The Georgia men’s team pushes forward through the pack of runners at the firing of a gun to start the race. UGA hosted its first and only home meet of the season, the Bulldog Invitational, in Athens, Georgia on Aug 31, 2019. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean)

Running for a Division I cross country team has its challenges. 

But members of the Georgia cross country team still consider their sport to be therapeutic. The Bulldogs have run in two meets this season, the Bulldog Invitational and the Commodore Classic, and were competitive in both. Often times these meets serve as a release for the student-athletes, despite their intensity.

“Running has been a therapeutic exercise,” Georgia men's cross country captain Taylor Scarbrough said.

There is a link between the level of stress a person experiences and the amount in which they exercise, University of Georgia kinesiology professor Patrick O’Connor said.

Regular aerobic exercise is crucial in relieving a person’s psychological stress, and it provides a physical release necessary for college students.

“The available research shows that when sedentary people adopt a regular, low-to-moderate intensity physical activity program two to three times per week, within about four weeks they report fewer symptoms of stress and anxiety,” O'Connor said. 

Although running is a proven stress reliever, running at the collegiate level is significantly different.

“It is like the football team preparing for Notre Dame,” Scarbrough said.

Research done by entities including the Harvard Medical School and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), among others, looks into results of similar studies as they pertain to the average human body and not necessarily the high-intensity athlete.

“There is a difference between running and Division I running,” head distance coach Patrick Cunniff said.

Division I athletics requires intense training that can push the student-athletes to exhaustion. Although it is a release, the research on stress relief focuses more on the benefits of a casual exercise regimen. Athletics essentially consumes the life of a Division I runner, often times adding an additional layer of stress to those students involved.

What surprises Cunniff about his runners is the way they can handle the added stress that comes from being a runner at Georgia.

“We have to be honest and acknowledge that it also does kind of provide some stress,” Cunniff said. “What makes student athletes so amazing is that they handle bulk.”

Both the men’s and women’s Georgia teams earned spots on the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic Team for the 13th consecutive year. 

Although running may not be as relieving to these student-athletes, it is  beneficial to the overall health of an average person.

“I think any time that anybody is in a stressful job, to have a little pocket of time and to get out for physical exercise away from their desk, away from their phone and just kind of get locked in on breathing hard helps immensely, and obviously a ton of studies back that up,” Cunniff said.

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