The Cambridge running scene has seen a boom in students tying up their trainers and tracking their timesJessica Pabon for Varsity

A quick glance at any Cambridge street will likely turn up a runner or two. Running recreationally exploded in popularity during the Covid-19 lockdowns, and although the UK has returned to a life-as-normal attitude, the sport still thrives. As the sun has come out over Easter term, more and more students are heading outside, staying fit and protecting their personal well-being by running through scenic locations in Cambridge. Perhaps the best aspect of the sport is that it’s accessible to all, and requires minimal equipment – perfect for novices and elite athletes alike.

To get a sense of how beginning to run consistently at university can be beneficial to students, I reached out to novice runner Megan Shinner. In an encouraging conversation, Megan and I discussed what convinced her to start running, how she uses the sport to keep her fitness up and make her time at Cambridge more fulfilling, and her tips for other new runners.

Did you run before coming to Cambridge?

No, I didn’t run before coming to Cambridge!

“I find it helps me centre my thoughts and prioritise”

What made you want to start running?

I wanted to start running as I wanted to get my stamina up and to just improve my health and well-being in general. I’d also always wanted to run a half marathon or a race, and stated as a New Year’s resolution this year that running a race would be one thing I’ll aim to do, no matter how long!

Do you run to de-stress?

Yes, whenever I’m stressed now I’ll go on a half-hour run to help myself focus. I find it helps me centre my thoughts and prioritise as I’m so physically exhausted, I don’t have extra energy to panic over the little things!

Best place to run in Cambridge?

My favourite place to run around Cambridge is from Grange Round to Grantchester. It’s so pretty down there, and you can quite often see the cows!

Any advice for new runners?

It really doesn’t matter how fast you are going, just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Don’t force yourself to go out on a run, go with your mood and make sure you take rest days, they are more important than training itself! Lastly, try and figure out pretty quickly if you’re a podcast listener or a playlist listener whilst running, and make sure you find something to keep you going on your runs – oh, and charge those headphones up!

“it prevents the inherently sedentary aspect of revision from becoming painful, or overwhelming”

While some of Cambridge’s runners are lifelong fans of the exercise, Megan was not. As a novice runner, Cambridge’s unique environment allowed her to learn and grow in the sport. Many students find this same comfort in the activity, especially during the examination term. While some may attribute this to the supposed ‘runner’s high’ that’s so often discussed in popular literature and on fitness social media, research by Rod K. Dishman and Patrick J. O’Connor suggests this is a rare phenomenon, although it remains under-researched. As Megan mentions, the exhaustion that comes alongside a good run helps to sort out one’s thoughts. Megan finds that the body and brain end up prioritising the most important matters over trivial anxieties. While some may enjoy a high as a result of pushing themselves and achieving a tangible fitness milestone, the physical strain is still just that – physical strain.

For those facing high levels of stress and anxiety-inducing academic, social, and physical situations, running seems an obvious outlet. When a student is mentally exhausted from hours upon hours of revision, expelling physical energy allows them to disassociate themselves from their academic commitments. Beyond even that, it prevents the inherently sedentary aspect of revision from becoming painful, or overwhelming. Students can explore the natural and architectural beauty of Cambridge while they run, as Megan suggests, even visiting the many cows, parks, or botanical gardens (free to students!) found throughout the city.


Mountain View

Olympian Louise Shanahan on what running offers her

Ultimately, running has the same benefits as any aerobic exercise, including the prevention of cognitive decline, improved working memory and focus, and other anti-depressive effects. While the weather in Cambridge is as unpredictable as ever, the constant change of scenery allows students to change their environment –a commonly recommended de-stress tactic during exam season. As Cambridge students actively experience a high-stress environment under immense external and societal pressure, running can provide a sense of peace entirely under their control, when exams, coursework, and the wider world are not. This ‘running fever’ sweeping the city might just be the student’s way to success – after all, how better to wash away the restriction of movement inside the exam hall than by running wild outside of it?