So you are one month in to your cross country season and the new school year…you are bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for every 7:00 am sweat session and 70-mile week. What lactic acid? My legs feel great! You of course listen to every word on proper recovery techniques your coach keeps enforcing and read every word of the “Benefits of Myofascial Release” article the assistant sent out to the team. In fact, you keep that thing in hard copy next to your bed. Where of course your bottle of water sits and eyes mask because you now know how important sleeping is without little blue lights blinking in the background, draining your precious melatonin.
Your new non-sports affiliated roommate or NARP (normal average regular person) as we have learned, just LOVES going to bed at 9:00 pm like you so it’s no stress in the dorm-front. Ha, they said this would be a challenge? And you’re a multi-tasking champion…the 20 hours a week at your new Inn-In-Out Burger job and back to back to back lecture classes don’t have nothin’ on ya. In fact, you even have time to call your Mom daily during lunch hour because you know how much it will make her day and you love sharing about all of your new great choices.
You, my friend, are the exception…the outlier. That ONE PERSON on the team that everyone knows is actually an alien.
The reality is, it’s one month in…but feels more like a year. Six more weeks until conference?! How will I make it out alive? Your legs feel like boulders more days than not, and speaking of knots, you found six in your quad and double that in your back. 18 years old feels more like 89. Myo-fascialshalalaWHAT? You didn’t read past the subject line because you couldn’t even pronounce that word. Which reminds you…words. Lots of words, and deadlines for words. Suddenly your life is all about words…1500 word papers up the wazoo, even in your math class. Now you understand what it means to go to a school with “an emphasis on writing ”.
You also quickly realize your new roomie is nocturnal and liquid hydration means something entirely different to them. You know what I mean…we all know it happens on every college campus, despite the policies and education on alcohol awareness. You call your mom more than your girlfriend only because you know she won’t judge while your crying about your laundry card, catching the dorm-wide plague, and not making it through your first long run. Fifteen miles?! That was half a week’s work just two months ago!
Welcome to college kiddos.
If you are actually reading this, I first want to applaud you for finding time to listen to me babble on…you’re awesome. Because the truth is, writing brings me a lot of clarity and peace and simply makes me happy. And to think that maybe, just maybe one person will read my stuff and find something to takeaway from it, is all I need to keep on writing. In fact, it was during my freshman year of college when my stress levels had reached an all time high, that I walked into CVS, snagged the cheapest spiral bound notebook I could find, went back to my room and just let all of my thoughts pour out via lead tip. Making sense somehow of the nonsense that cluttered my mind, sifting through and answering my own questions.
I learned the hard way in my collegiate days that unfortunately, despite my multiple attempts, I was not Superwoman, as my coach always reminded me. Balance is truly an art and will be your saving grace…in my opinion. I’ve also learned and witnessed that slowing down for a college student athlete is next to impossible…but not impossible. Have you ever skipped cooling down and stretching after a race? Your legs are wrecked for days. It’s because you can’t go from giving 100% to zero without everything being thrown off kilter. This is true for many things in life. You can’t slam your car’s breaks at 100 miles per hour without causing some serious destruction.
Has this ever happened to you…your training is going great, you’re running better than ever. You’re constantly blissed out from good days on good days on good days. You even notice a spike in your motivation for daily tasks. And then, your running along all, all jazzed up. In fact, you’re also envisioning a new PR at your upcoming home meet…where all of your people will be cheering for you of course, when it happens. Yep…your hamstring seizes. Or you feel a shooting pain straight up your shin. Or if you’re like me your plantaris tendon snaps mid stride, or you break your femur on some stairs. The truth is, there is no good time to get injured. Even the little aches and pains can drive us crazy. Who am I without running? So of course you start to stress more…
Pacing yourself should be easy right? It’s practically your middle name as a distance runner.
Not so much. After a heavy load of health science classes in my undergraduate years, masters work in counseling and new found knowledge in the coaching world, I can literally go on for days about the harmful effects of stress. Yet I too still neglect the art of balance. And as I sit here in Pier View Coffee typing this, blowing my nose every five minutes, reminding me I over did it again, I can still hear Coach Pete’s words in my head, “you’re not superwoman Paige, you have to be realistic” as my inner-goddess-wonder-woman displays a look of shock…”Don’t be made at me she says, I thought you could do it all this time!” She thought just maybe this time she was above breaking down…thought she could handle a week of six hour sleep sessions, coaching at our first meet to then zip the next morning to race for the first time since breaking her leg, and of course didn’t cool down properly afterwards and then went camping for two days off the grid where she caught a head cold…but she was wrong so she’s grabs my ego and runs.
Coaches are not perfect either. The truth is, no matter who you are, life can be hard, and a lot at times. Even if you do everything in your power to stay positive and healthy with your busy schedule and daily demands. Sometimes, positivity just isn’t enough. We have to find time to nurture ourselves and slow down. And lucky for you, you are a student-athlete. If there is one life skill to practice and take-away after four years of participation on a team sport it is time management. And with that comes scheduling time for yourself, “me time” I like to call it. So pencil it in.
Now take a deep breath. And another. Try to find some stillness within your scrambled soul. Tune out that aching knee you have been stressing over…I promise, your running career is not over. Think of something you love, that doesn’t involve running…or high fructose corn syrup. Mowing bags of Reece’s Pieces is not the answer. We all have certain hobbies and interests that just make sense to us.
Maybe you love baking, and can find a new recipe to try. There are literally thousands of fun, easy healthy yet tasty treats to be made like peanut butter protein balls or date brownies. Is your Nikon D7100 that you worked all senior year for collecting dust? Perhaps it’s time to go for even a thirty minute walk around campus, looking for inspiration to capture like you used to. Or to all of the book worms of the world…after lugging 20 pounds of textbooks day in and day out you may be a little burnt on reading, that’s probably where your back knots came from first of all. But secondly, try reading something for fun again…Turn off your phone and hit the beach with a captivating story. Whatever it is that brings you joy, or used to bring you joy, find some time for that. Seriously. It’s that simple, and the benefits can be felt right away.
We are all only human…and part of being human is having good days and bad days. Without the lows, we can’t fully appreciate the highs. If you are suffering from an injury, struggling with classwork, have personal stresses consuming your mind or hardships at home, please just know how much more that makes you human. And with that can come comfort because one thing (and I could be wrong) but one thing I do believe every single breathing human understands, is stress. You are not alone in that, we all have different stories filled with happiness and pain too. It is easy to glamorize the life of that “alien” on your team that seems to have everything figured out. They too, have their own set of set backs and challenges.
My best advice is to truly cut yourself some slack. Don’t try to be superhuman and do it all because life will catch up with you. Break down the word disease…dis-ease…not at ease. When you are stressed you are obviously not at ease. And we all know (or at least now you know) that stress simply raises your cortisol levels, which increases inflammation, and VWALLA! Injured and sick. Overused. Burnt out. Toast.
Nobody wants that.
So now, I really hope you can take a few more deep breaths, and go do that thing you love. Or at least pencil time for it in to your homework agenda book, aka running journal. Because I know, on the first day of practice, when your coach emphasized how important it is to keep a training log/sleep/nutrition journal you went right out and invested in one, and have kept up with it ever since…just thirty long days ago 🙂
Best of luck!
Peace, love, me-time,