Back in the summer, when the sun was shining and we were all dreaming wistfully of summers spent punting in the Cherwell and picnicking in Port Meadow, I wrote an article giving advice for running in Oxford (even highlighting a few of the best routes to try out) for those thinking ahead to our return. For many of us, those days feel very far away, now that we are stuck at home, dozens to thousands of miles away from Oxford; the outside world cold and the darkness closing in from the mid-afternoon.

Given the current circumstances, the idea of going for even a single run, let alone going regularly, might seem like a completely unappealing prospect, to be rejected without a second thought. However, I would argue that now is not just a good time, but actually the perfect time to start running – and here’s why.

1 – The benefits of running are perfect for the current situation

Heading back into an Oxford term can already be a stressful experience for some, as we return from the vacation to collections and short deadlines. Then add in the new stresses, like the restrictions on returning to Oxford, or the current situation with the pandemic as the UK reaches a new peak and we find ourselves in our third national lockdown. A lot of people are going through a very tough time at the moment, and given that running has been associated with a number of benefits, such as stress relief and mood improvement, it is definitely worth a try.

Obviously, I am not suggesting that going for a run will solve all of the world’s problems or instantly return people to a full state of happiness (and if you think you may need professional help, please do seek it). What I am suggesting is that going for a run may provide an endorphin boost or a little lift in mood that could help with any feelings of stress, even if it is only by an infinitesimal amount.

What’s more, running can be very helpful for productivity: one study of office workers found that being less sedentary was associated with greater job satisfaction and being less tired. In turn, more job satisfaction and lower fatigue were both associated with increased productivity. The study did not examine whether or not the link was causal (i.e. whether being less sedentary actually caused workers to be less tired and more satisfied, rather than just being correlated with each other), but I would argue that given the costs of going for a run are low, it’s worth giving it a go to see if it could help. So as another busy Oxford term begins and increased productivity becomes even more welcome, the time to start running couldn’t be more perfect – whether it enables you to fit in more readings, or to do the same amount of work more efficiently with more time to relax!

2 – There are significant benefits to going for a run during winter!

I may have given you some reasons why going for a run is generally a good idea, but given that in most of the northern hemisphere the cold temperature doesn’t make the outside world seem all that inviting, you may still not be particularly keen. However, there are some benefits to be reaped from running in winter specifically. 

First of all, it could be great for your performance, with one source suggesting that the optimum temperature for endurance exercise, such as running, is 11 degrees C, while another study found that running speeds became slower as temperature increased from 5 to 25 degrees C, across a range of running abilities. More generally, going for a run outside can help you get some vitamin D (a vital vitamin which is more difficult to get in winter). Also, given we often spend more time indoors during winter even without a global pandemic, running provides a way to get out in nature – which is found to improve positive feelings.

Even though it may be chilly outside, I hope that realising the benefits of running in winter can help to motivate you, to push through and give it a try regardless – although do make sure you dress warmly. 

3 – If not now, then when?

My final reason for you is less of a scientific one, and comes more from the type of reflections I think many people have been engaging in as the pandemic has dragged on. For many of us, the pandemic has made us realise that if an opportunity comes along, sometimes you have to grab it with both hands, because you don’t know when the situation could change and mean these opportunities are no longer available.

While I can imagine many people would raise an eyebrow at me for referring to running as an ‘opportunity’, what I mean is that at the moment many people have found their usual choices of leisure activities, and their preferred ways of exercising, are not currently options. But running remains an available and accessible choice. By trying it a few times to see if it works for you given that other activities are not on the cards, then, if you do enjoy it, you’ll have found a new hobby, and if you really don’t gel with running, then at least you gave it a go!

Hopefully by this point you are completely convinced, pulling your trainers on and raring to go – in which case, enjoy! But if you still feel you need some guidance for getting started, stay tuned for a part two with tips for running in your local area.

Disclaimer: if you do decide to go out running, please do be mindful of government regulations where you are – this article was written with England’s lockdown rules in mind, so do check local guidelines before venturing out.

Cover photo: Jessica Searle