Grueling workouts, sacrifices worth it for devoted runners

Chris Medina

As 6 a.m. arrives, and while many students lay blissfully unaware or dreaming in their beds, a small group of them wake up and begin preparing for their days.

The preparation begins with tying their shoes, then getting in a quick stretch or warm up. After that, they’re off, sprinting into the brisk morning cold that nips at the body as they start to stretch the muscles that are still asleep.

A 10-mile run, maybe more. Then, it’s back home for a quick shower, a bite to eat, then class, homework, meetings and finally back to bed.

It’s a life that could be mistaken for a NCAA athlete, but it’s actually led by normal students preparing for this weekend’s Austin Marathon.

The race compels people such as kinesiology freshman Alex Weidenheft and economics junior Aaron Nemzer to live slightly different lifestyles.

“You really have to have a love for [running],” Nemzer said. “It is one of those things that can help you feel really good about yourself because of the dedication it takes.”

To say you love running is the easy part. What separates this lifestyle from others is the sacrifice.

“Sleep is what I sacrifice the most,” Weidenheft said. “But along with sleep, there is also the food and time aspect. I have to keep a closer eye on the types of food I take in and how much of it. It’s almost like a full-time job.”

Runners like Weidenheft and Nemzer usually consume a diet full of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, fat and, most importantly, lots and lots of water. The diet is essential for a distance runner because it prevents the body from becoming ill and helps the runner concentrate, recover and perform better.

But, of course, running includes many mental and physical struggles. Nemzer and Weidenheft agreed on the general aspects of training such as paying attention to the way their feet land on the ground and the way their arms move while they run, but their specific techniques differ.

“When training, I try to focus a lot on my breathing. It is when I control my breathing that I can focus on muscle memory,” said Weidenheft, whose half-marathon this weekend is her first competitive race. “The rest is pretty easy.”

Nemzer is aiming for the full marathon with multiple 5ks, 10ks and other races under his belt.

“Other than a quick check of my feet and arms, I mostly just try to stay loose,” he said. “I try to do what feels right and focus a majority on the mental aspect. I get in the habit of talking to myself and occasionally singing to myself in order to keep that pace I want.”

The pair’s race philosophies converged once more when talking about the experience of running. The key, both agreed, is knowing what to expect from the wear and tear of an endurance race.

“Who wouldn’t want experience in this type of running?” Weidenheft said. “I’m really just nervous because I don’t want to disappoint myself.”

Nemzer, as a veteran competitor, is not as worried.

“The first time is always hard,” he said. “You question yourself and get butterflies. It is when you have been there and done it when you can get rid of the butterflies and trust yourself. Knowing you have run the miles before helps you train mentally. That X-factor relaxes you and helps you focus on what is going to push you to the next level.”

No matter the experience, personality or training technique, there is one aspect that remains the same for all runners at this weekend’s marathon — the finish line.