By Linda Smith
People who competitively run marathons and large obstacle races are truly a testament to human physical capability. They train for months or even years for some of the biggest races in the country, and they manage to pull off great feats of strength against competitors with similar skills. However, perhaps it is equally as difficult for students, especially those not in organized sports, to take on the challenge to participate in half- and full-marathons, and long obstacle races. Several University of Dallas students have taken up this challenge, and all embraced both the benefits and drawbacks of distance running.
Junior Phil Wykowski described his experience in the Charlottesville Marathon, something that “had been on [his] bucket list,” as a brutal experience. Similarly, he has participated in a Tough Mudder with fellow juniors Alex Ziolkowski and Nick McCabe and described the whole event as fun…except the electric shock at the end.
“I have a love-hate relationship with running,” Wykowski said. “I go through phases. When I am running, I love the mental challenge, and it is freeing once you get over the cramps and start getting into shape. Then you can go for a long time. That’s really rewarding. There are also times where it is just boring, and I would rather play a sport.”
Several students have participated in the popular Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, which makes 30 stops across the world and entices runners with bands spaced out around every mile or so. Junior Nick van Schaijik described this as “a nice way to sort of tally the miles in your head.” People stand on the side of the race course with posters that make lighthearted claims, such as “Ryan Gosling is waiting for you at the end,” and in numerous cases, the funds raised from the race go to benefit several charities. Junior Veronica Zepeda has participated in the past three Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons that have come to Dallas, running the half-marathon length.
“It’s not as hard as I expected it to be or as long either, because you have the adrenaline just pushing you through, and all the people and then you have friends waiting for you at the end,” Zepeda said. “It’s fun to work hard for something like that and then succeed and finish.”
Juniors Lucy Bennett and van Schaijik ran the Washington, D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon over spring break this year.
“For me, I don’t enjoy distance running whatsoever,” van Schaijik said. “What would motivate me to do something like this again would be to just get in shape. For me, it was pretty miserable and only worth doing just to say you’ve done it once, and it wouldn’t be worth doing again.”
“But we survived!” Bennett said. “Our goal was to go slow, but still run the whole thing and it worked. Everyone is pushing you through the whole thing. Half-marathons are so fun.”
“It was definitely a good feeling [to finish,]” van Schaijik said.
Senior Sam Bond has participated in two obstacle course races: a Spartan race and, during her Rome semester, a Tough Mudder. She took on 13 miles and 28 obstacles. Bond recalled being able to climb a rope over 20 feet in length with several knots in it in the middle of the course, a feat that had terrified her before.
“I think my favorite part was being able to do things that I did not think I could do,” Bond said. “I did not think I could do it [climb the rope], because I saw really big guys who were very strong who were falling in the water. I got up there and I got halfway to the top and I was so tired. It was also really high up and I’m scared of heights. But I ended up making it to the top, ringing the cowbell, and lowering myself down. I think that’s why you do it: so you can see yourself do more than you thought you could. It’s also just a lot of fun to get covered in mud. It’s a bunch of adults playing in the mud, so why wouldn’t you love that?”
All students interviewed run throughout the year and exercise either by participating in intramural sports, Insanity workouts, weight lifting or a combination of those, but none embarked on strenuous training processes. The students participated in their races for fun, and Bond, Zepeda and Bennett expressed interest in more extensive training when they have more time in their schedules. Everyone had different relationships with running, but most saw it as boring at times. Bennett commented that she “couldn’t imagine [doing] it without music.”
“I think what I learned about running through this was that…it’s really more a mental discipline than physical,” van Schaijik said. “You get a rhythm going and then it’s mildly physically comfortable and excruciatingly boring. At that point, you just have to keep your mind in check and get through it mentally, and then I think anyone can do [it].”
Bennett and Bond attested to the fact that running can be a great tool for clearing one’s mind, especially in times of stress.
“It’s a great way to clear your head,” Bond said. “You can lose yourself in a run and not have to worry about anything because you can’t because you are far away from everything.”
Zepeda said that it not only “revamps [her] from doing everything else,” but is a great way to build endurance and relationships.
“I love the companionship you get when you run with a team or with other friends because you go through a lot together, and it’s unlike any other athletic activity I’ve done,” Zepeda said. “I think the endurance aspect of it tests you in a lot of ways that a lot of other physical activities don’t necessarily.”