Once A Runner: Transitioning from Collegiate Running to Running in the Real World
The world of collegiate running is a bubble. It gives an athlete structure via routine, confidence via her in-group (the team), and a built-in support network, also via the team. A collegiate runner’s team is her family, the people she spends the most time with, the the people who know her better, sometimes, than she even knows herself. She comes in as a first year, wide-eyed and nervous, and returns the next year a little less wide-eyed, a little more eager. The third year she’s comfortable, knows her place on the team, has her goals, knows her weaknesses, has made her closest friends. The fourth year, she’s shocked. How did it go by so quickly? Where, oh where, did the time go? She looks around and sees the wide eyes, the eager faces, the confident smiles of her teammates, and then makes eye contact with another senior. It’s almost over.
This sentiment continues, through cross country, winter running, and indoor and outdoor track. Every year of college running brings its own unique pressure, and the final year is no different. Make it count. Suddenly, everything is measured in lasts. The last first cross country race. The last race before post-season. The last team cheer. The last race. Nostalgia rages like teenage hormones.
And then, just like that, it’s over. The athlete gathers herself up, hunched and exhausted from her final effort as a college runner, and rises. She pads over to the infield, maybe returns a few hugs, maybe cries into the arms of a teammate, maybe sits down quietly and begins taking off her spikes. Her feet, maybe socked, maybe not, are constricted and sweating in the shoe’s narrow confines. The tingle as they’re greeted by the fresh air, and are promptly stuffed into trainers. She cools down, the meet goes on, there are good races and bad races, and then the meet ends. The teams shuffle onto their respective buses like enormous amoeba, lumpy with duffel bags. Back at school, the seniors will take their last team showers, and then the last of the lasts will commence. They will walk across a stage, accept a diploma, take pictures, smile, laugh, cry, and then, when everything possible has been done to avoid the moment, it will be time to leave, to say goodbye to a family brought together by circumstance and knit together by time.
Four years, but nothing has prepared you for this.
Post-graduation, it’s up to the athlete to mold a life for herself that includes running. This in-between, or transition, period between having a structured college running program and suddenly having the liberty to run (or not run) as one chooses is an important time for a post-college runner. Suddenly having so much time can be an intoxicating thing, (no morning lift! no post-workout abs/ice baths/tired schlepping out of the athletic center!), but it’s also important to remember the importance of establishing a routine when going through a transitory period. Why?
Routines help ground us
You don’t need to stick to the rigid, demanding schedule of a college runner in order to feel grounded – even something as simple as running three mornings a week, or committing to a couple afternoon workouts after a day at your new job, will do. The value of a routine comes from creating a schedule for yourself and adhering to it, which is deceptively difficult to do when you know there won’t be any immediate repercussions for sleeping in and/or skipping a run. Therein lies the danger though – just because there aren’t immediate repercussions, doesn’t mean there won’t be any at all. Running doesn’t have to be incorporated as the exercise of choice, there are other ways to exercise, of course. But after at least four years of being attuned to and accustomed to a certain level of fitness, it only makes sense to continue with a healthy mindset post-graduation.
Routines give us confidence
There’s a reason social media pictures of people are slow to surface post-grad. After the initial hubbub and maybe best-friends post-grad getaway, the waters still and it’s like a “pause”button has been hit. Where are they? What are they doing? Well, the reality is real life isn’t actually as “glamorous” as college – workdays are real things, workplace friendships are more cordial and operate at a different pace than college, and weekends have very real end points. And then there are those post-grads who don’t leave with a job to walk into, which is completely okay but doesn’t always feel so. A simple remedy to giving oneself a boost through the quiet lane that segue-ways college and real life is routine; learning to be content and satisfied through individual means cultivates a sense of self-sufficiency, which in turn breeds confidence.
The bottom line
Transitioning from collegiate running to running in the real world isn’t easy. It’s an emotional time, which is only heightened by the fact that humans inherently desire routine even if they don’t know how to go about establishing one. For the post-grad runner though, routine can make the difference between feeling like you know who you are and feeling completely lost. Having a team for four years gives runners a safety net in college – built-in friends and structure, but it also subtly ingrains a strength and resilience within us that isn’t recognized as widely as it should be. Transitioning could be a metaphor for running – fraught with uncertainty and the need to, nevertheless, push through. We can do it.