Running in Oxford: A Guide for First Timers

You were never a runner before. In fact, you laughed at friends who got out of bed more than 15 minutes before a morning tutorial to fit in a quick run, and even more shockingly, seemed to enjoy it. But ever since lockdown, when it became trendy to head out for your state-permitted daily jog, you’ve become intrigued by the idea of running. Perhaps you’ve even given it a go yourself. Your thoughts are turning to Michaelmas, when you’ll eventually return to Oxford. You’re considering giving running a go once back, but you’re not really sure where to start…

I was not a first-time runner when I arrived in Oxford. I had regularly attended my local parkrun beforehand, though admittedly the only reason this began was the iron will of my parents. Starting to run in Oxford marked the beginning of my proper engagement with running. Instead of just plodding around my local common, I started to push myself to run a little faster or explore a new route. Hopefully you can learn from my experiences of being a keen runner in Oxford!

1. Remember to warm up beforehand

Quite frankly, this is the most important thing you should keep in mind before you start running. Regardless of whether you are a new or seasoned runner, you should always warm up before you start to get the most out of the run and prevent injury. This advice is especially relevant in an Oxford context; it is not unheard of for Oxford students to squeeze things into a short amount of time, and maybe skip a few steps in the process (who hasn’t sent an essay to a tutor five minutes before the deadline, having rushed the plan and skipped the proofreading?). Nonetheless you must not cut corners when warming up.

2. Pick a time of day that works for you

Often in Oxford, the sporty types all get up at crazy times to fit their exercise in around their busy Oxford days (see: rowers and their 5am starts). If you’re not a fan of early starts, you don’t have to go in the morning. The beauty of running is that you can do it alone without a single specific location, so you can go whenever you like. Pay attention to how you feel; if you try to run in the mornings, but can’t stop yourself from snoozing the alarm, then try going after labs in the afternoon instead. I’ve even used running as a mode of transport, which is especially useful if you don’t have a bike!

3. That being said, be careful how you time your runs

Run at whatever time of day you like – but, in keeping with the fact that Oxford terms tend to be pretty busy, be careful when trying to take advantage of what time you have and just squeezing a run in. This particularly applies if it’s a new route or you haven’t run in a while and so aren’t sure how long it will take. Sincerely, the girl whose timing was so poor that despite managing to have a post-run shower, change, and get from Merton Street to the King’s Arms in 10 minutes (perhaps my proudest achievement of first year), she was still late to her tutor’s leaving drinks.

4. Give running with others a go

Okay, so I know the idea of being sweaty and out of breath around other people may not have much appeal, but finding a friend who is also interested can be incredibly motivating. It means you’re less likely to skip a run, and you can track your speed together and see if you improve. You could also try out running groups – there’s athletics and cross country clubs, if you’re interested to actually train with a group. There’s also the OUCCC Social Running Facebook group which is good for zero-commitment group runs, and some colleges have running groups as well.

5. Be careful about where you run

Oxford is full of fantastic places to run, but some key points need to be kept in mind. Firstly, if you know that your tutors live in the area, I would recommend that you avoid running past their houses – they were not who I had in mind when I suggested run with others. Alternatively, if you want to show off your motivation and new fitness skills, then maybe some strategic route planning is needed!

The other thing to remember is that some parts of Oxford can get hugely busy with tourists, so avoid such spots if you’d prefer to dodge large crowds. Perhaps a niche suggestion, but I would particularly recommend avoiding routes via the kissing gate leading from Merton Street to Christ Church Meadows on weekend afternoons. Picture the scene: it’s a perfect Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, and post-BOP brunch has made you feel perky enough to consider going for a run. You do a few laps of the meadow, then run up Merton Grove to cut through to Merton Street. As you approach, you realise you can barely see the gate because of the swarm of tourists around, waiting for their chance to get through. ‘I’m a hardy Oxford student, used to tourists around here – I can wait this out,’ you think confidently. You have overlooked the fact that unlike other busy spots around the city, this gate only lets people through one at a time.  Five minutes later, you realise it may have just been quicker to run the long way around.

Now you’re fully equipped with all the advice you could need for a successful running debut in Oxford, don’t let your Michaelmas resolutions go unfulfilled. I’ve made mistakes so that you don’t have to – so don’t let these tips go to waste. If you were waiting for a sign that you should give running a try, this is it!