Pains and Gains: The Pros and Cons of Cross-Country Running

Ryan Heuchert, Staff Writer

In America today, running is an incredibly popular form of exercise. In fact, Share.America stated “a 2017 report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association estimates there are more than 47 million runners and joggers in the United States.” Running produces a multitude of benefits and consequences, adding to the sport’s reputation. 

Physical Effects 

Running has many positive effects on people, including a healthier heart. An article from NPR states, “Duck-chul Lee, a member of the Department of Kinesiology at Iowa State University, conducted a study in 2014. He found persistent runners ‘had the most significant benefits, with 29 percent and 50 percent lower risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, respectively, compared with never-runners.’”    

In an interview with Insider, Dr. Shawn Arent, an exercise scientist and the director of the Center for Health and Human Performance at Rutgers University adds, “You increase your oxygen-carrying capacity, which means you carry more oxygen to help feed the muscles. You can improve overall circulation.” Arent also says that the sport is linked to weight loss. Makoto Sasaki, a freshman on the cross-country team agrees. “Running almost every day has made me leaner,” he says. 

Like anything, running does not go without flaws. Injury is common. Pulled muscles, shin splints and rolled ankles, to name a few. Another member of the cross-country team, senior Julia Ryan says “This year, I had shin splints. To recover, I did cross training like swimming.”  

NPR displays an article from the British journal, “Heart” that fired up debates about running: “Excessive running may thicken the heart tissue, causing fibrosis or scarring…. This may lead to… irregular heartbeat. Prolonged exercise may also lead to…a buildup of free radicals that may bind with cholesterol to create plaque in your arteries.”  

Another concern is injury. Running on trails with roots, rocks and loose dirt, plus daily strain on the legs can be problematic. As a member of the cross-country team myself, I have known runners who had to take time off because of shin splints, rolled ankles, pulled muscles, and even fractures. To prevent injury, sophomore Silas Sneath says, “I like to stretch before my runs and after my runs.” Arent explains a way to prevent injury while running is to gradually increase mileage over time. In his interview with Insider, he adds, “As long as you progress into it and you properly hydrate, running is absolutely not a bad thing.”  

Mental Effects 

While there are multiple physical advantages of running, there are just as many mental benefits. Running has been proven to dramatically improve brain function. John Hopkins University of Medicine says, “Voluntary exercise is the single best thing one can do to slow the cognitive decline that accompanies normal aging.” Although most teenagers do not have to be concerned about cognitive decline, running still benefits them. John Hopkins University of Medicine adds running improves memory, mood and the ability to switch tasks. In fact, some runners have said cross-country running has made school easier for them in some respects. Ryan says running helps her “stay focused a lot longer, especially in math.” 

The sport has also had an impact on the mindset of runners. Junior Mary Jane Harig says, “I think because I need to have a lot of grit, perseverance, and determination, I bring that to stuff in life that does not have to do with running. I think because you work hard at running, you work hard at other things.” Sneath adds that running races has helped him with problem solving: “During a cross country race, I may break down my race into miles. I also do that with homework now; I break up my homework into sections or pages.”  

Another basic, but important aspect is social life. Distance runners say the sport has provided them with an incredible opportunity to meet people. Harig says, “You meet a lot of people running. You are with these people every day, so become really close to those people.” 

Academic Effects 

Florida National University says a study by BBC found “the increase in academic performance was estimated to start after 17 minutes of exercise performed by boys; in the case of girls, the increase was detected after 12 minutes.” Additionally, the CDC performed a series of tests and reports that “Eleven of the 14 studies found one or more positive associations between school-based physical education and indicators of academic performance; the remaining three studies found no significant associations.” While these studies show a correlation between sports and improvements in academics, many cross-country athletes do not feel that way. Sasaki states, “I have not studied as much as I should. None of my grades have taken that big of a hit, but they have been affected.” Sneath adds, “Running has lowered my grades a bit. That is because I have not had enough time to do homework.” 

In Conclusion 

Cross-country is a sport that brings people together, improves overall health and even benefits memory and mood. On the other hand, running can result in injury and less time dedicated to school. In the end running is about evaluating the good and bad, and deciding for yourself if the sport is worth it.