Can Sports Help Students do well in School?

Running cross-country in high school yielded greater benefits than improving my mental and physical well-being. Balancing time for the sport with academics helped me build a determined mindset. As I am a college student now, I am confident that I will be able to manage fatigue, long days, and piles of work. I’ve had enough experience with pushing past internal conflict to achieve academic success. This skill can only be learned through experience. Anyone can say that they can stay up late to get work done. But when you’ve already put in eight hours of work at school, three hours at cross-country practice, and every bit of energy during interval workouts, you’ll build a greater level of strength. Your mind might be half-asleep at the end of the day, but you better believe that your history assignment will be turned in the next morning. And that you sure as anything will be waking up at 6:30a.m. just to do it all over again.

On the first day of IT 104, my professor informed the class that a 1500-word, APA style research paper is due in four weeks. Sounds pretty daunting, ay? Let’s talk about writing a quality, 1500-word essay at 3a.m. not because you’re fighting for your grades but because you’re fighting for your beliefs. Let’s talk waking up early because I’ve gotten up at 5:40a.m. on race day mornings when the crisp fall breeze tempts the eyes to close. Put naps aside until after you’ve beat your greatest competition (yourself) on that dewy cross-country course.

My sister informed me that college will be “hard.” So I meet all challenges with the persistence of a distance runner, the thoughtfulness of a writer, and the mind of a student who is determined to thrive as a George Mason Patriot.

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The Drive to Personal Freedom

I started this blog in 2014 to share my experiences related to running. Thoughts of the sport occupied my mind most of the time; I always had ideas for original content. Running liberated my heart, mind, and body in ways that no other sport could. But as my blog unravels, I realize that I can achieve personal freedom through activities besides cross-country and track.

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My blogposts are like a stereo. I hit the pause button on cross-country and hit ‘play’ on the music that echoed off the walls of my yoga studio. I awoke a wave of liberation as I struck countless asanas. The peace and contentment of meditation cannot be found on any cross-country course. So I stretched my calves in downward dog, pointed my toes as I sat in a split, and encouraged myself to breathe deeply. I wasn’t able to achieve this improvement in wellbeing by running. But I was blessed that my mental health climbed to new heights.

My yoga track now intertwines with the sound of poolside waves, as I learned how to swim today. I floated above water and performed graceful breaststrokes, wishing my oxygen capacity were unlimited so I could stay underwater. The smell of chlorine still lingers on my skin, the image of cool blue water is the wallpaper of my mind. As I swam, I turned my freedom’s volume to ‘max.’ Although I’ve stopped writing about running, I combined every one of my freedoms today as I floated in four feet of cool water.  My body absorbs the impact of strides on merciless pavement. My lungs breathe into mindful asanas. And my legs kick through powerful breaststrokes. I was a swimmer, runner, and yogi all at once. I swam through clear blue water, ran from waterslide to pool, and struck a dancer’s pose underwater. As I write these stories, I gently play the notes on this keyboard. My blogposts record my every song of freedom.

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Movement frees the body and heart, but what’s missing? The mind. I may have stumbled upon liberation as I cartwheeled throughout the yoga studio. But in order to free the mind, I open the gates of my thoughts. I carefully type drafts onto a Word Document, often covering the pages in controversial thoughts. It’s easy to write a personal narrative, but arguing takes serious work. The current Presidential race fuels fire between our two candidates, as the United States of America become a little less… united. Minorities are under attack on a daily basis, as the LBTQ  community fights for their right to love and to feel safe in our (supposedly post-modern) society. The Black Lives Matter Movement strives to eradicate the harsh shortcomings of systematic racism. And the list goes on.

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We associate the American flag with “freedom”, but the actions we take to achieve personal liberation can lead us to live meaningfully. Write, whether your ideas are popular or not. Exercise, whether you are “fit” or not. Dance, tumble, run, swim, or do anything that frees you.  I’m thankful to say that, today, as I finished my last breaststroke before leaving the waterpark, I truly lived up to my meaning of “freedom.”

Why Do You Run?

The boy who sits behind me in Advanced Information Systems class asks me how I feel about the sport of running. “I absolutely love it,” I tell him, but this simple statement just isn’t enough to express how much running means to me. I have written about it countless times and continue to tell my friends why I am so passionate about the sport. Simply put, I have always defined myself as a runner not only because it helps me maintain my current level of health and wellbeing. The sport has also helped me overcome personal adversities that I have undergone throughout my years as an adolescent. But my relationship with running doesn’t always convey idealism and progress. This morning, I woke up thinking, I don’t want to run today. Why do I even do it in the first place, completely regretting the fact that I have ever labeled myself as a runner. Later in the day, I came to the resolve that I simply won’t feel as energetic without it, as I was experiencing endorphin withdrawal[1].

