Did the Olympics spark that fire for your inner-competitor too? Obviously the highlight for me was the track events. I have so much respect for these world-class athletes, but I also know how much of a sacrifice they make to commit their life to a sport. Running is literally their job.
Now that I’m on the other side of the collegiate-athlete world, I started realizing how differently I look at running/races as a competitive athlete versus as a recreational runner.
When I signed that scholarship agreement during my senior year of high school, I was committing to represent Northern Arizona University, the Lumberjacks, and Adidas. Training was a mandatory part of every day. Being on an NCAA Division 1 Track team was something I’d worked hard for, and it will always be one of my proudest achievements.
When I graduated one year ago, the collegiate running career officially ended as well. Now I have to find the motivation to run myself. Suddenly running is a choice. Do I even want to run anymore? Of course I do. That’s a no-brainer. There’s just no training plan I “have” to follow or any races I must compete in. There’s no one else tied to my performance.
I can’t say I prefer one over the other. I LOVED being a collegiate athlete; it gave me an identity and purpose at my school. It was incredibly rewarding, but stressful at times, and I think 8 years (high school and college) is the perfect amount of time to be a serious competitive athlete.
I’m also learning to LOVE the perks of being a recreational runner. There’s less stress and pressure; there are more options for workouts beyond what’s dictated by a coach. So here’s my comparison of Competitive Athlete vs. Recreational Runner now that I’ve enjoyed my time as both:
- Collegiate running spoiled me with free race entries, plus free transportation, lodging, food, racing gear and not to mention a dozen pairs of shoes a year. That’s a tough one to say goodbye to after college. (Thankfully I was able to jump right into the Boise Elite running team when I moved to Idaho which has a couple of sponsors and free race entries.)
- A coach can give you an outside perspective on your weak areas and ways to improve.
- Your team and coaches hold you accountable for your workouts; skipping a long run is simply not an option.
- Collegiate races have competitors at or above your level who can help push you through the race to improve your time. The atmosphere, the crowd, and the “official” nature of these types of races also boost adrenaline and help performance.
After graduation, that all goes away unless you are in the seriously elite 1% who become professional sponsored runners. I’m definitely not in that group :) I said goodbye to my blue and gold uniform but my love of running is still strong and I’ve been enjoying local race events as an individual runner.
- The stress of pleasing your coach and representing your school is lifted.
- I actually find enjoyment from my sport again now that I put less pressure on myself.
- You meet so many people in your community, who are just happy to be there, and it instantly boosts your mood.
- You can find scenic courses and run through gorgeous scenery rather than a turf oval track.
- You can win money ;) NCAA rules prohibit any “extra benefits” which include race prizes.
- You can race with an iPod!!! This one is HUGE for me because I run twice as fast it feels like when a really good beat comes on.
This weekend, I’ll be racing a local 10k road race. After that, I’ll continue training for an upcoming half-marathon. Transitioning from a student-athlete to a random road race runner isn’t too difficult because both have their perks. Let me know if you have any additions to these lists!
I’ll catch ya later on this week with a new back-to-school breakfast recipe I’m working on too :)