Finding Joy in Daily Training: Tips from a College Runner Turned Pro

Claire Green races at club cross country nationals

The probability of becoming a Division I collegiate track and field athlete is about 2.8 percent. The likelihood of graduating from the collegiate stage and becoming a professional athlete is roughly between .8 and 9.9 percent. From my first day at The University of Arizona, I knew that I wanted to be one of that ten percent, and spent every waking moment of the next four years working towards that goal. After getting to know my coaches and teammates, I found that my desire to make my university proud motivated me even more.

I considered myself an average runner when I started college. I was regularly dropped in practice, and finished close to last in every race during cross country season. Even as one of the slowest athletes on the team, though, my coaches had big goals for me.

They believed I could improve, and that motivated me to keep working hard. As I grew as an athlete, I used my desire to represent not only myself, but also my coaches, athletic department and university to push myself. On the days when I met those expectations, I was ecstatic. On the days when I fell short, it was crushing. I harnessed this motivation to work my way to becoming one of the top girls in the NCAA. By the time I was ready to graduate, I had become a three-time NCAA All-American in cross country, the indoor mile, and the indoor 3000 meters, setting a new school record in the indoor 3000. I had also worked my way to my next big goal: running with the elite.

Claire Green in her Hoka Aggies singlet

In November of 2018, I signed with the HOKA ONE ONE Aggies in San Luis Obispo, CA. The Aggies are one the best known blue-collar elite groups, and the reigning 2019 Women’s USATF Club Cross Country Champions. Every athlete in the club works full-time, trains year-round, and has ambitious goals for their running careers.

After years of having goals set by my college coaches and a very structured plan to achieve those goals, I anticipated a similar experience as an elite. Imagine my surprise at the new, laid back approach to training I was greeted with during my first pro season. Practices were hardly ever attended by the full team due to conflicting work schedules. Easy runs were always completed on our own time and participation in training was always optional. This attitude completely threw me, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned I had chosen the wrong club.

Any worries I had, however, were quickly put to rest when I saw how driven and hungry for success my teammates were. I soon learned that the reality of a college athlete could not be more different than that of a pro runner. The majority of professional runners have a separate career to support themselves while they pursue their athletic dreams, even ones with sponsors. Every day presents a challenge to figure out how to train as effectively as possible while maintaining your source of income. I was ready to balance a job with my training, but I was not prepared for how this would change team training. When 30 athletes with different work schedules, mileage plans and race schedules form a training group, running suddenly becomes a very individual sport.

In college I never lacked motivation, but I underestimated how much having a full team at every practice and competition made the sport more enjoyable. I thrived in the college setting. I loved the structure, I was motivated to meet the high expectations, and I was proud when I accomplished the goals set forth by myself and my coaches.

During my first season with the Aggies, I struggled without the structure. Working hard came easy, but working through mental low points did not. For years I had relied on the constant presence of teammates to keep running fun on the days when training was a grind. Suddenly it was completely up to me to find joy in the process and push through the tough days.

It’s been nearly two years since starting my journey as a pro. College running taught me to use my motivation to push myself towards success. Elite running is teaching me to love the process and pick myself up in the toughest moments. I am grateful for the days when I have my teammates by my side, and I’m learning to make the most of the days when I train alone. At any level, drive and dedication can make a good runner. But it’s loving the process and finding joy in the struggles that make a runner great.

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