Running should be socially acceptable transportation
There is a stereotype applied to people running in a public area. Unless the person is explicitly dressed in the loose-fitting, neon athletic clothes marking them as an athlete, we assume that they are frantically running late, an image popularized by rom-coms. A fun montage from the New York Times strings together scenes from 42 different movies of the genre that have one character running to reach their beloved, often at a wedding or airport.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, the spread of this trope has led to a world in which none of us would dare be caught running somewhere. In spaces like college campuses, we restrict ourselves to walking, or we use bikes if we are especially concerned with covering ground quickly. In the rare moments when we do run, we are more likely to glance at every other passerby, terrified of judgement. My colleague Thomas Humphrey had a point in his piece about the everyday social crises involved in walking to class; we’re irrationally concerned about appearances in this no-stakes situation.
Our unwillingness to run in public is not necessarily problematic, but I want to draw attention to the benefits of which we are unknowingly depriving ourselves.
Before I dive in, I want to say that my pro-running stance applies to those who are physically able to do so. I don’t want to shame anyone who can’t run.
First, running is simply faster. If it’s under 30 degrees outside or raining, most of us don’t want to be outside any longer than necessary. Running rather than walking allows us to get to our warm, indoor destinations sooner in every case. Not to mention that we generate more heat while running, which makes the short duration of cold, wet weather even more bearable.
Second, running benefits physical and mental health and improves cognitive performance. Look, we all know that regular exercise positively impacts your weight, sleep quality, skin, lifespan, mood and many other meaningful markers of wellbeing. If you, as a Washington University student, find yourself too busy to hit the gym or get outside regularly, a simple switch from walking to running ensures that you can get your recommended 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise every day without having to restructure your calendar. If anything, you’ll save a marginal amount of time that can be spent asking a professor a question after class, telling a friend you appreciate them or just checking social media without feeling unproductive. You earned that slot.
That being said, if you ever feel tempted to make your health take a backseat for a day to your demanding coursework, I invite you to not just think of health as an end, but as a means to another end: better test scores. A study from Nottingham Trent University found that students who ran interval sprints (that is, 10-second runs with long walking breaks in between) for 10 minutes were significantly faster and more accurate on Stroop tests – a common psychological test of executive control – than students who rested during those 10 minutes. Several other researchers have reached similar conclusions.
Imagine: Instead of rushing into a test right before it starts, stressed and tired, your leg bouncing in your chair with pent-up anxious energy, you arrive early. You’re awake and relaxed thanks to the hormones released by running, oxygenated blood flowing to your brain with just the right heart rate to be focused and feeling good about having gotten some exercise that day. These little physical and mental shifts can make all the difference.
I envision a campus reminiscent of the “Find Mii” minigame in Wii Play, in which the player is prompted to locate specific avatars in a dynamic, Where’s Waldo fashion. One recurring level prompt is “Find the fastest Mii;” such stages display a car-free intersection with dozens of people walking or jogging at different speeds, all of them smiling and careful not to bump into one another. Every time I play these levels, I am awed by the beautiful collage of humanity.
I believe Wash. U. can rise to this level of harmony. We have nothing to lose by running more often (and if you’re giving me that ‘But I’m lazy’ look, let me say that, first, you are a Wash. U. student, and second, if you don’t want to run, you can still encourage others and help decrease the stigma), and a lot of immediate, practical things to gain.
You can find me today (April 22) and tomorrow running everywhere I go on campus; we have to start somewhere. I’ll be the guy in the FiveFinger running shoes that give my friends and family too much secondhand embarrassment to be near me when I wear them. While you certainly don’t need to take it that far, I’d encourage you try a jog during your time-crunchiest passing period, or before your next exam. Maybe you’ll find that it’s not so bad, and that just walking everywhere has had its run.