After the halfway point of my run, I kept thinking, Running hasn’t felt this good in a long time, as the healthy blood traveling through my veins relieved the headache I had earlier. I turned left onto Richmond Highway where I stared, wide-eyed, at a monstrous hill. The ferocious incline stretched for about 300meters, and I only had two options: either reroute and let fear decide the outcome of my run, or tackle the hill with every drop of courage running through my veins. As the cool April wind kissed my skin and UV-rays greeted me on my way up the hill, I took several moments to acknowledge how I felt. The fear was just one illusion. I could hardly remember the last time I had felt this alive, and powerful, and strong, and beautiful all at the same time. Goosebumps arose on the back of my neck as the breeze helped perpetuate this feeling of euphoria. I crested the hill with knights in my heart that overcame a beast.

So while the boy who sits behind me in Advanced Information Systems class genuinely asked how I feel about running, little did he know that one sport could make such a powerful impact on thousands of individuals; people who become runners to lose weight, meet new people, or to simply find a way to enjoy life in its purest and richest form. I want to tell him all the things that I love about the sport. In fact, I wish everyone understood why I am so passionate about such a simple activity. But you will never truly understand unless you experience it for yourself. Experience the feeling of goosebumps arising on the back of your neck as a smile comes across your face because of how powerful you feel. Experience your heart beating slowly, rapidly, hard, or soft, as it reminds you that you have a purpose and that nothing can make you feel more alive. This sport makes oxygen and health feel like a luxury… because they truly are facets of life that should not be taken for granted. With my 30-minute run today, I know that I appreciated the world around me and my body to a great extent. I am thankful for the powerful quadriceps that help propel my bodyweight off the ground, for my arms that continue to pump even after fatigue has spread through my triceps. I am thankful for the heart inside my chest that was so deeply overwhelmed with happiness and confidence that the only way I could respond was to smile as I attacked the hill on Richmond Highway. And as the drivers who whizzed past me wondered, Why is that runner smiling, I know that they truly won’t understand what’s so great about running until they experience it for themselves. But for now, just let them wonder.


[1] Endorphin withdrawal can entail headaches, grogginess, and an inability to focus, which signal the body’s craving for the release of “feel good” hormones called endorphins.

Midnight Blue

Writer’s note: This is a creative short-story about my recent experience with runner’s high, a state of euphoria that athletes experience during prolonged periods of exercise. I titled it “Midnight Blue” because during the run that is described below, a midnight blue sky was the most dominant image that came to mind. Lastly, quick note: if you’re considering becoming a runner (or any type of endurance athlete), runner’s high is still legal in all fifty states ;). Hope you enjoy what I wrote!- Naima

Midnight Blue

Runner’s high is a fire over which I pour gasoline, as every stride sends a surge of happiness through my veins. A weary grin stretches across my face and euphoria permeates my being. Listening intently to the beat of Halsey’s song “Hurricane,” I fall into a trance.

In the realm of my imagination, I am jogging a post-race cool-down, as my fatigued pace is perfectly in tune with Halsey’s lyrics: “I’m a wanderess. I’m a one night stand. Don’t belong to no city. I’m a hurricane.” The sky is a perfect shade of deep blue, which contributes to this atmosphere of serenity and pure happiness. My teammates and I exchange positive thoughts about the race, as the Arlington skyscrapers tower over us. My mind is a clean slate. Loneliness, anxiety, and stress are foreign ideas. As I continue to match my slow pace to the mesmerizing rhythm of the song, I share a laugh with Emily and Casey. The innocence and happiness on our faces is evident even to the runners who haven’t met us. My thoughts swim in a sea of pure joy and music notes, as Halsey sings, “I’m the violence in the pouring rain. I’m a hurricane.”

I gently bring myself back into the present moment, as the treadmill’s conveyor belt continues to be my source of euphoria. Sweat glistens beautifully on my temples, and my mouth curls into a dimpled grin. Increasing my speed, I strike another match on my runner’s high, fuel myself with enough happiness to carry me through the rest of today. I wish I could bottle this feeling and save it for when I’ll really need it. But would that be healthy? To allow myself to repeatedly feel free of responsibilities and worries? Can I let go? I push these questions to the back of my mind, strike another match, and let the fire spread. Beautiful flames.

