Running marathons in college: not easy, but possible

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It’s 6:10 a.m. in Provo. The sun has just risen, and so has Bri Roth.

She straps on her athletic watch, ties the laces on her blue and green running shoes and steps out the door.

Pounding her feet on the pavement, Roth, an exercise science major from Fruit Heights, Utah, meets up with running partner Joseph Moore, a junior from South Jordan studying psychology. They take off running — maybe to the Bonneville Trail, or maybe Rock Canyon if they’re feeling ambitious.

Roth and Moore are BYU students training for marathons.

While balancing busy young adult life with school, work and training for a 26.2-mile race is not what they call easy, they say it’s possible for students if it’s a priority.

“I made a calendar and wrote down the miles I have to do every day,” Roth said. “I cross it off once I do it and wait for the next day.”

Emma Grover, a senior from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, also insists prioritizing is crucial to successfully train. Having completed three marathons during her time at BYU, she knows a thing or two about the process. 

“What I’ve learned is it’s possible to fit it in,” Grover said. “It just took a lot of planning ahead, but (it’s) definitely possible.”

As a flute performance major, Grover rarely has a lot of spare time on her hands. A typical day includes at least three hours of instrument practice in addition to classes, other homework and what she calls a “very part time job” as a certified nursing assistant. But even with her heavy schedule, she said she has made her marathon goals become realities by adhering to an effective training schedule.

“I think the most important part (of the training schedule) is the long run,” Grover said.

When Grover first decided to run a marathon, she followed a training schedule that required a long run every week. Because of her tight schedule, that usually meant devoting a chunk of Friday or Saturday to running.

“I feel like it all fit in because it was a goal that I had and I tried to work my schedule around to make it happen,” Grover said.

Even with prioritization, obligations such as tests, study groups, and work — not to mention social activities, callings and extracurricular activities — make staying dedicated to a marathon training schedule no easy task.

Grover said a key to her training was to accept the efforts she could offer.  

“I wasn’t always perfect with (training),” Grover said. “There were some weeks where I didn’t get in as many miles as I would have hoped, but I did always try to get a long run in or make the training that I did worth it, even if it wasn’t as much as I hoped it would be that week.”

Moore, who has run four marathons, said having a consistent time to run in the mornings has helped him.

“I try to set my schedule so I don’t have to get up too early to get in longer runs,” Moore said.

For Roth, who will run her first marathon in October, running with others helps her stay committed to train.

“It’s hard to run by myself,” Roth said. “Having that accountability to somebody really just makes you get out of bed and do it.”

But while these marathon runners might make it sound simple, they know it’s easier said than done, especially when it comes to the actual race.

Legs burn. Lungs gasp for air. The body begs to stop, but the mind says no.

“It’s something that I always regret in the moment,” Grover said. “Every time (while running a marathon) I’ve been like, ‘I’m never running a marathon again.’ But then when you’re done you feel accomplished; it’s just hard not to plan when you’re going to run the next one.”

Grover said she has never run more than 20 miles when training for the race, so the last 6.2 miles are always pretty grueling.

“It’s just one of those things where you just have to tell yourself to put one foot in front of the other,” Grover said. “It takes a lot of mental strength.”

That being said, none of these marathon runners run to be miserable.

“I’ve always liked running,” Moore said. “You definitely feel really good after doing a good workout and have confidence in yourself.”

Roth feels the same way.

“After (you) run, you get runner endorphins which make you feel really good,” Roth said.

Bri Roth
From leftBri Roth and Joseph Moore pose with friends Sam Garrard and Zach Dryer after completing the Riverton Half Marathon in April 2016. (Bri Roth)

Yet while marathon running is often touted for its benefits, some scientists and doctors debate how healthy it is.

A study published in Heart, a British medical journal, found chronic extreme exercise such as marathon running seemingly causes some damage to the heart and “offsets some of the cardiovascular benefits and longevity improvements that are normally associated with exercise.”

But Dr. Brent Rich, a sports doctor at Utah Valley Sports Medicine and a team doctor at BYU, considers marathon running to be healthy.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment if someone can run a marathon,” Rich said. “If they’re in relatively good health and they have the time to train for that, I think running marathons is healthy.”

Rich said some benefits of running marathons include weight control, self-confidence, and often a decreased need for medications for high blood pressure, diabetes and anxiety.

“I think that multiple marathons, every year, for years and years and years, that that has cumulative stress,” he said. “But if somebody runs a marathon every year or a couple marathons a year and they have the strength and endurance to do it, I think the benefits certainly outweigh the potential negatives.”

Rich, who has run marathons himself, admits others may disagree.

“I’m a little bit more liberal, I think, than other doctors may be as far as suggesting running,” Rich said. “If you want to do it (and) you can do it, I say go for it. It’s obviously not for everybody, but I believe that people should do what they’re passionate about.”

According to a recent study, far more millennial runners choose half marathons than full marathons. While the half marathon is a shorter distance, it still provides the health and fitness benefits of long-distance running, and it also takes training. 

According to Utah Valley Marathon Director Hyrum Oaks, half marathons are popular because they’re achievable while still holding some of the prestige of running a full marathon.

Oaks said half marathons are easier for college students to prepare for.

“Most of our runners are not doing the full marathon as a college student,” Oaks said. “For a full marathon, a lot of people are running 50 to 60 miles a week to train for a marathon. … Between social life, studies, and maybe a job, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to train.”

But Grover said a full marathon is ultimately worth the time investment.  

“I think it helps me have a great deal of confidence knowing that I can do hard things,” Grover said. “(It) can help me feel like I have that confidence to overcome the other challenges that come.”

There are several upcoming marathons for which prospective participants can still register. The first two available for registration are the Mid Mountain Marathon and the Skyline Mountain Marathon, both which will take place August 19, the former in Park City and the latter in Liberty.

The following Saturday, August 26, there are two marathons: the East Canyon Marathon in Morgan and the Mt. Nebo Marathon in Payson. Two weeks later, on September 9, there are two more: the Little Grand Canyon Marathon in Price and the REVEL Big Cottonwood Marathon in Salt Lake City.

Prices and registration availability vary. Visit Running in the USA for additional details and more marathons.

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