sport will re-energise you. Be alive!
There is never a run you regret, no such thing as a bad run or a bad workout, only the ones you didn’t do. Be it a marathon, or a 1 mile jog in the park, I guarantee you will feel better about everything once you have gone out. I view the time I spend running alone as specially allocated time for me to spend with myself. Me, Myself and I. Alone to my thoughts, thinking things through without distractions.
Coming on erasmus this year, I was genuinely scared that I would lose all that I have described above. Having spent two years building my college life around DUHAC among many other things, it was scary to imagine moving abroad and starting from scratch all over again. I didn’t want to lose my weekly structure, because having a training time everyday or knowing that I needed to squeeze in a run, I found, increased efficiency and productivity.
Running alone is enjoyable, but there is only so much solo training you can do. A year? I wouldn’t last. I would lose motivation, it would stop being fun, and I would miss out on other social events. So, the first thing I did here was to join a club. After a quiet weekend, and not having run with anybody in almost two weeks, I was getting desperate. I started to miss the social interactions, and I could feel myself losing that crucial stability that running gave me.
Fantastic move. I was finally with people again, and outside of my dorm room. It was tough, I came home a bit sore, I spoke a little bit of french, and did a lot of listening. I struggled with the Alsacienne accent, which is like trying to understand a 70 year old farmer from West Cork who never left the county in his life. Difficult.
After meeting the group on Sunday morning in the woods, I was reminded why I love the sport so much, and therefore, why I love life so much. That day had a purpose, I had to be somewhere, to meet someone, at a certain time. Upcoming races were discussed, and Cross country season is just around the corner. One of the coaches was a world champion in the 1990s, and she comes to train our humble group six days a week. It’s like saying that Sonia O’Sullivan coaches your local team. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Sport has helped with integration. I realise now why I am so dependant on athletics, how much it gives to me. I discovered this new city in a series of ill-planned and adventurous runs, and have been introduced to real French people. This year I will experience French Cross Country, yet this week I ran right into the centre of the European Union, right past the big glass Palace, full of our protected and blessed Human Rights!