 

 

Gratitude

Running through the wooded trail, I focus on the gentle pounding of my heart, as blood pumps through the veins in my temples. Sarah’s soft, quick strides remind me of my responsibility to look after the well-being of my teammates, which fills me with a sense of leadership. I haven’t experienced this feeling in several months, moments wrapped in solitude and exercise-induced joy. A moment when I can let my worries fade away as I continue to move forward. Sarah and I exit the woods and pick up the pace on a downhill. Observing the cars that rush past us, I wish everyone understood my perspective about the sport of running. Do the drivers pity us for physically taxing ourselves, or do they see us as young teens who celebrate their health by running? I define myself by the latter perspective, and as Sarah and I approach the bottom of the downhill, we pick up the pace around a curve in the sidewalk. I breathe in deeper, as every breath helps me let go of trivial matters that have been weighing on me lately. Over the voices in my head that remind me that I am strong and healthy, I can’t hear the cries of worries that once begged for me to listen.This sport is the most effective form of therapy, an easy way to bond with others, and a “pick-me-up” when stress feels overwhelming.

With every stride, it becomes easier to judge the aspects of my life that I need to let go of versus those that I should hold dear. Running embodies progress, optimism, humility, and strength. And I am ever grateful for the countless ways it has served me. I will continue to run, strengthen myself on a physical and emotional level, and spend more time with people who value me. I will continue to set goals, encourage and love my teammates, thank my coaches for all the time and energy they invest in helping me become a more efficient athlete. But the goals that my  team has helped me achieve extend well beyond the physical accomplishments I will reach. Because of this sport and all those who support me, I am happier, healthier, and overwhelmed with gratitude. My team is one more reason why I get excited to step onto the track every day, let sunshine lift my spirits, exchange positive thoughts with other athletes. So as Sarah and I made our way back to school, the broken parts of me started to repair themselves. I could finally see clearly again.

Post-Run Recovery Tips

Having trouble balancing challenging work-outs with recovery days? Follow the tips below to ensure you’re more prepared for your next hard session, whether it’s a distance run or all-out intervals.

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate– Staying hydrated will keep your legs from cramping, especially in hot weather and also help them stay malleable and lubricated.

2. Do leg drains– Prop your legs against a wall in a vertical position to help drain the blood out of your legs and replace it with clean blood.

3. Stretch– Not stretching will lead to tight muslces and a smaller range of motion. Want to be able to run farther and faster? Don’t forget to stretch before and after a run. A few stretches you can do are: holding your foot toward your lower back while your knee is bent. This will help stretch  your quadriceps. Hold for at  least 30seconds. To stretch your hip flexors, sit with your leg bent, propped against the other while it is also bent at lower than a 90degree angle. Make sure your ankle is leaning against the opposite leg and you’re sitting straight.

4. Take a hot bath– #3 really stressed keeping your muscles loose. Taking a hot bath will help your muscles relax. It would be best to do this after a run.

5. Eat a solid protein meal– Protein will help rebuild the muscles after a hard run to help you feel stronger after you have recovered.

3200m Race Tips

Despite that it’s not the most popular high school track event to run, the 32 is the ideal event for any distance runner who likes a chllalenge. As you wade through the trial-and-error process of racing, why not explore the most effective ways to run your 8 laps? Here are some tips for running the 32:

  •  Don’t go out too hard– Let’s say you want to run the 32 in 12minutes. That means you need to run each mile in about 6min/mi. By running the first mile more conservatively than the second, you’ll have more energy left for pick up the pace at laps 5 and 6. Try to run even splits for each lap (about 1:30/lap) while focusing on picking up the pace after 2000m.
  •  Focus– 3200m is quite a long distance to run, which makes it really easy to slow down. As mentioned in #1, try to run even splits for mile 1; you just need to focus on setting the pace. Once you’re on lap 5, try to pace off of other runners because they’ll likely be picking up the pace. Laps 7 and 8 should would be the best time to pass other runners.
  • Run fast but relaxed– Running fast and relaxed may sound like opposites, but maintaining good form (not pulling your shoulders up, avoiding overstriding, good posture, etc.) throughout your race will help you breathe more efficiently and not put stress on your joints/muscles.
  • Make sure to eat and hydrate well– Schedule a time 1-1.5 hour before your race to refuel on foods that are high in carbs and glycogen. Also, make sure to hydrate throughout the day; not just right before your race.

 

Runnovation

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Happy Marathon Monday! With the start of the Boston Marathon, there is widespread anxiety and excitement over who will win this year’s race. Whether it’s Meb Keflezighi or Shalane Flanagan, Americans have high hopes to make it to the finish-line first. While we sit back and anticipate this year’s breakthroughs, let’s have a dose of motivation, otherwise known as “runnovation”.  Below is a narrative I wrote as a reflection of my recent 1600m race. Hopefully, it’ll motivate you to go out and run at least one mile, while nearly 30,000 runners challenge themselves with 26.2.

