The perfect spot for a run?Eric Jones

Disclaimer: this isn’t about running. Not really. I’m not about to launch into a lengthy set of aphorisms as to why you should buy an expensive pair of Asics ASAP and pound these hallowed streets. While the relationship between a healthy mind and a healthy body is most definitely (probably) a thing, the moralistic manner with which it is so often delivered into this world tends to stymie its effect. Doing exercise doesn’t make you a better person, or a worse one at that.

First of all, I want to take feet out of the equation. Running, at least as I know it, isn’t about fancy footwork. It’s not about your pace, your style, whether you did a half or a whole marathon last year or how high you crank up the treadmill when you’re feeling particularly lionhearted. The type of running I want to talk about – that I think is important to talk about – is much quieter, much simpler than that. It’s about breathing.

At Cambridge, we breathe weirdly. We hold our breath when we are asked a question we cannot answer; we inhale sharply when we flip the first page of an exam; we exhale deeply when we get in from a long shift in the library. Our oxygen levels are all over the shop. The reality is that there is something exaggerated about the Cambridge term – its shortness, its intensity, the fact that the week starts on a Thursday (side note: why?). The place caricatures itself and sometimes it can be difficult to catch a breath.

“As this term hurtles into view, find a way to slow down, to hone in, and to re-engage with the body and the brain that allowed you to be here in the first place”

Arriving back this week (not on a Thursday, mind), all the good breathing I had done over the break seemed to evaporate out of me and into the Cambridge atmosphere. I can’t speak for everyone, but when I sign my name in the Reddit book at the beginning of the Easter term I get the vague feeling that I am making a deal with the Tripos devil. I solemnly swear to keep term. My lungs, forever a punctual barometer of my anxiety levels, began to go into overtime. Maybe that’s hyperbolic, but so is exam term.

Everybody needs a way to manage their stress. However stoic, however nonplussed, however wholly indifferent you might be to what happens to you (academically speaking) at the end of your 3+ years here, the pressure gets to everyone at some point. No one, when it comes down to it, is too cool for this school.

As for me (emphatically uncool about it all and regularly in need of both literal and academic inhalers), I knew I needed to create a little corner of Cambridge in which I could breathe properly, regularly, deeply. Whilst ‘hermit-ing’ for 6 weeks straight might appeal to many, it is not really a viable option (you do, at the very least, need to make it to the exam hall). This corner was going to have to be metaphorical, movable. In order for that to happen, I was going to have to get moving. So, I went for a run.

Starting slowly, I loosened myself into the right-left oscillations that my body created. If we let ourselves get poetic for a moment, running is really a kind of alternated groundedness – a combination of free-fall and safe landing. An exercise in catching yourself, maybe. There is a certain poetry to the choreography of running that its name (and the sweat) doesn’t account for.


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The rhythm was soothing, elucidating. The tiny mechanisms that were making this possible gradually became very big, very significant. Head, shoulders, knees and toes all working in concert to produce this kinetic symphony of muscle and motion. A transcendent hokey-pokey, if you like. Conducting it all: breathing. Each inhalation threaded my body together, each exhalation unravelled it. In this cadence of contraction and expansion, perspective returned.

Breathing isn’t always easy, nothing that’s worth anything ever is. Cambridge, too, falls into this category of difficult but valuable things. As this term hurtles into view, find a way to slow down, to hone in, and to re-engage with the body and the brain that allowed you to be here in the first place. It doesn’t have to be running; it could be stretching, sitting (N.B. not at a desk), walking, singing. Anything that helps you breathe, and breathe properly.

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