The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Inside the mind of a cross country runner

4 min read
women running

XC runners are their own motivators during a race. | Twitter

By: Victoria R. Percherke & Bernadette D’Auria

Sports Editor & Associate Editor

Running long distances on a daily basis affects cross country runners’ mental and physical wellbeing throughout a season.

“It’s therapy for me,” said English major and senior cross country runner Amber Zipfel about running. “It helps me think through my personal problems and my relationships.” 

Zipfel also said that while she is running the 6k for her team, she affirms herself by restating in her mind that she is capable of completing the race in front of her. “I can and I will” and “I am strong, healthy, and courageous” are two phrases Zipfel restates in her head. 

Zipfel’s positive mindset is supported by psychology. A study done by the journal of clinical sports psychology found that “positive self-talk allows athletes to feel more confident in their performance.”

“Distance running is something you always have to be working on, not running for a few days could mean you start to lose your fitness, so it’s hard to take time off between seasons,” said junior cross country runner and business administration major Webb Nims.

According to Runner’s World, a runners’ magazine, patience within the process of training for a cross country race takes a lot of time and consistency. 

Exercise, such as running, has been linked to decreased feelings of anxiety and increased calmness within the athlete. According to a recent Hopkins Medicine article, this feeling of calmness that runners experience after a run is referred to as a “runner’s high.”

Junior computer science major and member of the men’s cross country team Nolan Miller, has experienced a runner’s high. 

“Runner’s high is pretty rad,” said Miller. “It happens when I really need it to, like in the middle of a hill repeat workout or at the very end of a race … just suddenly not feeling tired and like any rust in your legs is just gone.” 

Senior sociology major Cameron Delean is a member of the women’s cross country team. She said that a runner’s high puts her in a good mood.

“To me, a runner’s high is just a happy and relaxed feeling I get after doing a hard workout, long run or race,” she said. “When I’m running for a long time, I try to find different things to think about to keep me distracted. Sometimes I’ll count to myself or sing in my head or mentally plan out the rest of my day. If it’s an easier run then I’ll talk with whoever I’m running with!”

Zipfel also regularly finds herself planning out her day while she runs.

“I think about what I am going to drink after and eat,” she said. “I also think of what I am doing after my long run. I also focus on my form and the things around me. I like to go for scenic routes.” 

Zipfel finds this line of thinking especially helpful for her because she prefers to run longer distances. When she feels like she is struggling, especially during races, she finds herself mentally tackling schoolwork and picking out the competition. 

“One time I planned out my entire paper on Beowulf while I was in a race to keep my mind occupied,” she said.

Even outside of competitions, running is a good way to relieve stress for the cross country team athletes.

“Running for me has been a great way to destress and take my mind off things like class and homework,” Delean said. “I also love to compete so it’s been a great way for me to let out some of that competitiveness in a way that benefits me physically as well.”

Zipfel said she feels similarly.

“It helps me relieve stress when times are tough,” she said. “Especially when the workload is heavy. It helps me think through problems through personally and relationships.”

However, despite the positive effects of running for an athlete’s mental health, it can also be a source of stress. 

“Before races, especially ones we travel for, I can get all wrapped up over how fast I need to run all my splits at or what to and not to eat and spend all my time worrying about qualifying,” said Miller. 

The stresses associated with the competitive aspect of cross country are very real for the athletes on the team. However, Nims believes the payoff is worth the hardship. 

“It’s happens often that a race goes bad, you just have to learn from the experience, adjust your race plan, and try again,” said Nims. 

Rajai Walton contributed to the reporting for this article.

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