Rachel’s Take: First Semester Of College

I am not going to sugar coat it: the transition into collegiate running is a difficult adjustment. However, that does not mean it is impossible to have a comfortable and successful transition. It is my sincere hope that every high school athlete can experience success at the next level and compete to their very best abilities, but I am also here to say that it will by no means be easy.

Summer Training could make or break your first season-

College training tests both your mental and physical capabilities. Thus, it is utterly important for collegiate cross country athletes to maintain discipline during summer training. Unlike prep cross country, coaches expect all their athletes to come in with a strong base under their belts, including freshmen. After all, athletes are supposed to "show up" at every meet they race-even the very first one in late August. There are limited spots available on the travel roster, and those spots become even more selective as the season continues. If you wish to compete in the postseason races, you must come prepared in the early season. Ultimately, the bottom line is: coaches will not race you if you do not prove to them you are ready.

Be Prepared: your body WILL hurt-

Once athletes return to campus after summer concludes, training naturally ramps up quite a bit. Under the close monitoring of the coaching staff, there is no excuse to slack off even a tiny bit. The workouts get tougher and the team trains through the early season races. Mileage increases significantly as well, as the warm ups and cool downs will likely be longer than anything previously done in high school. However, it is incredibly important to listen to your body. Higher mileage does not directly correlate to a better cross season, for quality is better than quantity when it comes to training. Each individual athlete varies in the volume that they can handle, and your coaches will likely understand this. Please, do not feel forced to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Communicating with coaches and trainers about all aches and pains will help them better be able to find what works best for you. YOU are ultimately in charge of your own training.

Remember: you are a STUDENT, then an athlete-

Of course, no one selects a college solely to run. STUDENT-athletes are there to study their passions while maintaining consistently difficult training regimes. Academically, the first semester of college may resemble high school in many ways. General education courses should dominate freshman year, although some entry-level major specific courses may also be included in the mix. I am here to assure you: the workload is surprisingly manageable, at least thus far. Due to the smaller number of classes taken each day, the amount of time you will spend outside of the classroom turns out to be significant. However, this does not mean that you will have time to binge watch your favorite show on Netflix each day after practice. Rather, it is important that you find productive ways to utilize that time for schoolwork and/or injury prevention. For instance, take an hour out of each evening to knock out some time at the athletic study table, which freshmen are typically required to earn. On another note, if you find the workload to be more than expected or even if you are minimally worried about a certain grade, scheduling tutors is incredibly easy and encouraged! Again, college is not all about running, your academics are equally, if not more, important.

Do not be afraid to branch out from the "athlete mold"

Here is a fact: athletes tend to form their own cliques with each other. In other words, athletes habitually befriend other athletes. It makes sense after all: other athletes understand the lifestyle and the expectations. In cross country, your core friend group first semester presumably will be your teammates. These are the people you will see throughout most of your day: you train together, eat together, live down the hall from each other, and maybe even go to classes together. While there is certainly nothing wrong with befriending teammates and other athletes, it is also important to allow yourself to find other friend groups or "escapes" from the sport. Joining clubs that suit your interests are the simplest way to meet new people with similar mindsets. Furthermore, just sitting next to someone you have never met before in a lecture could result in another new friend. While running may consume your life in many ways, it does not have to define your relationships with others. Branch out-you may be surprised!

My First Semester Take-Aways

As I've said before, college is no cake-walk. My first semester was no exception to that; however, I also feel that I have managed to make the best out of my adjustment. Athletically, I had a fantastic summer of training under me as I arrived at Illinois State. Thus, the increase in volume and intensity went relatively smoothly for me. Of course, it was not completely perfect either. Early on I received blood tests to check for possible deficiencies in my iron and vitamin levels due to unnatural exhaustion after workouts. I now take some supplements to ensure that no major problems will result in the future.

I also made a point out of communicating with my coaches. Every week, I would schedule appointments to sit down and chat with coaches about how I felt about training, school, social activities, etc. Making time to talk through minor inconsistencies with a trusted adult helped my transition go much smoother than it could have. My coaches care about me as more than an athlete and want to ensure that I am in a comfortable position for success.

My training was tailored specifically to my past and my goals. I came from a low-mileage program with little to no experience in certain workouts such as progressive tempos. I worked hand-in-hand with my coaches and trainers to comfortably increase my training intensity to achieve my desires. I never logged more than 45 miles in a single week, which landed me on the lower extremity of my team's mileage. However, my intensity matched that of my teammates and remaining within my volume limits still allowed me to achieve results.

Academically, I coasted through my first semester in many ways. My workload turned out to be much less than that of some of my fellow freshmen teammates. However, I also scheduled tutors prior to exams in most of my classes in order to ensure the highest marks possible. I entered college with almost a full year worth of credits from AP and dual-credit courses taken in high school. Thus, I was able to nearly satisfy my general education credits. Next semester, four out of five of my scheduled courses pertain to my majors. Speaking of majors, I declared myself a Journalism major during my senior year of high school, but due to my previous credits, I have since added General Marketing as a second major, as well as an Athletic Coaching minor. I am more than prepared to face the challenges ahead in my course rigor.

Socially, I struggled a bit more than I would like to admit in my first semester. I was stuck in that "athletes only" mentality for almost 75% of my first semester. I only spent time with my teammates whether it was during meals, studying, or simply hanging out on a Friday night. It was not until the final two weeks of the semester that I realized this was causing issues for me (not to say that I do not have the BEST teammates in the world). For me, I just needed that escape from the running atmosphere, so I started to seek it out. I began to get more involved with the Honors Program at Illinois State and quickly met many wonderful people that way. I also began talking to more people in my classes on a daily basis, which allowed me to start recognizing more people on the quad. Writing for The Vidette, the Illinois State newspaper, granted me an opportunity to meet people involved in my major and market myself to potential employers. Identifying myself as more than just an athlete completely changed my college experience for the better.

Everyone's experience will be different-

Now that I have shared my personal first semester stories and advice with you, I should acknowledge that every individual experience will be drastically different. Some tricks that worked for me may not work for you, and that is totally OK. It is vitally important that you take the time to figure out what works best for you within your first year of college so that the next three to four years can be smooth and successful. To high school seniors deciding where to attend school, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors! This is an incredibly exciting time in your lives-cherish it!

Good luck to all this track season, and please do not be afraid to reach out to me with questions:

            Email: rhicks13@comcast.net

            Twitter: @r_hickey15