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I like to believe that I am powerful. I take pride in every stride, every breath, every moment of joy intertwined with pain. Wrapped in a gift box, the memory of my PR latched onto me as we drove home. But it wasn’t just about the numbers on a clock. It was about forgetting all the poor races I have run and overriding those memories with better ones. It was about letting go of all my worries and running toward positivity. It was about feeling stronger and more powerful in my own skin. This race was undoubtedly my favorite, as it helped me become a symbol of pushing past pain for something greater—a PR, a beautiful memory that won’t stop replaying in my head, an evolution of positive self-improvement. My mind’s eye continues to watch all of last night’s triumphs, as I fall into a trance, mesmerized by the gentle hum of the car…

I wanted to run harder, recover the oxygen-debt from an empty bank account. I wanted every mile to remind me to keep springing forward from the worn-out blanks beneath my spikes. I wanted to run faster races, and I wanted to make my teammates proud. These ambitions flashed through my mind as the gun went off. Lap 1. Run harder, pump your arms faster, work for a more efficient body, and don’t give up no matter how hard it gets. Lap 2. Your heart will get tired, your muscles will scream, but find the strength to kick harder until not even the force of wind can slow you down. Lap 3. You are powerful beyond measure, so sweep all the blessings that running can give you. Lap 4. Kick your legs in front of your body faster, and don’t let this pace go. Let’s make our goals a beautiful reality.

I ran with the mere bits of battery life I had leftover. I reminded myself that all I had to do was try—that I’m not obligated to make every mile “perfect”. Despite how hard it got just to keep going, I used all the remaining ink from a dried-out marker, made space between “can” and “can’t”. Instead of looking for excuses to back down, my legs tirelessly worked for a better body, for faster races, for the chance to prove that pain should not define my limits.

Breathless and satisfied, my heart pumped with an endless hunger for more—more of the thrill, the taste of a spring breeze, the beating of hard-working veins against healthy skin. I want to do it all over again, but this time, with more courage tearing through the microfibers in my quadriceps, without limits in sight, without past races in clear view.

Reasons to Buy a GPS Watch

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Tired of running without knowing your pace, mileage, calories burned, and more? Bring all of that to an end with a GPS watch that tracks all of that information and more! The specific watch I have is the orange one shown in the picture above. Below are some reasons to invest in a running watch, whether shown in the image or not:

1. Track your pace- stay on pace to build endurance with each workout or know what pace/mile your running for a workout

2. Know how many calories your burned- Whether your training is geared toward keeping you fit, you will feel a sense of accomplishment for all the calories you burned throughout your workout. But don’t forget to replace them with healthy proteins and carbs after your workout. Yum!

3. See the mileage add up- Throughout your workout, Garmin’s GPS Forerunner 10 (and other watch brands) keep track of how many miles you have run. The watch beeps after you complete 1,609m (exactly a mile). Also, it’s a good way to stay motivated because it shows you the great distances you were able to run.

4. Virtual pacer- This feature is specific to the watch in the image above. The virtual pacer allows you to set a pace range (for example: 7:15-7:30/mile) so that you maintain the speed you want for any kind of run.

5. Keeps track of your records- Some, if not most, running watches keep track of your personal records, such as: fastest mile, 10k, 5k, etc. Stay motivated by having a watch that shows you all of your own accomplishments with running.

 

Cross-training for Muscle Building

Cross-training is an effective method of active recovery, especially if you want to stay off your legs the day after a work-out. Here are some muscle-building excercises:

1. Burpees– This is one of my personal favorites  because it’s a good way to tone the triceps and increase your cardiac capacity.

How to: Start with your feet hip-distance apart, place your hands on the ground and move into plank position. From there, do a push-up, and as soon as you push yourself back up, jump your feet back in towards your hands. Jump into a standing position and repeat.

I like to do 3 sets of 10-12, but make sure to start at a reasonable level for you.

2. Planks– On either your forearms or hands. Make sure to have your shoulders parallel to your hips. Also, have your feet hip-distance apart.

Option: Move your feet out one-by-one and move them in thereafter. Keep that routine going for 1minute. Repeat for 3 sets.

3. Bicycle Twists– An effective way to work out the abdominal mucles.

How to: Lay on your back. Peel your shoulder blades off the ground and bring your elbow to the opposite knee. Alternate an elbow-to-knee twist. Continue to do this for one minute. Repeat for 3 sets.

4. Push-ups in a handstand position-

This exercise not only challenges your sense of balance but strength as well. I like to use a wall to assist my balance. Try to bend your elbows as much as possible while remaining stable. Push yourself back up until your arms are no longer bent. Repeat for 30-60seconds. Effective for building shoulder, upper-back, and tricep muscles.

5. Calf-Raises– Strengthens the calf muslces

Stand on the edge of a stair, leaving your heels hanging off the stair. Push yourself onto the balls of your feet quickly and slowly lower yourself until your heels are back to the position in which they started. Repeat for 1minute and complete 3 sets.