What’s it REALLY Like to Run on a College Team?

IMG_0727-1When you think of running in college you might think of intense competition and pressure to be the top runner on the team. You might think college athletes are the antithesis of the college partier, people who never go out past 9:00 and pass on the pizza as we fixate on our race weight for fear of getting cut from the team.

Maybe it’s more like that at a big Division I school, but my experience as a Division III cross country and track runner (which is much different than DI) is so far from these stereotypes, it’s laughable!

There are also some truths about college athletics that do not receive the attention they deserve. I want to share my experience and also to take on the myths and bust them! 

MYTH: Collegiate runners must prioritize running over academics.

While this might be true at larger schools, this has certainly not been true in my experience. If anything, I would say that being a college athlete has helped me maintain my grades! My team is an amazing resource for getting advice about classes and help before an exam.

TRUTH: Individual accomplishments cannot be compared to sharing victories with your teammates.

Getting an A on a paper is satisfying, but winning a meet with your teammates feels way cooler.

MYTH: Collegiate runners can’t have fun because they’re always in training mode.

Yes, there definitely is a time and a place to stay up late, not get enough sleep, and eat junk food. However, being a college athlete has not prevented me from enjoying myself one bit. I still go out for ice cream with friends and allow myself to have fun on weekends that we’re not competing! It is true that I am stricter about eating healthy and getting 8+ hours of sleep on the nights leading up to racing, but overall I have never felt like being an athlete has held me back from doing what I want to do socially.

Teammies can be like sisters!

TRUTH: A runner’s team might instantly become her family at school.

Some of my best friends at school are my teammates,  and how could they not be? We spend anywhere between 45-90 minutes running together everyday, talking about whatever comes to mind. What really glues us together, however, are the tough workouts that we work through together.

MYTH: Colleges provide their runners extra resources that makes school and life easier.

Not true for DIII athletes. We do not receive any additional academic help other than the services that are available to every other student. Classes are just as hard for us as they are for other people, especially because we have to balance out when we can study and when we have practice and competitions.

TRUTH: Participating in school athletics will help you stay physically and mentally healthy by providing structure in every aspect of your life.

I have a set schedule almost every day and I have figured out when I need to shower, eat, study, and relax. Sometimes my least productive days are days that I don’t have practice because I have time that I can waste. Having that kind of structure provides me with the support I need to make it through the tough stuff and the freedom and empowerment to make positive choices in all aspects of my educational career .

And really, I could make the truths list go on and on, because running in college has been one of the best decisions I have ever made!

Are there any myths or truths about college athletics that I am missing? Did you run for a different NCAA division? Let’s hear about it!

I'm currently a freshman in college running Division III cross country and track! I train for the 1500m for outdoor track in the spring as well as the 6k for cross country in the fall. I write mostly about the life of a college runner and the excitement or frustrations that are a part of pursuing my running goals!

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  1. This is great! I especially like your point about how running gives you structure that makes you more productive. Can definitely relate to the feeling of accomplishing much less on days I don’t have to be anywhere. Sometimes that’s ok, but often it’s just blah.

  2. Great post. I had a similar college running experience to you. I went to a DI school, but it was one of those teeny tiny private ones. I had a coach that really fostered the team aspect of running and we all bought into it. The XC/track team was my family while at school and I’m still good friends with many of my college teammates. Additionally, there is a very strong alumni network that has formed from the family aspect of the team over several decades. Some of the best people I know are ones I met through my experience with running in college. In fact, I even met my husband thanks to college running.

  3. This is great! I didn’t run in college, but I can imagine the bond you share with your teammates. I notice I become closer with my running friends more quickly than others simply because we go through tough workouts together. <3