“For a lot of collegiate athletes, the end of the eligibility clock represents an unspeakable evil, the sudden snatching away of the thing that for four to five years has provided their life shape, meaning, and a tight group of friends. For me, although I’d cut off one of my toes for another cross season, it feels more like opportunity. In school and work, I have more control of my schedule. In life in general, I have more time. And athletically, I can train however and as much as I want.” – Eric Ghelfi

Dear collegiate runners,

Your days of lounging in the pole vault pit  after running with your friends are numbered.  The team trips, pasta dinners, Sunday morning long runs, and cross country camps eventually come to an end.  Some of you are looking forward to a chapter of life that puts less emphasis on competition and allows more freedom.  Some of you are interested in continuing competitive running but don’t know what to expect.  For years, racing schedule and entries, training plan, and travel has been organized and planned for you. Hotels have been covered, entries paid for, and dinner picked up by athletic department.  You are likely in the midst of your track season.  In the core of the racing season it’s often hard to see past the weekend’s twilight meet, but maybe in the back of your mind you’re wondering where your running is going after college.  I’ve had great coaches and mentors, but In my final months of collegiate running I had real questions.  

-What races and distances should I do now?

-Am I good enough to keep running competitively?

-How will I find training partners?

Often runners  ask, Can I get sponsored?  How do I get gear?   When ultimately the big questions are: What got you started running? Why do you enjoy it? What do you enjoy most and enjoy least? Is there still self discovery to be had?  Answering these questions for yourself will help you make sound decisions about your future in the sport. No matter the gear, shoes or glory a sponsor gives you, its nothing compared to the enjoyment of training free and unencumbered with friends.

The above are questions to sit and think about. Talk to a teammate or coach and spend some time figuring out what you want to do next.  Post collegiate running is really fun, but nobody is going to hold your hand and figure it out for you unless you are really really really fast.  Just because you don’t have sponsor or team support doesn’t mean you can’t do a great job figuring out your running.  Below I break down some significant misconceptions about the post collegiate scene, then follow up with some ideas on how to make this transition easier so you can have fun on the roads, track, or trails.

Misconceptions about post collegiate running

1) A perception exists that the shoe contract makes the runner.  Just because you aren’t getting free shoes doesn’t mean you are not good enough to race at a high level.  Free shoes help, but let’s just throw it back to middle school math to see exactly how much that support helps.  

Say you average 85 miles per week 48 weeks of the year and change your shoes every 500 miles. These numbers mean you need 8.1 pairs of shoes a year. I’ve found local running shops always have great deals on last seasons models and colors. It’s pretty easy to find shoes at 30% discount if you’re not too picky.   Say your average discounted shoe is $80.  $80 dollars X 8.16 pairs/year = $652.8 on shoes per year.  Now, sure, that is a lot of money, but not unreasonable if over the course of the year.  I think you would find a lot of self “pro”claimed runners don’t get any more support than this regardless of how many times they hashtag their sponsor’s brand on social media channels. Don’t make the cost of shoes an excuse to stop training and racing.  Don’t let getting a sponsor become the goal for continuing running. If fame, fortune, or free shoes are your reasons for running, you will be disappointed.

2) A marathon is too far.  Twenty-six miles is a long way, but it isn’t too far.  Doing a half marathon to get an idea of what you’re getting into is a great idea.  Don’t be daunted by the distance.  Will Ferrell did it.  You can do it. According to Ryan Ghelfi, 100 miles isn’t that bad either…

3) I have a real job now and don’t have time to train.  Probably false.  In college we all just wasted time. Well, not totally, but a team warm up takes an hour. You chat, lounge, change shoes, etc.  When I graduated college and started training alone I was blown away with how fast I could get through a quality training session.  If you streamline your time training the sessions really don’t take that long.  With 70 minutes (or less) a day and a weekend long run you can get in really good shape for pretty much any distance under 50 kilometers.   

So, it’s summer, I’ve graduated.  Now what do I actually do?

My advice:

1) Make a decision. In my opinion current ability should play a small part in your decision.  Maybe you were an average collegiate, but there is really a lot of room to improve and have fun new experiences, especially if you look toward longer distances.  Simply decide if you want to keep running competitively or if you want to pursue other interests.   Too many guys and girls finish their track season take a 2 week break and never really get back into training because there is no season or race on the horizon.  Many runners had intentions of continuing to race after college but getting that training block rolling never really starts.  If you want to keep running competitively pick 3-4 fall races to train for. Sign up for them.  Write a training plan. Train. Running a fall 1/2 marathon is perfect for guys and girls coming off a spring track season. It’s a great test at longer distances and allows for different training than the usual 5K college training.

2) Talk to your coach:  Go talk to your college coach or high school coach or a smart runner in town.  These people will provide some great insights into your running and what opportunities for improvement exist for you.  

3) Don’t be afraid to train alone: Going out to the track for a session of mile repeats by yourself is pretty daunting at first.  Training with a group makes workouts way easier without question.  Even if you feel tired or sore in college you simply get pulled through track sessions because everybody else is doing it.  Once you get used to going out and doing hard workouts solo it gets much easier.  When you do have a couple partners for a workout it feels like a breeze.  Training alone makes you mentally and physically stronger, it takes some adjustment but just keep your chin up when you have a bad session.  

4) Roll with the punches:  There will be ups and downs in running just like in college. You don’t have the support system you used to have.  No trainers to put ice on sore legs, no coaches to tell you to keep your chin up when you have a bad workout, no teammates to help you deal with the challenges of running/life.  Just know there are ups and downs just like everything else.

As we started this article with a quote, we will end it with one.

“In some programs you may get trained or placed in an event that your aren’t particularly passionate about. Coaches will do their best to assume your strengths and place you in the appropriate event at the time, but they don’t always get it right. For example, maybe a coach thinks that you’re meant to be a steeplechaser, you may be decent at it, but you don’t really like to steeple. Chances are, you’re not going to reach your full potential because you don’t truly love it. Post college is your opportunity to be great at whatever you want, because it’s what you love. Choose to run once a week or everyday. Run fast or slow, uphill and downhill, on roads or trails, race 100 meters or 100 miles. Set your own goals and your own expectations. It’s your running and it’s your passion, nobody else’s.” – Cole Watson

If there is one thing I know, it’s that your best days are still ahead!