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    Running isn’t just for fitness pros

    Runners at Western from many health backgrounds and activity styles say to get moving

    By Mazey Servin and Teya Heidenreich

    Local runners on Facebook say they are running during the COVID-19 pandemic for reasons that range from preparing for the apocalypse to making it to the refrigerator in record time. 

    Overall, running is used for endurance training, high intensity interval training, to pass time, and to stay active and in shape.

    Drew Benzion, a third-year Western student and bodybuilder, started running when she joined track and cross country in high school. Since then, she has incorporated running into her high-impact interval training — but she really got back into it when everything started to shut down because of COVID-19.

    “I have to do something. So I’m going to start running again,” Benzion said.  “I just kind of came back to really enjoying it. At first it’s really painful, but eventually you get over that once you’re back in running shape, and it’s really good stress relief.”

    Benzion sprints for 30 seconds with all of her effort, and then continues for 60 seconds at a recovery pace. 

    Lauren Rose Besthoff relaxing after a run in Spain. Besthoff started running for social and health reasons. // Photo courtesy of Lauren Rose Besthoff
    Lauren Rose Besthoff relaxing after a run in Spain. Besthoff started running for social and health reasons. // Photo courtesy of Lauren Rose Besthoff

    “Right before I run, sometimes I get — not nervous, but I’m jittery, like if you drink too much caffeine,” Benzion said. “‘Oh my God, I have to do something.’ That’s the feeling I get. So then I run and it kind of releases the energy.”

    She said she feels relieved afterwards.

    “It’s kind of like when you take a big deep breath and when you let it out and you just feel settled. That’s kind of the feeling,” Benzion said.

    Benzion said she finds motivation during a workout by listening to music and finding a way to push through to finish her sprints. She disciplines herself to keep going. 

    “What motivates me specifically is, I just think in my head, this is my job. I have to get it done,” Benzion said. 

    Some people are more into distance and endurance running, like Lauren Rose Besthoff, a fourth-year Western student.

    Besthoff said she decided to join a gym one day and came across a Couch to 5K program. “That was the perfect easement into running,” she said.

    Besthoff said she started running for the health benefits and social time with her running buddy. She and her friend since high school, who’s now married with kids, run together regularly as a way to keep in touch.

    She has also met new people through participating in runs with the Fairhaven Runners group. 

    “When I do run, I tend to sleep better at night, and it’s one of the things that I do to manage my anxiety and depression,” Besthoff said.

    Running is a way to get out of her day-to-day routine, and helps to create a relaxed version of herself, Besthoff said.

    “There’s a couple of funny T-shirts out there that say, like, ‘I run to burn off the crazy,’ and that is just so true,” Besthoff said. “Sometimes I can get so in my mind, and running helps me focus and catch all the wayward thoughts that I have. I almost feel a sense of peace after my run. It’s very relaxing.”

    Wayne L. Westcott, a retired fitness director of  30 years with the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, and a strength training researcher at Quincy College, talked about the benefits of running for college students.

    Westcott said the main reasons young adults would want to run include stress relief and better body composition, meaning less fat and more muscle. He said many studies have shown that running is a great stress reliever. Also, as Besthoff said, it helps with depression and emotional issues.

    He said there’s strong evidence that in teenagers, running leads to improved cognitive and cardiorespiratory function, as well as reducing the risk factor for cardiovascular issues, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

    This evidence is from the findings of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee.

    As for COVID-19, exercise such as dance fitness and spinning classes are not available in person right now, and the sports that many people practice such as soccer and football are off-limits or just starting to come back, Westcott said. Buying canoes, kayaks and bikes can be hard. Running is a great option for an individual activity that helps people when they are feeling down from being at home for so long, he said.

    “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to gain weight — I’m getting depressed, I’m getting fat, I’m just sitting around,’” Westcott said. “‘I’m going to take up another activity,’ and running is the simplest to do. You need no equipment except for a pair of running shoes, pretty much.”

    For Brianna Werner, a second-year Western student, running is a cheap and easy hobby that she fell in love with in high school. 

    “I grew up without a ton of money, so it was something I could do without having to put any money into it,” Werner said. “I’ve been kind of doing it ever since.”

    Werner said she had more time to commit to running and ran her first 10K workout since self-isolating because of COVID-19. 

    She said she enjoys running to find a quiet place for her mind.

    “My boyfriend, he makes fun of me because I don’t run with any music or anything. He’s like, ‘Oh, my God. Like, I don’t understand how you can do that. That’s so creepy,’” Werner said. “It’s so nice to be able to go and shut your brain off, for 20 or 30 minutes, however long you’re out.” 

    Werner said her runner’s high starts when she’s just about to quit, but she pushes through. She described it as a conversation with herself: “I can do this, my chest doesn’t hurt. I feel amazing. Why would I stop when I can see the finish line?” 

    After runs, she said, she has a sense of accomplishment.

    “Nobody has ever regretted a workout. No one has ever regretted a run. I’ve never got back and been like, ‘Oh, damn, that was awful.’ It’s always like, ‘That was fucking cool,’” Werner said.

    People can participate in all types and forms of cardio, but Nicole Clark, a fourth-year Western student, practices walking with intention. 

    Clark said she’s undergone many knee surgeries, so running constantly can be an orthopedic issue. However, she stays active by walking at inclines such as hills around the Fairhaven neighborhood. 

    Clark said she started walking because she wanted to stay active even if she couldn’t run.

    “I think walking is really healthy for you,” Clark said. “In general, it gets your brain going and it also wakes your body up. And it definitely gets my heart rate up. At least it’s something other than just sitting.”

    Walking helps her anxiety and clears her mind, Clark said. 

    “It helps relieve some of that anxiety that I have about life, school [and] relationships,” Clark said.  “It just gives me a mental break from everything else that my brain is thinking about.”

    Clark said she stays motivated to stay active because she feels rewarded after she has completed her walks. 

    She thinks to herself that she doesn’t want to be lazy for the rest of the day, so she disciplines herself to get up and do it now to feel better about her body and her health.

    Besthoff said that when she started, she was new to gyms and anything physical.

    “Running is for everybody,” Besthoff said. “It’s not just super athletic. It’s not just for the athletes or the marathon. Anybody can run.”

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