How Running Changed My Life: My not so glamorous story

how running changed my life

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

 

How Running Changed My Life: My not so glamorous story 

It might sound overly dramatic when I say, ‘running changed my life’. The reason I say this is because we’ve all heard it before, a story about a person who struggled through various life adversities and found an outlet in sport or another profession that requires dedication, resilience, and many years of hard work. I’m no different from those people, however, I only truly figured out just how important this sport is to me at the beginning of 2021. It isn’t just something I do, it is a lifeline. This may be unhealthy, or what is often coined ‘an over-reliance because the question is always raised – what happens when you get injured? What happens if for ‘insert reason here’ you can’t run anymore? 

Injury is a part of competitive, high-level sport. If I am going to push my body and test my limits, an injury may just be heralding that I’ve found a limit or pushed it a bit far this time. Next time, I’ll approach it differently, in a smarter manner, or address the weakness. Then try again. This is the beauty of sport. You’re either all in for the journey and can understand this, or you’re not willing to risk it. I have had multiple sprained and dislocated ankles from trail running, and a torn tendon from sudden, consistent high-mileage and not enough rest. I’ve learnt my lessons, and I still very likely have many more to learn. The trials and tribulations of being a distance runner! 

 

“There is always darkness before dawn.” 

Thanks Malia. 

 

Running has always been a part of my life. 

 

I have always run in some way for the most part of my 22 years. I’d mostly use it to train for other sports or dip my toes in junior and high school cross country for fun. I didn’t experience true competitive running until 17, in my final months of high school. I ‘accidentally’ won a race I entered on a whim, coming back from a week of high altitude nordic ski training. I wasn’t having the most success in nordic skiing, and running seemed to click with me better, and suit my busy life schedule in final exams. After all, you truly can run anywhere – there aren’t a lot of excuses. 

This race win was a really big moment for me. Primarily because I didn’t feel like I always fit in throughout my entire schooling. I was sporty, but also very academically driven and was a part of all the school vocal and music-writing groups. I didn’t really have a ‘group’ and there were times I felt extremely ostracized because I wasn’t defined by something. I wasn’t heading out to parties every weekend. I achieved everything I wanted, but not without a fair share of tears, excessive hours of studying and training. Suddenly, after winning the Sydney Harbour 5km, I was known as a ‘runner’. People seemed to change the way they treated me. Almost with more respect. I don’t think this is a good thing, I think we shouldn’t categorize people and define them by what they do – but it got me through, and it definitely still has a lasting impact.  

One very cold, rainy morning at 5:30 am, I turned up to a training session with a group in centennial park, Sydney. I might sound a bit strange, but I love training in crazy weather – I am used to it having a background as a nordic skier when we’d wait in the nordic shelter waiting to hear if our heat was going to still run in gale force winds and sideways snow. One time I raced a 5km skate race without poles, the wind was so strong. It was all good fun.  I stuck with the consistent run training program my coaches prescribed and never looked back. 

 

Running Saved My Life in multiple low points and in contextual depression. 

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m in training for the Australian Cross Country Championships. I’d had a killer year with multiple wins and massive improvement  – what is known as the upward training trend in a runner’s improvement before they hit a natural plateau. Unfortunately, a very close family member was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, and I knew I would have to step up my game to support the family in a way I never had before. Aged 18/19 I was not the most emotionally mature, so to comprehend the emotional rollercoaster I went into auto-pilot with my run training. I won the U20 Australian XC Championships because I was so determined, fuelled by very strong emotions and a sense of helplessness. My sick family member was able to come especially to watch this event and to come home with a title I doubted I would ever achieve meant the world to me. To this day, this is one of the most important and joyful days of my entire life.

 I am so lucky that my family member has recovered, and I have learned the importance of life at a young age. It is short. It is so important to do everything you can to shape your life around what you value and surround yourself with people who make you a better you. 

Long story short, running really saved me during this time, and I am extremely lucky that I was able to run consistently during this period.

 

2020/21

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

The past 1.5 years have been the toughest of my life – more specifically the last 10 months. The coronavirus situation in the U.S. was handled very differently from my home country, Australia. I made the choice early in 2020 not to return home to Australia. My family and I hoped that the situation would clear up for a visit home later, which we now know isn’t the case. Running on a collegiate cross country and track team, I found myself in multiple quarantines which I didn’t handle particularly well. I was lucky enough to never catch the virus and obtain a full dose of vaccination recently. In my first quarantine, whilst being tested continually I was allowed out once a day to run at odd hours in a mask. That was the only thing I could do – so of course, I ran myself silly. 

In the second quarantine, we experienced a team shut down. This meant no more practices for the rest of the year and a lack of familiar training structure that we’d become so accustomed to.  I found myself sinking into quite a low place, feeling like I’d only just got out of the first quarantine. Radiating pain in my adductor longus started to appear due to overuse combined with poor biomechanics due to lack of strength and conditioning work to supplement my mileage over these quarantines. The inability to run pain-free and a team shut down weighed on me. With an abundance of time alone with my thoughts, I think I began to feel slightly homesick and get really stuck in my thoughts. At one point I needed some medication to help me out of this hole alongside some serious meditation and mindfulness work. During this time I turned to books, I learned new songs on my guitar, I went on walks and collected various rocks/crystals, and learned about how they are formed in the different ecosystems of Idaho. Looking back, it is important to know what you enjoy outside of sport and keep fostering these alongside it.

