Q+A: How To Balance Work & Running (4 Actionable Tips)
I haven't done a Q+A in a long time.
But I recently received a message from an aspiring collegiate runner and she had a really great question! It's actually something I really care about as well, so I figured it deserved an entire blog post.
Today's post is all about balancing work and running, overcoming the doubt that you can't handle it, and dealing with that chaos. (Cause let's be honest, it's kinda chaos.)
There was more background to it, but the core question I want to answer is:
"I just wanted to ask you if you think it’s realistic to run cross country in college and balance that with a large amount of classes and homework? I know that both running and nursing school would be very time-consuming. Family and friends are saying it would be doable, but I just wanted to hear from someone who actually both works and runs!"
This is a question athletes come face to face with all the time throughout their careers.
Even in high school, there are days when the homework load combined with participating in sports is a lot to handle.
Then in college, of course, student-athlete life is way different than other students' lives. You're tired from your workouts, keeping up with a full course load, traveling often for competitions, and trying to explore life in fun and new ways.
And then there's post-collegiate training (where I am right now), when you need to train, make enough money to live, and do all these other adult responsibilities that you probably didn't have to juggle before.
So to answer the question, "is it realistic to run cross country in college and balance that with classes and homework?
The simplest answer to this question is yes. It is totally realistic to balance work and track at the same time. And you know how I know?
Because people do it all the time!
But that does not mean that it's going to be easy. You're going to have to work hard, and there's literally no way around that.
Both school and athletics are tasks that require extreme commitment and dedication. And there have been a lot of days that I wished I could only have one or the other in my life.
But, I wouldn't have changed the student-athlete experience for anything, and outside of having great friendships and a fun time running fast, here's why:
Accountability: Less Wiggle Room Can Actually Lead To Productivity
While juggling school and track at the same time was a lot of work, and I was usually really busy, the schedule that I had to follow actually helped me perform better.
Think about it! If you have hours upon hours to get something done...there's a high likelihood that you'll push off the task. (Procrastination at its finest!)
If you have a deadline, or you only have X amount of hours a day for homework because practice cuts into some of that time, you're going to focus up and get it done...simply because you have to.
The key to this is building out a schedule and having systems in place that help you stay productive. If you know that you have a meet this upcoming weekend, how can you prepare ahead of time to get an assignment done?
Then its done, early, and you're not that student rushing to get something done 5 minutes before class. (At least, not always 🙂)
If you have practice from 3:15 to 5:30 every day, what hours in your weekdays will you dedicate specifically to getting homework done?
Learn how to thrive within the structure you're in and I promise you that participating in a sport will bring out the best in your studies, and vice versa.
I have always been a fan of avoiding putting all your eggs into one basket.
Some people perform really well when they're extremely focused on one thing. Obviously, everyone takes a break from their passions here and there, but it's a different level for everyone.
For me, I've learned (several times) that I work best when I have more than one thing going on. My best seasons in college were when I was allowing myself to give my all (or at least a good amount of effort) to various things.
An academic schedule with topics you're passionate about (in this case, nursing) will allow you to take a break from the intensity and pressures of cross country.
Time running at practice, working out with teammates, and zoning in on the finish line for a race become times that you won't have to be focused on your schoolwork.
The next time you sit down for a long study session, you'll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the work!
Basically, working and running adds a little spice to your life. It breaks up your day-to-day.
It allows you to mentally focus on something else for a time and come back with a clearer mind.
Overcoming The Doubt
Before I go into a few actionable tips for balancing work and running as a college athlete or working professional, I want to touch on overcoming the doubt that you're even capable of this.
There are so many ways to do this. We could chat all day. But here's some of my advice.
It's normal to feel overwhelmed and stressed about the outcome. If you're worried about it, it means that you care.
I lean on positive affirmations a lot.
Constant reminders that you are capable go a long way. Especially when they come from yourself, too, not just people who believe in you.
It took me a really long time to accept and learn this, but speaking to yourself positively can directly influence how you act in life, and in turn your outcomes.
However, I encourage you to capture the negative thoughts when you do have them (because there will be a time that you do have them).
A lot of times this "only think positive" mindset forces you to suppress true feelings and emotions. Don't ignore them completely. Address them and look for solutions.
Replace them with positive thoughts.
Secondly, remember that you're more than a runner.
No matter what you do and how you perform, you're more than those results.
For the past few years, I couldn't overcome this fear of being capable of doing more than just running. Deep down I knew I wanted more, but I was convinced that in order to be successful as a runner I needed to push aside my other dreams and goals, almost completely.
That's why this topic of balancing work and running is so important to me. In school, people successfully do both all the time.
But once you leave, there's somewhat of a pressure to give everything to running and nothing else. And feeding into this made me push so many other passions aside.
I've realized now that I am so capable of creating the life that I want if I commit to it.
There's always going to be some give and take if you want to do multiple things—and be good at them—because you can't be in two places at once.
But I think that speaking in extremes and counting yourself out of a space entirely because you're already dedicated to something else is so limiting.
Set up the systems and the expectations and the schedule required to have that success... and you'll give yourself the chance to have that success.
