Running: Advice for Student Athletes

Being a runner is hard work. College academics are no synch, either. Being a student-athlete in the NCAA? Pretty darn difficult—and trying to juggle all of the challenges and obligations that come with the two aspects of college life can be daunting.

So how does one become a top NCAA runner, a good student, and still maintain a social life? It’s possible. And here are some tips to help:

Manage Your Time Wisely

Time management is by far the most important tool for thriving as a student-athlete. NCAA runners are in a uniquely tough position, with both competitions and class all year long.

Get Organized

Start using a planner (if you can keep a training log, you can keep a planner). Make sure you begin each day knowing exactly what needs to get done and when it needs to be done by.

Create a Good Routine

Establish a routine where the “extra” stuff is cut out or rearranged:

  • Don’t check your email 45 times a day.
  • Talk on the phone on the way to class instead of when you should be studying.
  • Try not to go to Facebook until after the bulk of your work is done (unless, of course, it’s your homepage, in which case, you may be too far gone).
  • Don’t watch the entire DVD box set of your favorite show the night before a physics final, just because the season premiere is on the next day.

Creating a schedule and sticking to certain guidelines will not only create an environment of efficiency, it will also open up those crucial few moments of free time where you can just be normal. Use that time to watch a TV show with friends, or to surf the web, or hang out.

Time management does not mean living the life of a nun or monk–it means being disciplined enough to know when to work and when to let loose.

Suzy Favor Hamilton

While a student at the University of Wisconsin, Suzy Favor Hamilton won a record nine NCAA titles and 14 All-America awards. She set Big 10, NCAA, and National records, all while earning a degree at one of the most acclaimed public universities in the country.

When asked what the highlight of her NCAA career was, Suzy answered, “I learned so many lessons. One of the greatest lessons I learned was working and getting along with different people, and how important it was to have a great work ethic. I would have to say that time management is the most important aspect to balancing life as a student-athlete.”


It’s up to you to maintain open lines of communication with your professors, coaches, friends and teammates. Never assume that people know what is going on in your life, and learn to address things directly and with an open mind.

Communicate with everyone.


At the beginning of each semester, stay after class or go to office hours and talk to the professor about which meets will conflict with class. Ask about their attendance policy, tell them the unavoidable absences you may have that semester, and assure them that you will talk with classmates to get notes from any missed lectures. Many professors assume the worst about student athletes, so it is up to you to prove them wrong.


Make sure a coach knows if you are feeling under the weather, if you pulled an all-nighter, or have something going on in your life outside of running that may be affecting your performance or attitude.

Friends and Teammates

Who better to talk to? Good friends should support you if you have to turn down a night out to study; they should not assume you are a dumb jock just because you wear a singlet on the weekends; and they know that competitive battles are best left on the track.

Don’t Freak Out

There will be times in college when things don’t go your way, especially during the first semester or first year. Bad grades, mean professors, lousy races, and arguments with teammates – but take the opportunity to assess what went wrong and learn from it. Did you not study enough? Did you train to hard? Are you getting enough sleep?

Sometimes there is no clear reason why things happen and you have to learn to just roll with the punches and move on. One bad grade does not make you stupid and one bad race does not make you slow. Try to see the big picture.

Remember, You Represent Your School

As an athlete, you are one of the more public faces of your school. It is a wonderful privilege and gives you the opportunity leave your mark on the institution. Make good decisions and remember to think about the implications of your actions for the campus as a whole—it is up to you whether you leave a good legacy.

Explore and Excel

Step out of your comfort zone and take advantage of your surroundings. Make friends outside of the team, engage in class and participate in events that not have been on your radar. Remember that your school has talent in all areas beyond running – and all of those fans who come to support your team are making contributions, as well.

Take Advantage of Resources

Colleges are full of resources to make the adjustment to school smooth and successful: Tutors, academic support teams, writing centers, math centers, counseling … the list goes on and on. Put those resources to good use.

The same applies in the athletic arena. Get to know the athletic trainers in sports medicine, utilize the facilities, and take advantage of the food in the dining halls (believe it or not, you will miss it when it’s gone).

Take Control

One of the hardest transitions from high school to college is the realization that academics are almost entirely in your hands. It can be daunting to try and figure out a major and all the requirements needed to graduate. You will have an advisor to help (as well as professors and coaches), but you have to be independently motivated and informed. Learn the academic deadlines, the finals schedule, and how to use the system properly.

Have Fun

There is nothing like being a collegiate athlete – and with a little bit of preparation, the good times will far outweigh the struggles. Manage your time, take advantage of school resources and opportunities, keep the lines of communication open, and let the good times roll!

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