26.2: The new grade for college students

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At BYU, some students use their weekends to catch up on sleep, spend time with friends, or, to be completely honest, binge-watch Netflix. Others can be found hitting the roads and trails of Provo, putting in a 20-mile run on a crisp Saturday morning.

Marathon running, which in years past has been an elite world of competitive and even professional runners, has slowly become more inclusive of all ages and experience levels. Now it’s becoming a stage on which a younger demographic can shine.

BYU student Sierra Zollinger participates in the Vancouver Marathon. Photo courtesy Sierra Zollinger
BYU student Sierra Zollinger participates in the Vancouver Marathon. Photo courtesy Sierra Zollinger

Sierra Zollinger, an elementary education major from Declo, Idaho, is an experienced runner. So far, she has two full marathons and seven half marathons under her belt, not to mention countless 10K races, “Mud Runs”, relays and a few triathlons.

“Just the feeling of accomplishing something hard — you know, mind over matter — I get a big thrill out of it,” Zollinger said.

Zollinger ran track and cross-country in high school and also was recognized as basketball All-Star during her career at Big Bend Community College in Washington. She said she has always been involved with fitness, but more recently she has picked up competitive running.

“What I love about running is that anyone can do it,” Zollinger said. “It doesn’t matter your body type, your coordination, or anything. I also love that it is a cheap hobby, like for college kids; you just have to get a pair of running shoes and you’re set.”

BYU has been recognized in the past as one of America’s “fittest college campuses,” and runners can be found, rain, snow or shine, getting their workouts in on the roads around campus. Utah is a distance runner’s paradise, with fantastic trail runs in all parts of the state and a total of 23 marathons taking place this year. In a July 2013 Runner’s World article, Utah was listed as the state with the sixth-most marathons in the country, behind California, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and Colorado.

The Top of Utah Marathon in Logan, which boasted approximately 1,000 finishers, was a popular marathon for young people in 2013. The winner of the female division was 26 years old, and five out of the top 10 female finishers were 22 years old or younger. In the male division, five out of the top 10 finishers were in their 20s.

Ashley Glazier, a medical lab science major from Boise, has completed one half marathon and plans do do another this summer, with hopes of running a full marathon later this year. Glazier said college is a great time to start distance running.

“With balancing marriage, work and school, running just helps with my stress levels,” Glazier said. “It’s like all of that goes away during a run and when you come back, it’s like you’ve slept for eight hours. It just feels so good. It helps you feel more focused and sharp.”

Finding the time to train for a 13.1-mile or 26.2-mile race is difficult. Glazier said she had to become a morning person in order to fit her runs into her school day.

“It’s hard because distance running is not just a half hour. It’s going out on a run for sometimes two hours,” Glazier said. “It’s a lot of time, but what helps me is to get up early and get my running done in the morning.”

Nick Hicken, a BYU student currently fulfilling a service mission in Texas, has completed one marathon and five half marathons. Hicken raced in one of the most popular marathons in the country, the Walt Disney World Marathon, which listed nearly 21,000 finishers. As if that feat wasn’t enough, he also completed the Walt Disney World half marathon the day before — a total of 39.3 miles in two days.

“You run it for the experience,” Hicken said. “It was super fun, they have Disney characters lined up along the race every few miles, and it was really cool to run through the different parks.”

Zollinger has some simple advice for beginning runners or those who want to make the jump to marathoning: just do it.

“If you want to get into running, but don’t know how, sign up for a race!” she said. “For most people, if you pay for something, then you have to follow through.”

Glazier said once she got involved in distance running, she was hooked. Across the country, more and more people are discovering the “secret.” Thirty years ago, just 25,000 people in the United States completed marathons. By 2013, the number of marathon finishers in the U.S. had soared to an all-time high of 541,000 people. Women make up more of the younger running population, with 45 percent of all female marathon runners in 2013 falling in the 18-34 year-old category.

Zollinger said she now applies to her running what she learned from her years playing basketball.

“Your body can do so much more than your mind thinks it is capable of,” she said.

As BYU students continue to get involved in this trend, not only are they in the physical prime of their life, but they just happen to live in the perfect place for some great distance running.

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