• Michelle Howell

How to run Faster at the College level

A lot of you amazing readers have asked me to talk about how I ran faster times this past year or rather how to run fast times at the collegiate level. It's a simple question with a not so simple answer. To tell you that running faster is as simple as changing your diet or increasing your mileage would be a blatant lie. We don't exist in a controlled environment. There are hundreds of variables at play, some of which are going to be out of your control. What's important is to control the controllable.

For me, I believe that running faster and more consistently my last couple of years of college was a result of controlling the controllable aspects of my life, most importantly myself. I could list off all the changes I've made, but I'm not for one reason and one reason only; Not everything I do would work for you. Do you have a gluten allergy meaning you're not really supposed to have bread but do it anyway because bread is life and then suffer the consequences later? Do you have one leg shorter than the other? Or have a knack for finding a way to incorporate peanut butter into every meal? Didn't think so (but if you do feel free to message me because apparently, we've got a lot in common). So here are some broader tips and changes as told by yours truly:

1. Assess your lifestyle

A lot of people get to the college level and expect that they'll get faster. It's not a bad expectation to have, but it's not always a simple equation of better training= faster times. College is a time when you start to make a lot more of your own choices including how you live your life. There's no one there to tell you what to do, what to eat, or when to go to bed. You can go out on a weekday if you want or skip out doing prehab exercises (more on this later).

Asking yourself if your lifestyle actually aligns with your goals can be tough because it calls into question how you've been living. From the diet to sleep to the relationships you have (friends and romantic) to motivations and effort.

2. Live the Lifestyle to Reach your Goals

It's easy to know what to do, it's another thing altogether to follow through. Unlike other sports, in track and field, we don't have the leisure of being able to place blame on other players when a goal isn't scored. We are measured as individuals and held accountable for our own times, distances, and heights. As such the work we do and the lifestyle we carry is often a direct reflection of what our performances will be.

I spent the first two years of college not sure what I wanted out of my running career and it reflected in my times, I did okay but I didn't see a huge improvement over the years. I hung out with people who to put it simply did not live lifestyles congruent with that of an elite athlete and so neither did I.

In my third year, I realized I wanted more out of my collegiate career, I wanted to reach my full potential. So I choose to start living a lifestyle that better reflected the times I wanted to hit. It started with small changes, doing a little extra mileage during my cooldowns, making sure I was in bed early every night, and fueling with good, real food, not just whatever was being served in the cafeteria.

I began to realize how powerful association is, how much who you hang out with effects not only your lifestyle but your character and choices as well.

So I found people whose lifestyles fit with my own like cooking in the apartment versus going out to eat and studying together at reasonable times of the day versus being bunkered down in the library until it closed. I ate better, I felt better, and I enjoyed the routine of my life- waking up consistently at 6am, bed at 9pm, occasional game nights spent with friends who supported my endeavors where I'd stay up to a whopping 11:00pm.

That year I had my breakout season. Coincidence? I think not.

3. Prehab to avoid Rehab

I've always been injury prone. In high school, I would get shin splints and runners knee every season without fail. When I came to college the only thing that changed was that the injuries got worse- bone bruises, stress reactions, and every runners nemesis, stress fractures. I was diligent in going to rehab as soon as issues occurred, but this still meant time out and setbacks from where I wanted to be on the track.

The best offense is a good defense so I started doing prehab regularly. Monotonous exercises I'd spent doing when I was injured became part of my normal morning routine before practice and yoga became a bi-weekly staple in my schedule. As a result, I'm healthier and haven't experienced those tiny annoying injuries at all

4. Change your Mindset

While you may have been good in high school, competing at the collegiate level is a completely new and different experience. You have to realize that you're now competing against people from around the world, some who are inevitably going to be better than you, take this as a challenge and embrace it with positivity. You also need to realize that it takes time to adjust to training, results might not be instant so be patient with yourself and coaching staff. You won't win every race or throw or jump and you may not be the best on your team, but that doesn't mean you're not improving, it just means you're going to have to work harder to be where you want to be. Positive self-talk and a good attitude will help you get through what may seem to be tougher times.

Controlling the controllable doesn't just apply to sports. Realizing the power you have over your own actions and choices is something you can apply to all facets of your life, from academics to the workplace. While so many things in this crazy world of ours may seem out of our control, you are always in control of yourself.

I hope you found this as useful as I did and can apply this information to whatever you choose to set your mind to! Next week I'll be recapping my upcoming trip to Washington DC for the RunPro camp where I'll be learning more about post-collegiate running and explore our nation's capital.

Thank you so much for reading and feel free to say hey or drop a line anytime. 

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