A week ago, I received a text from a former high school teammate. Finishing her senior year, she was contemplating whether or not to join her college’s cross country/track team as a walk-on athlete. So, she reached out to me with the simple yet crucial question all aspiring collegiate runners ask: what’s running like in college?
While I was overjoyed that my former teammate reached out to me, I struggled to cram two years of college running into texts. Though I have limitless praise for Augustana, I tried to avoid cliche (but true) answers, such as “our team is a family” or “I couldn’t imagine my life without the team.” Because these sentiments ring true for so many collegiate athletes, they are repeated constantly–on recruiting visits, in conversations with athletes and even on social media. Yet, several equally important truths aren’t always shared when speaking with high school athletes:
- Being a student-athlete is not easy. Sure, being a student-athlete in college is manageable, but balancing school, running, sleep, friends and other activities requires finely tuned time management skills. In high school, I thrived on six or seven hours of sleep every night, but in college–with more intense practices and academics–I have discovered that my body needs eight to nine hours. Making health a priority is especially hard when your non-athlete friends down the hall stay up late studying, because #college ya know? But, needing to pull all-nighters before big exams is a myth, and as an athlete, you need to hold your health to a higher standard. Fortunately, if you organize your time well, you can achieve a healthy balance. Also, you’ll be surrounded by teammates who are all going through the same thing, and many teams organize weekly study sessions that athletes are required to attend.
- Your pride might take a hit, and that’s okay. Many aspiring collegiate athletes graduate from programs in which they were one of the top–if not the fastest–runner. Then, they get to college and find themselves in a completely different position on the team than what they had become accustomed to in high school. When I first came to Augustana, I found myself at the back of the pack for workouts that seemed easy for the upperclassmen. Because I was used to leading my high school team, I thought that I was doing something wrong in college by falling behind the other girls. In reality, you can still be a fast runner even if you aren’t the fastest runner on the team. And, as time goes on, I see my role on my college team positively; I consistently run in the middle of a pack that pushes me to become stronger in every workout. Also, one bad workout or race (or season) does not define who you are as an athlete–and it definitely doesn’t define who you are as a person. That’s a job that only God can do.
- Injury is common. In high school, I was never injured–not counting a concussion I got from a car accident my senior year. But, with the added physical stress of practices, mental stress of school and psychological stress of moving away from home, athletes who were never injured in high school often break their streaks in college. My experience was no exception; I’ve been through IT Band Syndrome, a femoral stress reaction, rolled ankles, shin splints and other muscular tightness that has restricted my running in one way or another. Thankfully, my coaches prioritize feeling healthy over racing through a serious injury–which often worsens the condition. Knowing that your coaches have your best interest in mind is refreshing, even when they tell you to cut a workout short because you’re feeling sore. Again, teammates are also the best at offering support, advice and encouragement through these seasons.
- Knowing who you are outside of running is important. Attaching yourself so closely to one aspect of your life is dangerous, especially when an injury takes it away. Being injured, though stressful, has taught me a lot about myself and my Christ-founded identity that doesn’t rely on race times, mileage or health. Also, college is ultimately about getting a degree and discovering a potential career–which can be incredibly exciting. Over the past two years, my slight interest in journalism has developed into a passion through which I cannot wait to serve God. I have discovered that God has gifted me with a heart for others and an ability to tell stories through writing, photos, design and video. Running ability–or lack thereof–cannot take this away.
College decisions are difficult, and deciding whether or not to compete in college is no exception. Though my two years have been filled with ups and downs, I have no regrets about joining the Augustana cross country and track teams. Actually, my teammates are the very people who have carried me through life’s valleys over the past two years. I am always available on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for any high school athlete who wishes to know more about college running.