If someone told me a year ago that I would spend a good portion of my semester abroad running around ten miles a week, I would have laughed and immediately shut them down. While I exercised in other ways, until going abroad, I absolutely despised everything about running.

I didn't work out regularly until college, but with free and easy access to a gym, I took advantage of the bikes, ellipticals and weights. During my freshman and sophomore year, I went to the gym often and went backpacking for the first time. However, despite trying activities I hadn't previously seen myself doing and establishing a workout routine, running still sounded unappealing to me. 

Laura Santi

I enjoyed these other types of workouts and they allowed me to narrow my focus. I could lift weights to strengthen a specific muscle or do crunches while focusing on my breathing. I never felt as out of breath after these workouts as I did after running. So I continued to avoid the activity, telling myself I would never willingly go on runs.

Laura Santi

Enter France: for the next four months, I didn't have easy access to a gym. I didn't want to pay for a gym membership since I knew I would be traveling often and there weren't any gyms near my host family's apartment. After six weeks in France with no physical activity besides walking, I was beginning to feel the effects of not working out.

My wake-up call came while my friends and I were trying to catch a train in Paris, running up several flights of stairs and through the station in search of our gate. The entire sprint, I was carrying a bag and wearing boots not meant for running. We ended up missing our train anyway, but I was out of breath and chugging water for a good ten minutes afterward.

Although I hoped to avoid mad dashes through train stations in the future, I realized how out of shape I was, and didn't want to feel that exhausted after running again. I studied abroad in hopes of gaining new experiences, so I decided to try going on a run. One of my friends in France ran regularly and agreed to go with me.

Prior to this, it had been years since I had gone on a run. The closest I got was being forced to run laps around the track in high school gym class, but even then, I tried to do as little work as possible, often switching to walking. The first five minutes of my run in France felt great, but after that, the exertion of it hit me.

Laura Santi

My friend and I ran a few blocks until we reached a local park and then began running laps around the park. She kept up a steady stream of conversation the entire time which helped to distract me from what I was doing, although I could barely manage to respond with more than one-word answers. After a few more minutes, I was gasping for breath and needed a break.

This process repeated a few times, but by the end, I had run almost three miles. This included breaks, but I did it nonetheless. Even though I didn't enjoy running while actually doing it, I felt great afterward. A refreshed sort of feeling came over me, and my body felt fantastic, as if I could take on anything. This wasn't a feeling I got after my normal gym workouts back at school.

I ran with my friend a couple more times then began running on my own, listening to music as my form of distraction. Running to upbeat rap and hip-hop songs gave me a good rhythm and kept me motivated. I progressed from running laps around the park to going further away from my apartment, eventually taking less walking breaks.

Before going on my first run, I figured that I would try running a couple times before giving up, but I continued. On spring break, I went on runs in Barcelona and London, finding that it was a great way to explore each city. In Tours, the town I was studying in, I would switch up my route and discover new areas. I established a schedule of running about every other day, so either three or four times a week.

Laura Santi

By the end of the semester, I still wouldn't say that I enjoyed running while I was actually running. I got out of breath easily and would often think about how much my body hurt. But I fell in love with the feeling I got after running, the way my body felt rejuvenated and my head felt clear. I found myself running when I was stressed or having a bad day and it became a healthy outlet for my emotions while also benefitting my body.

Months after returning to the U.S., I still don't necessarily enjoy running in the moment, but it doesn't feel like a chore. I will willingly go on runs and I want to keep the feeling I get afterward. My time abroad taught me that I won't know how I feel about something unless I try, and based on the many benefits running provided me, I'm glad I gave it a chance.