Saunders' Corner

University is a marathon, and I can finally see the finishing line

London Marathon 2018
by Alice Dent

I can safely say without a hint of reservation that I am not an esteemed runner. The peak of my illustrious running career was probably a morning in 2012, when myself and a couple of friends met at around 5:30am for a ‘gentle jog’ around Roath Park lake. All too surprisingly, it turned out to be less of a gentle jog, and more of a slow and painful shuffle. I hung up my running shoes, grabbed my asthma pump and told myself never again would I attempt to run. Last year, after watching my mum and boyfriend complete the Cardiff Half Marathon (I actually saw them for 10 seconds and then went back to the Woodville to track them on an app), I told myself ‘maybe I can do this?’. I bought a running arm strap for my mobile phone, put it in my bedside drawer, and that is where it has been ever since. Unfortunately, this is not a transformation story where I tell you the steps I took to become a fitness fanatic. Maybe that’s something I’ll do next year…

Although I certainly don’t relish the thought of hitting the running track, there is something almost exhilarating about watching other people do so. Many of you will have seen the coverage of the 2018 London Marathon on television and social media. The joy, elation and excruciating pain on the faces of the runners was plain to see, and their reactions after they had finished actually made me a little emotional. Whilst I can’t even comprehend the thought of a lap around Roath Park, these people have dedicated months and years to their training programmes, and have learnt how to push past the pain and make it to the end. Many of them will go on to complete more marathons, catching the “running bug” and forgetting about the moments along the route where they were flagging in energy. They’ll revel in sheer joy at the finish line. In some ways, this is exactly what university is like for most of us. We often forget the moments of self-doubt that we have experienced throughout the course of our degrees, and will be filled with pride and fond memories when we graduate. We learn to grow from our various failures – whether that be sleeping with a housemate or doing particularly badly in an exam. While a runner can change up their training programme and find the most efficient ways to reach their goal, university teaches you how you work most effectively, and by the time the three years are almost up, you will have hopefully learnt a lot about yourself.

Personally, I believe I have grown a great deal since I began university in 2014. I suppose everyone changes between the ages of 18 and 22 regardless of whether they go to university or not, but there’s something so endearingly nostalgic about comparing the third year you to the person who stepped into halls in first year. I’m not saying I’m perfect; I still buy a meal deal almost every day and could probably count on my hands the amount of 9am lectures I’ve attended. I’ve eaten way too many Mama’s kebabs and spent more money in Sainsbury’s on Woodville Road than I care to think about. But I’ve also experienced crucial life lessons and worked to become a better version of myself. I’ve developed a host of lifelong friendships and made memories that I will never forget. I’ve become more confident in my own abilities, and pushed myself to grab opportunities when they come my way. However, the end is now in sight, and it’s come as a bit of a shock to the system. Exam season is upon us, and while I’m apprehensive about all the work I have to do in such a small period of time, I’m also really sad that this is the final push. The final mile in the marathon. The finish line is in sight, but I wish more than anything that I could turn back around and run it all over again.

If you’re in first or second year, there are things I would recommend that you do in order to make the following years go as smoothly as possible. Firstly, if you get ahead of the game and try as hard as you can from the offset, it will take the pressure off you in your final year. Obviously, third year is weighted the most and is therefore the most crucial time to get your head down, but if you know that you’ve secured a good 2.1 in your second year it can make you feel a whole lot better when it’s crunch time. Going to university means developing various skills, and if you’re not making the most out of them throughout your degree, it’s very unlikely you’ll get the best grade possible at the end. Try and go to as many lectures and seminars as you can and put effort into all of your assignments, even in your first year. Try out new ideas and push the boundaries with your writing, see what works and what doesn’t. If you make mistakes, that’s fine! That is what first year is for. Just like a marathon, university is long and there are so many different obstacles that will stand in your way. While you wouldn’t be able to run 26 miles without any training, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach your potential if you stick your head in the sand for two and half years and then frantically try and pull it together in the last couple of months. Make life easier for yourself and put the work in from the beginning.

Although academic success should be a priority, you shouldn’t neglect the social opportunities that university brings. You meet people from all walks of life from far-flung corners of the earth over the course of your degree, and you should make the effort to get to know them. While I’m not saying you need to say yes to every single social event so it then becomes detrimental to your degree, it’s so important to know when to give yourself a break. If you know you’re going to be going out on a Wednesday night, make sure you get your seminar work done in the day so you’re not putting yourself at a disadvantage later in the week. I know so many people who have juggled manic social lives and continually exceed expectations in their university work, so they’re not mutually exclusive. However, make sure you work out a balance of work and play that suits you.

Truthfully, university gives you what you put into it. There is a wealth of opportunities to be found, and new friends to meet at every stage. If you’re at the end of the journey like I am, don’t give up just yet. Force yourself to maintain your momentum and get yourself over the finish line. If you’ve made mistakes along the way, that’s fine – don’t look back! Just focus on the road ahead of you, work to the best of your ability until the very last step, and when you’re done, be proud of your achievements. While we’re not all the most capable of runners, not all of us will come out of university with a First. However, if you prepare for the long run, take your degree at a steady pace and get yourself to the end, you should be proud of yourself regardless of the outcome. We can’t all be professional athletes, after all.

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