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Graduate School and Triathlon

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I guess to start off this blog post I will give a little bit of my background.

2012-2016: I attended UT-Arlington and obtained my Bachelor’s in Kinesiology: Athletic Training with honors.

2016-2018: I continued my education at Kansas State University. I received my Master’s in Public Health degree while working as a graduate assistant athletic trainer for the cross country/ track and field teams and was a teaching assistant for the AT program.

2018-now: I am on my 2nd semester at UW-Madison pursing a PhD in Biomechanics. I am a research assistant in the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Lab, a teaching assistant in the AT program, and an athletic trainer at the university clinic.

Being in the field of Athletic Training requires a lot of hours. In undergrad as a student we were learning from professionals in the field and putting in at least 40 hours a week of clinical hours all while attending class and some of us, including me having other jobs. For me, I was a swim instructor/coach as well as a physical therapy tech. Let’s just say undergrad was BUSY.

My time at K-State was insane. Now a certified AT I had over 80 athletes under my care for the first time, covering practices, meets, treatment, I juggled grad school work in a field that I was not comfortable in (epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health…those classes killed me), serving as a teaching assistant and clinical preceptor.

And now at UW it was back in the Kinesiology field with the hardest classes I have ever taken in my life and still juggling different roles to cover funding for school.

But the one consistent thing I had in my life was sport. Whether it was marathon training or my favorite; triathlon training I used sport to help me get through the hardships of undergrad and the rigor of grad school.

Milestones in sport during my education

  • In undergrad I was able to meet a group of amazing adults that got me into this crazy hobby of mine! I was able to accomplish my first half marathon, two marathons, sprint, olympic tris and as a marker of completing my undergraduate career I finished off my bachelor’s with my first half ironman!
  • During my time at K-State I tackled more half marathons, sprint and olympic triathlons, my second half ironman, and two more marathons and start training for my first full ironman.
  • 3 days into my PhD I completed my first full ironman!

Tips for balancing sport and school

As I type these they seem like common sense and simple but frankly, it is not that easy to make these choices while in the moment. Dependent on your degree and field of study some of these things are easier than others.

  • Have a consistent morning and night routine: Whether it is just 10 min in the morning, give yourself time. Be thankful for the new day. I like to stretch, just breathe, drink water and of course get my coffee and I will read a little snippet of the book I am on and then I hustle for the new day. Give yourself time to not think about school or training. As for night I do the same. Give yourself a few minutes off social media, read, and the most important thing I do is pack for the next day. I make my lunch and pack snacks, lay out the outfit I will wear to teach or be in the lab, and the change of clothes and toiletries for my workout that day.
  • Set up a training routine: Whether it’s you setting up your plan or you have a coach, communicate that you need consistency. In undergrad and masters the best times for me to train around my schedule were unfortunately around 4 or 5 AM. But the eliminated the stress of thinking, “Wow this day was rough at school and work and I STILL HAVE TO TRAIN?!” I got it over with and felt good about it the rest of the day. Now in my PhD I have a very flexible schedule and since my lab is in the kinesiology building that also serves as the rec center on campus it makes it super easy to train because I just walk across the hall and can swim, bike, run, lift, yoga. The only negative now is a lot of my training is done alone and on my own schedule vs the majority of triathletes and marathon friends I had in undergrad and masters trained early in the morning. It helps having people with similar schedule to keep you consistent with training but now I can appreciate the extra sleep and flexibility of training.
    • Lastly, with a routine, follow a plan! I like knowing that Mondays are always off days, Tuesday and Thursdays are swim/bike days, Wednesday and Fridays are interval runs with strength, Saturdays are long rides, Sundays are long runs! Whatever it is, keep it consistent for your peace of mind and pick a schedule that fits your day to day well and causes you the least stress.
  • If I can’t concentrate on school I just say “screw it” I am gonna do my training…or something I like! There is no point in wasting your precious time avoiding to get grad school work done. When this happens I tend to just keep staring at the screen or assignment I need to accomplish and I get a headache, I get frustrated, and it helps no one. I will dip out and run off my frustration and accomplish the training for that day and then get back to grad school.
  • Reward system: If I get this grade on that exam, finish this major assignment, write this paper I will treat myself to a fun bike ride on Sunday…or I will sign up for that race I have been wanting to do…or I will get that tri kit I have been eyeing.
  • Set goals and crush them. I think of ironman training as a helpful energy release for my degree. If I am happy then that will translate into my grad school work. But with this I end up having to prioritize things in my life.
    • I sleep earlier and wake up earlier to train
    • I don’t go out drinking with friends very often
    • My spare time is dedicated to school and self care mentally and not at parties and togethers. I prefer time spent with friends with one or two drinks and a good time talking vs going from bar to bar.
    • Knowing that school nor triathlon defines me. Neither are my identity and it is not the end of the world if I decide to not continue either of them.
    • Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. If you are complaining about school and you hate it so much…then why do it? If you are complaining about triathlon and you hate having to fit it in…don’t do it! Find something you do like to do and try to be the best version of yourself for it!
  • Surround yourself with supportive people who challenge you.  Everyone needs those voices of reason. For me, it’s when I am too hard on myself. I need my boyfriend or my parents to remind me that it’s okay. It isn’t the end of the world and I will tackle that goal better the next time. Surround yourself with a community of people with likeminded goals that want to see you succeed as well. For me it’s the adults in the various triathlon groups that have great careers and were role models for me throughout my degrees. Seeing them be able to balance their career, parenthood, and sport was inspiring. If you constantly surround yourself with people that don’t understand why you do your sport it can get tough to fit in that ride when those loved ones think you should just focus on XX and not sport. Communicate to those non-understanding loved ones that this sport makes you so happy and thus you can accomplish XX, YY, AND ZZ.

I know this isn’t necessarily the best advice that works for everyone. Everyone has different goals and situations but these are the things I try to do on a daily basis to keep my sanity. Ultimately it just takes putting yourself first at certain parts of your day and saying “This is me time.” Having self love will help in so many aspects of your life. Remember, we are never guaranteed another day so enjoy your time while you can!

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