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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Studying and training: Racing in college

In September, I knew I was starting what might be my busiest semester yet. With a full class load, a 20-hour internship, a part-time job and student orgs, I felt like there was a shortage of hours in my week. So I decided to train for a marathon.

The initial desire

After being a dedicated athlete most of my life, I stepped onto the UW-Madison campus without the “student-athlete” title and felt like there was something missing from my routine.

After years of running regularly, spending time at the gym and training for several smaller races, I could not get the thought of a marathon out of my head.

So for my birthday, I asked my parents to register me for my first marathon.

Molly Sequin, a senior from Green Bay, started her college career on the UW-Madison rowing team but had to quit due to health complications. When she saw her older sister doing big races, Sequin signed up for her first IRONMAN 70.3, half the distance of a full race, as a sophomore.

Two years later, Sequin was ready to conquer a full Ironman, kicking off her senior year with her biggest race yet, the IRONMAN Wisconsin 2016.

For Darby Voeks, a UW senior from Minneapolis, the desire to attempt an IRONMAN came from a desire to see just how far he could push himself. While he ran in high school, the pressure and lack of guidance he felt as a runner turned him away from the sport.

This changed after Voeks spent a semester abroad, half of which took place in Patagonia where he intended to summit a 19,000-foot peak. Although he was nervous, he was excited for what was likely to be the biggest physical challenge of his life.

However, the group had to turn around due to weather complications, ultimately deterring the testing of Voeks’ limits. After that, Voeks thought an IRONMAN would serve as a fair substitute for a physical challenge.

While the need to race has stemmed from our unique experiences, we all had one thing in common: an unrelenting nagging from the athlete within.

Many miles, hours and mental breakdowns

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Months after registering, it was finally time to print out my training plan and add one more arguably unnecessary thing to my already-packed schedule.

Little did I know, dedicating time to running would do wonders for organizing other areas of my life.

At the beginning of each week, I knew which days I needed to wake up early to run, when I’d be able to eat and how late I could stay up in relation to what I had to do the following day.

Running a marathon, while consuming hours of my week, ultimately made me a more efficient version of myself.

For those training for an IRONMAN, the time toll is even greater, due to the length and variety of activity.

“I was training five to seven hours a day, so I had to learn time management. And it makes you a very strong-minded person, working under pressure and getting things done,” Sequin said.

Both physically and mentally, the training season fosters mental toughness, life organization and personal growth. Voeks approaches training with the same mentality he uses to push through the stress of life felt as a college student.

“Being a student in college, we are stressed beyond belief. We’ve all had those moments when it’s mental-breakdown time. And so many times during training, I remember thinking that, especially for my first marathon,” Voeks said.

Voeks recalls one specific training run where he found himself miles away from home, a car and water, and doubting his ability to finish.

“I got to mile 16 and thought, ‘I really don’t know if I’m going to be able to finish this.’ And then I realized that I really didn’t have a choice,” Voeks said.

While training is no easy feat, one of the most rewarding parts is seeing both physical and mental progress. Voeks said after his first 100-mile training ride, he was unable to walk, but knew that to complete his IRONMAN, he would have to finish a full marathon after the 100 miles spent on his bike.

“It motivated me to train harder. And then two months later, I did another 100-mile ride and felt awesome after it,” Voeks said.

Racing on a college budget

Apart from the mental and physical challenge of endurance racing, the cost itself could be enough to deter the average student with a limited budget.

So how can a college student make racing affordable?

For me, I asked family members to consider my registration fee as a birthday gift.

Voeks registered for his IRONMAN with the help of his girlfriend, whom he paid back over the following weeks. Sequin used money she had saved from her summer job to buy her bike and register for her race.

While gear can also be expensive, athletes recommend spreading out purchases over time and ask for necessary equipment as gifts.

Another option is to consider partnering with a charity organization, which may not reduce your registration price but can provide perks when it comes to gear and nutrition, while also giving money toward a cause.

Voeks raced with IRONMAN Foundation, and also recommends partnering with organizations such as World Vision, a child-sponsorship charity that has teams racing and fundraising across the nation.

Get going

Getting involved in the world of endurance racing can be daunting, but the running and racing world is a community all of its own.

Sequin suggests joining a running or triathlon club in order to train alongside others who can help you navigate the process, especially if you do not personally know someone who has done a similar race.

Voeks recommends reading books in addition to training. “Born to Run” and “Alone on the Wall,” both suggest that running is natural and the true craziness lies in not taking steps to better oneself. Voeks’ view of racing has been shaped by these reads.

With a budget plan, a support system and the will to race, students can tackle what may sound crazy to them.

“Eventually there’s going to come a point where if you’ve thought about something for such a long time, are you going to be happy if you look back and didn’t do it because of time? Or are you going to be happy you went for it, even if you might not be totally sure it’s the best choice?” Voeks reasoned.

I say, just go for it. 

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