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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Long days and shared memories: my experience so far in winter athletics

I haven’t been at Carleton for too long, but I’ve done my best to adapt to a new school, place and environment, and being part of a tight-knit team has been central to this (admittedly) slow process. I transferred from Haverford College this fall as a junior Economics major. As a person who struggles with even minor transitions, I knew that I would need to find a social group for dependable social, athletic and academic support. This was vital to settling in during the fall, but winter brings environmental challenges that I am ill-prepared for. I am from Washington, D.C., where it rarely snows and has never gone below zero degrees in my lifetime. I’m a member of the women’s cross country and track and field program and train and compete year-round: cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and outdoor track in the spring. Winter competition is by far the most challenging, I already know, simply because the weather brings safety concerns such as frostbite and ice. Long miles are arguably the most important part of a distance runner’s training (ranging from 30-50 per week in cross country), and this becomes an obstacle when the options are limited to the indoor track or treadmill. 

However, even though it can be a shock to my system, I feel that I’ve been growing as a person throughout my term-and-a-bit at Carleton. This is primarily because I have found my community among the track and field team. While it is true that training in winter requires flexibility, an element of risk and long hours spent outside of academics, it helps bring a sense of stability and thrill to otherwise heavily structured and cold days. Some highlights from my experience in athletics at Carleton include the moment when the team won a historic DIII national championship in cross country, only the second NCAA title in school history, the first since the 1980 men’s cross country team and the first for a women’s team. Though my personal season went poorly and that is, of course, disappointing, it was inspiring to be even a small part of something so exciting and historic. The past two weeks, however, have solidified my impression that even though things change, if I can overcome obstacles, I will find satisfaction. 

Some of the adaptations to training so far include long threshold or uptempo runs translated to shorter repeats on the indoor track and the option to use the treadmill to warm up and cool down if necessary. Subzero temperatures and a wind advisory didn’t stop the team from completing a long run outside, however; many layers, constant movement and Vaseline as well as the option to go inside if needed were necessary for every runner. Other sports have had to adapt as well, with softball practicing inside during their off-season and tennis sharing facilities with track. It must take a significant amount of time to organize the needs of every group that wants to use the athletic facilities while also allowing space for non-varsity athletes. It brings a sense of companionship, though, at least among my team. Every person needs to be able to know what they’re doing, know their comfort level when it comes to things like running in the dark, and be aware of others who are using the track, weight room or tennis courts. 

There are benefits to this veritable game of chess, though, at least personally. Change is not something I’m comfortable with as someone with high-functioning autism and generalized anxiety disorder, so my comfort zone can be a way to protect myself from adverse emotional reactions that affect my ability to function throughout a given day. It’s been a long journey to be able to undertake something as extreme as transferring from Haverford to Carleton, and I wanted to use any chance I could to work on developing my ability to be flexible, which is not something that my brain naturally understands how to do. Indoor track has always been particularly challenging for me (especially the meets, which regularly cause sensory overload and anxiety attacks), but I’ve worked on using these obstacles to grow as a person. Adapting to a bigger team with the addition of field eventers and sprinters, new training in proper speed workouts, and an alien environment will help me gain a sense of calm and security, an opportunity that every winter athlete has.                                                                                                                Being a winter athlete is a balancing act that takes many moving parts to get right, but the rewards are worth the work and risk. 

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