Marathon serves as life lesson for Illinois College freshmen
Eleven Illinois College freshmen put the finishing touches on a unique challenge December 6 when they successfully completed the annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon along with almost 3,000 other runners.
The 26.2-mile run generated nearly $2 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But for the group of first-year Illinois College students (including several student-athletes), the event served as the final exam for a semester-long class project that focused on positive-thinking skills, the development of personal discipline, and the value of setting and then achieving goals
An estimated 14,000 runners participated in races that also included a half-marathon and a 5-kilometer run across the central portion of the Tennessee city.
“We are using the marathon as a metaphor for life as we attempt to teach the concepts of hard work, focus, time management, personal control and the value of setting high but achievable goals,” said Jeremy Turner, assistant professor of psychology at the liberal arts college. The group started training for the marathon in July as part of a series of freshman-year seminar classes led by Turner and Beth Widmaier Capo, associate professor of English.
“The idea was to have the students do something they never thought they could do,” Capo said of the Olympic-caliber challenge. She likened the preparation for the race to what students face as they begin their college studies and said that by successfully training for and then running the marathon, each student accomplishes a task that provides the confidence to keep moving forward in life.
Capo and Turner are veteran marathoners who competed in Memphis alongside their students.
In addition to the 11 marathoners, four freshmen from the college in central Illinois ran the 5-kilometer race held in conjunction with the marathon. In all, 20 students – including student-athletes representing several of the school’s 20 varsity sports – registered for the class and began training before the start of classes, and everyone completed the course.
Two members of the group who could not travel to Memphis for the marathon completed a 5K run in Springfield, Illinois, while three others who did not register for the marathon before the deadline will instead run a 5K this spring.
The first-year marathon contestants include Brian Boeving, Daniel Brasel, Whitney Hagy, Alissa Kemp, Matthew Kole, Shizuko Lozano-Davis, Katelyn McCreight, Sean Peters, Lauren Reece, Alicia Schnapp and William Sullivan. Amanda Lynn, Brady Kepler, Jacob Shreffler and Adam Singler ran the 5K.
Much of the training regimen during the past 16 weeks was based on a marathon training guide that emphasizes the mental preparation for running 26.2 miles. A typical week involved a series of short and long runs, with the distances increasing to a peak of 18 miles. In class, the group talked about mental focus, practiced positive-thinking techniques and discussed common issues as the race approached.
“Our hope has always been that this gives them more self-confidence and helps them practice some of the other skills they’ll need to succeed in life,” Capo said. “We also hope this is going to help them see connections between different parts of their lives.”
Turner’s freshman seminar class is devoted to motivational psychology, while Capo’s students study writing, film and literature.
Even though most of her students didn’t quite understand what they were getting into when training got under way, Capo said the freshmen soon embraced the marathon as something they felt they could accomplish. Their dedication provided another highlight for Capo, who mentioned that most of the students now consider a run of eight miles relatively inconsequential, because of how their perceptions changed during the preparation phase.
Illinois College freshman Lauren Reece said the constant encouragement she received from family, friends and fellow students helped her overcome her race-day nervousness.
“It gave me a chance to push my limits, and I proved to myself that I could do that,” the first-time marathoner said following the race. “My high school PE teacher always talked about finding your own Mt. Everest and climbing it. This marathon was definitely my Mt. Everest, and I scaled it.”
The two professors who guided the class said their students actively supported each other during the grueling workouts, and a noticeable bonding brought the entire group closer together as they prepared for their big run in Memphis. And the commitment to success has been impressive, as well, according to Capo.
Freshman Jacob Shreffler, for instance, injured his knee while training, but decided instead to focus on the 5K while making plans to run a marathon in 2009. Others have been leaders in raising funds to help defray the group’s travel expenses.
Turner said officials at Christian Brothers University in Memphis provided lodging and meals for the Illinois College delegation. He said any proceeds raised by students that exceed the cost of the trip will be donated to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
According to Capo, the past 16 weeks collectively represented a life-changing experience for the Illinois College freshmen. The novice marathoners accomplished everything their professors asked. And each capped off the grueling, four-month project by successfully applying what they learned during the long run through Memphis.
“Ordinary people can do this type of thing,” Capo concluded. “If you’ve got the discipline and the time, you can do it.”
Jim Murphy is director of communications at Illinois College.
© 2010 The National Collegiate Athletic Association