I often get into discussions with youth runners about running in college and beyond. Here is an article by a guest writer – Marina Salisbury -and her take on running after high school.
Being a student-athlete is a matter of keeping balance. Being a student and an athlete at at an educational institution requires satisfying the academic demands of college courses while at the same time maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good nutritional regimen. At the college level the requirements of participation in competitive sports such as running take up far more of students’ time than at any earlier stage because the competition is higher-stakes. College athletics are big business for schools, and though this is less so for track, there’s still a lot of pressure on runners to train and perform as well as keep up with classes.
Given these facts, students involved in track and field need to manage their time much more attentively than their peers. Athletics require far more of students’ time than any non-athletic college activity. Serious student-athletes will be among the busiest people on campus. Between meets both home and away, practice held at least five and up to seven days a week with sessions that can last several hours at a time, and often multiple workouts each day, at the very least a quarter to a third of students’ waking time will be spent on the track.
Furthermore, the commitment to collegiate athletics is regarded as a very serious one. As student-athletes, runners will be subject to rigid itineraries and schedules laid down by coaches and athletic directors, and simply can’t blow these off. At lower levels students may’ve been able to miss a practice or two over the course of a season and once in awhile stay up late or sleep in. Much less flexibility is likely to be found in college running.
Failure to abide by the set training schedule (let alone actually slacking off) can be taken as a penalty-worthy infraction, and possibly in being excluded from practices or meets. In the case of those student runners receiving athletic scholarships, the consequences of such a lapse could be severe. The suspension or termination of their scholarships might bring about a major financial loss that could mean the difference between staying in or dropping out of school.
Meanwhile, of course, the greater the demands an activity makes on student-athletes’ time, the more it’s likely to affect other aspects of life: sleep, class time, study time, social life, family concerns, free time and relaxation, and, above all, diet. Staying trim and fit on campus is a challenge for all collegians, but for athletes adhering to a strictly controlled diet is paramount. Student-athletes must be able to accept giving over control of what they eat, and have the discipline to stick to the diets they need to perform. Perhaps harder still, most college track programs don’t monitor athletes’ diets, leaving it up to students themselves to eat right completely as a matter of self-discipline.
Being a runner cuts down drastically or eliminates altogether any spare time, and its demands can absorb the attention of student-athletes to the point of neglecting other pursuits, especially classwork and studies. However, even as athletes, students’ purpose in attending college is first and foremost to pursue academic learning and earn scholarly degrees. When other aspects of college life, including running, interfere with or disrupt that primary objective, the whole educational experience is upended and subverted. With respect to runners on athletic scholarship, pressures may be even greater: they might feel obligations to family, friends, parents and neighborhood. Concerns about losing a scholarship and thus the financial means to stay in college can become major distractions.
For all student-athletes, and particularly scholarship students, prioritization is essential. Assessing priorities has to be a daily part of college runners’ lives, given that running is a constant and daily presence. In a broader sense, runners have to give some thought to priorities on a larger level, too. The greatest priority of all is striking a healthy balance between student and athletic life, no simple matter when it comes to the level of commitment participation in collegiate running requires.
As with anything else, the key to prioritizing effectively is knowing what you want. Student-athletes should ask themselves:
- How important to me is having a normal social and academic college experience?
- How much discipline am I willing to put into running and training?
- What’s likely to be more important to what I want to do after college?
Accordingly, it’s what college-age runners want as students, as athletes, and just as people that should determine how serious to get about running in college and thereafter.