In The Classroom

Hard-Earned Ultra-Marathon Lessons Are Not Left at the Finish Line

Emma Hart is a first-year Adler University student pursuing a master’s degree in counseling with a specialization in sport and health psychology. She recently reflected on her journey training for, and completing an ultra-marathon.

Goal setting and decision-making are two vital mental skills; both in sport, and in life.

After I decided to run a 100-kilometer race — that’s 62 miles— my world quickly began revolving around that one goal. The idea first popped into my head while sitting on the bleachers in the late August heat of Texas, supporting my undergraduate women’s soccer team.

I hadn’t even left the stadium when I began Googling ways to make it through the grueling task. Training plans for 100K runs are somewhat limited. I primarily relied on previous experience to determine ways to increase my running volume and distance without also increasing my risk of injury. The rest, I learned through training and research.

I looked up ways others have made it through the distance. I began practicing different strategies. I learned when and what to eat and drink; which items I should pack in my drop bags; and how to run on rocky, hilly terrain in the dark while fatigued. I ran in rain, 100-degree heat, below-freezing temperatures, and all kinds of moods.

There wasn’t any research on how to balance my training with the simultaneous requirement to pass an intense environmental chemistry course that would cement my undergraduate degree. Internet research didn’t tell me how to schedule my runs between work shifts as a stock supervisor at The GAP.

I ran the same route more than 34 times during my Tuesday and Thursday trainings. On days when I had to be at the store from 6 to 11 p.m., I woke up at 4 a.m. to log 30 running miles. I ran almost every inch of Corpus Christi — A city that I loved but found dull and monotonous during some of my more-than 60 treks through it. I put myself, my mental skills and my commitment to the test. Although I was able to research and reach the technical benchmarks, I found that research was lacking about how I might train my mind to use any means necessary to get my body across the finish line.

I celebrated National Running Day in June with a run. During it, I reflected on the grand and life-changing accomplishment of completing an ultra-marathon — an astronomical feat that tested just about every mental skill imaginable.

As proud as I am of finishing the race, itself, I’m reminded of other goals I set forth to conquer, such as successfully completing my first year of graduate school at Adler University. To me, making the decision to further my education was similar to that of running an ultra-marathon. The Master’s in Counseling: Specialization in Sport and Health Psychology, or MASH, program has served as the perfect arena to apply the lessons — both technical and mental — that I learned while training. And, the support I have received at Adler has been incomparable to any other educational experience.

The mental skills necessary to train for and compete in an ultra-marathon can be applied to navigating and living a successful life. For example, we learn in MASH about mantras that athletes can mentally repeat to thrive amidst adversity.

The “scary feet” mantra was my favorite way to get through that next mile. Similarly, telling myself, “I am strong. I am smart. I am capable” calms my nerves and brings focus before a mental skills presentation.

I’ve learned that sport and life will sometimes ask more than what I think I can give. That’s when I embrace my vulnerability and reach out to my support system for help. Sometimes, I have to remind myself why I started. That’s when I have to remember what it feels like to set the bar high and sprint across the finish line. I aspire to find beauty in the struggle and make a positive impact through goal-setting, decision-making, commitment, persistence, motivation, focus, grit, resilience and thriving in the face of adversity.

Through Adler, I have spent the past year refining the mental skills I’ve acquired through my own experiences to become effective in supporting others to reach their goals. Support from the university, my amazing MASH cohort, professors, mentors, and family will propel me to embrace all challenges. During the ever-winding journey, I’ll keep in mind that despite any potential obstacles, we all truly do have what it takes to cross our finish lines.