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  • Michelle Howell

Making the switch from college to post-collegiate running

I used to be a morning person. The key phrase being used to.

For five years my internal clock was set to be ready to run by 7:00 am. My mornings were all about efficiency, how could I maximize my time between waking up and having to be off on my run? Weighing how late I could "sleep in" and still feel awake enough to crank out faster repeats or get through a long run. Over the years my bed time became earlier and earlier to the point that I now still find myself settling into bed around 8:30. Sleeping in my sports bra and shorts was normal. Keeping over night oats on hand for a few quick bites in the morning was clutch. I would make my way through the still dark campus toward the track flooded with the overhead stadium lights as the sun started to creep from the east.

It was an easy routine to follow, even easier since I was doing it with other people. I wasn't the only lunatic who prioritized making the perfect post practice breakfast verses looking semi-presentable for class (aka showing up in different athletic clothes, but not really showering because as soon as class ended I'd have cross training).

Run, eat, class, train again, sleep, eat, repeat.

The structure of my days were defined. I knew what to expect and could plan accordingly. I didn't need much motivation to keep with this routine.

Moving on from college athletics is something indoctrinated to us over the course of our years at JU. I remember sitting in more than a handful of athletics meetings focused on this exodus , leaving the sport you've likely spent more than half you're life involved in and making the shift into "the real world".

Making the switch from college to post collegiate running, I had never really worried about this change in my life. Unlike other sports running is something you can do anywhere at virtually any level so most of the time I'd fluffed off these warnings. However, over the past year I've definitely learned a lot, have had to make some big changes, and adjust to life outside the college system in some expected and unanticipated ways.

A New Algorithm

Losing structure and consistency was probably the biggest obstacle after for me after graduation. As a person who lives to plan; keeps a journal, a hard bound planner, and an online calendar with alerts, uncertainty is far from what I thrive on. Not knowing how my week is going to play out rattles my nerves. Meeting people who "don't have a plan" or who "just going with the flow" make me cringe.

It took me years to figure out the perfect algorithm to my life in college and poof it was gone.

If you had asked me a year ago what the hardest part of going from collegiate to post collegiate running would be I probably would have said financial stability (sorry to burst your bubble, but running professionally is not the best source of income or sustainable) and the higher level of training. After a year though, the biggest change for me was trying to reinvent that algorithm in a new city with a new training group, regimen, and other outside factors.

Figuring out things as simple as a new bedtime was challenging. My internal clock was set to wake up at 5:30 am for a 7:00 am practice. Now our practices didn't start until 9:00 and I found myself waking up with four hours to kill attempting to fall back to sleep. Trying to foolishly balance more than one part time jog was a mistake.

Rediscovering the balancing act of athletics and life took a while, but I think I've got it down now.

Part-time Part-time

During undergrad and my first semester of grad school I balanced training, maintaining an A- average in my courses, and 20-25 hour internships on top of being involved in several on campus organizations. Being busy and having things to do keeps is my thing. I am the Blair Waldorf of getting things done.

So I figured it would be easy to keep a part-time job in addition to my training and part-time coaching. On paper this was feasible, but soon I was in over my head. I hadn't anticipated how much different the training would take a toll on my body. I couldn't appreciate how much more I needed to prioritize sleep, recovery and rehabilitation than before.

It's a struggle that a lot of my teammates have had; the desire to do more outside running, but the realization that it's not really practical with the lifestyles our training demands. As my teammate Claudia puts it we can really only work part-time part-time. Twenty hours a weeks sounds like something you could accomplish until you realize that even though our in-person training only lasts from 9:00-12:00 at the latest, cross training, refueling properly, getting in preventative and treatment appointments, massages and the like makes that window of opportunity to do other things much, much smaller. We're also traveling pretty regularly during racing season and spend time out of the state for training camp up to three weeks a year so we're probably not the most reliable employees to hire. This makes finding work difficult to say the least.

On the flip side there are people out there who do it. They run professionally and work a full-time jobs. However, the people I can think of who do this don't start their practices at 9:00 am, aren't necessarily apart of a training group, or train for middle distance events.

Working part time as a coach at a high school and having my own clients has given me the flexibility I need to accomplish my training goals, while also giving me something to think about and do outside my own running.

Finding your Support Network

After realizing your limited to when and where you can work (our team has come to the consensus that the ideal working situation is remote) the next thing you have to realize is that you need to organize the chaos. Chaos being your life and all the moving pieces you need to fit into it that chances are will not come easily.

While in school everything you need is within walking distance (for the most part if you lived on campus). The training room, gym, and medical staff for daily issues. There is a support system in place, essentially on a walk-in basis to cater to your needs. Feeling a little sore after a session? No problem, hop in the ice bath or get a little cupping done. Shin splints starting to creep in? We got you with some exercises and modalities. Sadly this is not the case once your out of that system for most of us.

While our team has a sports medicine and chiropractic group we work with they were no longer a five minute walk from my front door. Scheduling an appointment meant factoring in at the least three hours of my day (an hour to get out there, an hour to get treatment, and an hour to get back). You're also no longer a top priority, even if your going somewhere that works with you/ your team. Like everyone else on the planet it's first come, first serve. No more waltzing in whenever you need something and getting it taken care of immediately.

I've now gotten into the habit of booking my appointments weeks in advance alternating between what I'm going in for in order to stay on top of things. One week at the chiropractor for my usual adjustment, the next at our teams massage therapist. If I need extra attention I can try to schedule in more and have been around the area enough that I've found other practices I trust to treat me as back up.

Running for Yourself

When I left Jax there were a few things on my list I wanted from the next stage of running. Namely; 1. people to train with at a higher level than me, 2. a group focused on middle distance, and 3. somewhere were I could see myself making a future outside of running when the time came. I was lucky to find those things with DTC and happily made my choice to pack up and move to the DMV.

I was ecstatic to be somewhere for once where I would have actual training partners- something that eluded me at JU for three out of the four years I was there. I savored the idea of being a little selfish and not having to run for team points or for other people. I could just run for myself and pursue my own goals unrelated to anyone else's. It was a liberating feeling that soon turned into a questioning of motives. Was this really what I wanted to do? Did I make the right choice?

Running for yourself requires a different kind of motivation and confidence in your abilities than in the college or high school setting. There is not one person out there forcing you or coaxing you into doing it. There's no scholarship to maintain or team championship on the line. It's just you. It's liberating and terrifying at the same time.

The light at the end of the tunnel came for me after having a less than stellar start to this chapter of my life and still finding myself wanting to compete. Being surrounded by people who went through the same crisis at some point helped, but the biggest thing was having something outside running to also focus on- coaching.

Being at DTC in retrospect was probably the best decision I made this past year (Max would argue it's saying yes to marrying him). It gave me teammates who although not traditional in the sense that we are all competing against each other still, have been there to support, guide, and motivate me through the past year. I'm lucky to have joined such a stellar group of individuals and happy to continue this coming year.