When I was a wee young collegiate athlete, I dreamt of being a professional athlete. “I’m going to be the most professional professional.” I thought. “I will be pretty much be running like a marathoner, lifting like a running back, swimming like Michael Phelps, and recovering like (Insert something that recovers thoroughly),” I thought. Which, I obviously didn’t think this through properly, as that would have resulted in a deformed human with thunder thighs, overdeveloped traps, skinny calves, and the energy of a koala bear. Regardless, without school in the way, I knew I have time to do everything right, and therefore, was going to do everything right. And therefore, was going to break the American Record.
But that’s not how it has turned out so far. This got me to thinking: is college running better for a running career than professional running?
In a lot of ways, for a lot of people, Yes, it is.
Why some people do better in the collegiate system:
1. Some bodies physically are suited for the sport of college running opposed to professional running. I know what you are thinking, “But, Phoebe, that’s just stupid because they are the same sport.” Wrong, my friend! In collegiate running you have to be at 90% for 9 months. A lot of people cannot physically handle this. In professional running you have to be at 100% for 3 months. Not only that, you have to peak very well because the competition is much deeper in the professional field. These are very different in terms of training. Different athletes do better in each system. I call it the Tim Tebow Theory. The same sport at a different level is a different sport.
2. You have a team! Yes, I know, I have a great team now, but when I line up, no part of my result affects my team. This is very relieving to some people. But other people (me included) thrive on that pressure. It’s like your chance to be the one who catches the winning touchdown pass (or what I imagine this is like, as I have only touched a football once, and it was embarrassing. So it’s probably more like being the one to open that jelly jar that no one could open.) Being the hero is fun. Cheering on your teammates while they become the hero is even more fun.
Plus being in the trenches all working toward something—like gagging the Gator Chomp, or eating Pig Sooie for breakfast—just makes y’all feel like bad asses.
3. You don’t have distractions. Well, to be more exact, you don’t have a social life. If running is M. Night Shyamalan movie, a social life is the spoiler. Your social life? It mostly will consist of passing out with your backpack on. Sleep > Party. And that’s why practice becomes your social life, and therefore, the most enjoyable part of your day. And every once and a while you’ll get “wild.” Remember those high school days where a night out meant Ice cream and charades and going to bed at 9:30? That’s what “wild” is as a collegiate athlete. Sometimes you get so wild that laser tag is involved. And it’s awesome.
4. Working hard becomes the norm: You wake up, workout, learn, workout, eat, and sleep. That’s it. You just handle it all without thinking because you have no other choice. Plus, if you don’t handle it, your coach will call your parents, threaten your scholarship, and make the team do bear crawls while you watch from your wall sitting chair position. And then no one on your team will like you. What I’m saying is: don’t skip practice.
5. You blindly follow the successful elders. When I entered into college I was the slowest by 30 seconds in the mile. This meant that I could have a 20 second PR, and I’d still be the slowest on the team by a significant margin. So where a 5:00 min mile would technically be “fast,” it wasn’t fast anymore. 4:45 was the new fast. This seems crazy to have a 5:16 miler walking around getting all bent out of shape not running 4:45 at the local dual meet, but that blind ignorance is the best performance enhancer. One time I watched Sarah Bowman Brown run 4:40 at the end of mile repeats. I thought, “Well, she ran a bunch of miles at sub 5 min pace. I can probably at least run one.” (I even used the fact that both of us have quite large calves as biomechanical proof as to why I could run a 30 second PR). I thought this because I was probably an idiot freshman. You have to believe it before you do it. And sometimes, to believe it, you have to have no clue that human limits are even a thing.
The problem with being a professional, is you are elder. You have no one that totally revamps your idea of “fast.” Your ignorance is gone, and your limits are in plain sight. The question is: how do you become stupider?
By going back to the college ways, probably.