4 Tips For Balancing Work & Running
I hope that some of that was helpful for starting to think through some of the challenges that come along with performing and working at a high level.
But before I go, I wanted to end on some more acitionable tips for balancing work and running in general.
These are some of the pieces of advice I wish I had gotten (or had listened to) earlier on. And while they're helping me now as I work and run in the professional world, they definitely apply to being a collegiate athlete as well.
1. Aim High...But Set Realistic Goals
I believe that you have the power to do what you want to do.
Far too many times have I completely shut an idea out of my head (before even thinking through how it could potentially work) simply because I tell myself no.
And really all that does at the end of the day is teach me how to sell myself short. I'm constantly pushing this narrative onto myself that I can't do things.
I might be interested in that, but I can't.
I really love that and it would be so much fun for me, but I can't.
The reason I bring this up is to say that it's okay to aim high, and that you should aim high. If you don't even put yourself in the position to do things, the chance of you doing it is literally 0.
If both running and nursing classes are important to you, you are capable of doing this.
However, it is so important to be realistic.
While we can certainly do more than we think that we can do, no amount of willpower can put more hours in the day.
So maybe you take one extra class. Or join one club that never meets during practice hours. That's amazing!
Figure out what is realistically manageable for your schedule and your well-being, because if you take on too much, you'll just end up getting little to nothing out of the things you do.
Give your all to what you have time for. Set crazy high goals in those areas.
Just try not to take on too much, because you can end up being stressed or burnt out. It's definitely a balance of knowing what you're capable and knowing your limits.
Which you'll constantly learn and adjust from as you go!
This leads me to my second tip for balancing work and running:
2. Embrace Sacrifice
There is going to be a lot of sacrifice in your life as a student-athlete. (Or working post-collegiate athlete life).
You're going to have to choose what you think is the most important for you to be doing each day, each semester, each year.
The sooner you wrap your head around this, the better you will be at managing it.
You're going to have nights where you have to catch up on homework instead of going somewhere with your friends.
Scratch that, there's going to be a lot of those nights.
You should still definitely take the time to have fun experiences. Don't cut fun out of your life by any means.
But you have to be honest with yourself that sacrifices are going to need to be made. This doesn't just apply to life as a student-athlete obviously, but there are a lot of things other college students will be doing that you won't.
3. Schedule In Breaks
I cannot stress this enough.
Plan, plan, plan. A good plan and a schedule prepare you to handle a busy workload.
But what most people miss from their plan is to take time for breaks!
I get it, no one wants to have to pencil in time for "relaxation." That sounds super not fun.
But it is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of work, running, and whatever else you've got going on.
It happens to me literally all the time. I just get really excited about this new idea or opportunity and dive headfirst into it until I look up wondering when the last time I took a break or did something purely for my enjoyment was.
And I'm not saying you have to schedule in a shopping spree or a fancy event (although that sounds fun).
One of my most productive friends in college and smartest people I know had a rule. Every Friday after class she did no work. It was her sacred time to do what she wanted to do and take a little break from the pressure and busyness of life.
Something like this might not be feasible for you, but I think it illustrates my point a bit.
The best way to show up as your best self most of the time is to have moments where you recover and lay back for a bit.
And having a routine or a system in place for that makes it more manageable when you have a busy workload and schedule.
If you need a mental break whenever it's important to take them.
But in general, it really helps to allocate time to take breaks. You'll be ready to get back after it and really show up!
4. Lean On Support
Even superwoman/man needs some assistance from time to time.
I don't want to generalize, but I feel like many athletes tend to have this "I can do it all myself" mentality.
We're tough like that.
But asking for help and leaning on support is a sign of strength too.
I was advised to get a tutor in Pysch 101 freshman year. I fought against that advice with all the energy I had (well what remained of it after my base training workouts) because I was convinced I could do it myself.
Low and behold, a few tutor sessions later I was doing way better in the class than I had on my own.
There are so many avenues of support to lean on to get through the workload and expectations of work and running:
Family, friends, teammates; this one speaks for itself
On-campus academic counseling
Student-athlete resources (vary depending on where you go)
I couldn't have gotten by without leaning on the support of countless individuals. And I hope that I did my best to be there for friends and teammates as well!
We're all in this together, as they say.
Juggling Work And Running
At the end of the day, we are all capable of so much more than we think we are.
And while it's okay to have reservations, the best thing you can do is put yourself in situations to give yourself a chance, and prepare yourself the best that you can to be successful at them.
To my reader who submitted this question,
The very fact that you took it upon yourself to ask someone for advice based on this fear shows me that you are more than ready to step up for the task.
You are clearly already amazing at what you're going to need to do during school and running:
Identifying where a challenge lies and seeking out answers to help you overcome that challenge.
That's really all it is!
Acknowledge that it's going to be a challenge
remind yourself that you're more than capable of rising to that challenge
set up systems and practices that support you in those goals
I really hope that this helps! Let me know in the comments if any of this resonates with you or if there's any questions.
You can also tell me that you're more confused and need some clarity. I'm more than happy to help.