Early this year I had to take a break from collegiate running as I couldn’t handle high-pressure situations or more quarantines. I was also in a situation that involved a serious breach of trust, and in a minor car accident which sent me plummeting further into the ‘weeds’ (an analogy). I honestly hit a very low spot, and am still working my way out of this. I am frustrated at myself for not being able to bounce back from this quicker. I am working on acknowledging the headspace I am in, and justifying that these new feelings I am experiencing are normal given the situation. The biggest part of all of this is not feeling like I was a part of something, being away from family and away from my team-mates felt extremely lonely. After all, I moved to the U.S. to run collegiately. At one point, the team and the lifestyle of the team were all I knew in this country. 

 

The Choice Point. 

cross training benefits

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

Over the last 2 months, I have made a very large effort to get myself back on track. I gave myself an all-or-nothing attitude. I made a choice. My mentor calls it, ‘The Choice Point.’ It is to ‘act in a manner that is either consistent or inconsistent with your values.’ Essentially, if we let ourselves think consistently in a negative manner on auto-pilot, we don’t make any changes. I like to trouble-shoot this by allowing myself to feel the feelings for a minute or so, and then choose to act in a way that is beneficial to me. Sometimes we won’t be able to do this and instead fall back into old habits. That is ok – practice grace for yourself in these moments. It takes practice and consistent work. As does every skill. The simplest way to remember is when you have a choice about a feeling or action, stop and evaluate, then act in a way consistent with your goals and values. 

Some food for thought – we also create our reality through the thoughts, feelings, words, visuals, images, and conversations we experience day in and day out. Watch that the narrative you are creating in the present and moving forward doesn’t follow a consistently negative storyline. We are in charge. The past is the past, it happened, it will resolve naturally. We can only impact the now because only the now exists. It might sound airy-fairy, I know, but it’s the stone-cold truth. 

 

Running Social Media is not reality

This is so important to remember. Everything you see on social media is the carefully selected, best parts of someone’s life. This includes my Instagram, Facebook and Strava. It is just running and sports, and the best parts selected. Why would I post the bad days, or write about the bad times? No one really wants to see that or hear about it. Social media is meant to be a quick fix. But maybe we should normalize this? I wonder what change or response it would create across these platforms if people were a little more genuine about what they post and how they post.

Essentially, it is what they want you to see. In the case of sponsored athletes and professionals of certain disciplines, it is often what is required or expected by the receiving audience. Don’t get sucked in, or as I am trying to very lamely coin, ‘Don’t get stuck in the suck.’ It’s an addiction – looking at what others are doing, what equipment they have, the scenery they get to run in, their stats. The negative side can be a game of comparison or ‘I’m not good enough’. The positive side can be a place of camaraderie, knowledge sharing, connecting with friends and family, and having a laugh. 

 

Running is my fallback when the going gets tough

When push comes to shove, running is my fallback. I won’t lie about this. I simply am a better person if I get out the door each day to run. Whether or not this is considered ‘healthy, I don’t really care. I make it through my injuries perfectly fine and with a greater knowledge of the human body and how to take care of my own even better. I can’t even shoot out some decent anatomy terms now! Not the coolest party trick, but I will take what I can get! I also love to work hard so when rest time happens, I can really kickback. 

Remember,

“It’s not what you think you can do that holds you back, it’s what you think you can’t.”

Thank you again, Malia. 

(Malia, my team-mate was sitting opposite me the entire time I wrote this article, firing these inspirational quotes at me as I harassed her with questions about how to write and structure this article. Much love.)

Running Motivation: Why We Run

running motivation: why we run

Pro Image Event Photography (Sports)

Running Motivation: Why We Run

 

Do you ever find yourself thinking out on a run, “why am I doing this?” Why do we put our body through pain, wake up ridiculously early, sometimes when we don’t want to, and still hit the pavement or trails? 

I contemplate this question often, and what I found for me and others I have asked is that the role running plays in our life changes frequently. For example, I run as it brings me joy, to challenge myself and test my limits on occasion, to learn to be a good team-mate, to be a better decision-maker under pressure (think quick decisions in racing) to better my mental and physical health, to escape traumatic events and situations (as an outlet), and sometimes, quite honestly, running is a coping mechanism for me, especially in times of emotional challenge. 

I was inspired to write this post as I think it’s important to explore this question as a runner. The answer to this question at certain points in your life can reveal the place you are in from a mental health standpoint. Tuning in to this is an immensely powerful tool. I personally have utilized it frequently over this tumultuous world context at present, particularly when I notice I am using running to cope with stress or other life issues. There’s no problem with this when it is ‘your why’ on occasion, however, it is important to recognize if there is a trend and address it. 

 

Why do runners like to run?

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My lovely team-mate Olivia and I, out for a run and laugh.

Photo Credit: Pro Image Event Photography 

Interestingly, a lot of my team-mates began running because they weren’t so good at other sports. I can definitely say I am in this boat.orning can often provoke some philosophical thinking (at least for myself!). Sometimes I find it quite meditative, especially on early morning sunrise trail runs. I feel like I am awake before the ‘world’ wakes up in a sense, and very at peace with myself in nature.  

But this isn’t always the story. As soon as I recognized that I tended to place running as a sort of stress coping mechanism tool I asked myself, what is the goal I am trying to achieve by placing running as this form of “tool” in my life? I couldn’t come up with a good answer. I recognized this trend in the early stages of COVID quarantine, back in March and April of this year (2020). I came to the conclusion that running can definitely play this role for me at times in my life, but it is dangerous if it becomes the sole reason for running when races and practices are nowhere to be found. 

Recognizing the trend was my first step in truly understanding my motivation to run, and the role running plays in my life. It actually took COVID, when races are canceled and running is purely self-motivated, to realize these things. It is an important self-discovery as an athlete and has skyrocketed me for further growth. 

It’s important to discern that the role running plays to us personally, and our motivation to run are both interconnected and different. Let me explain.

Definitions: 

Role: The function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.

So, running as it fits in our life – what function does it have for you? Because it makes you happy? You like the challenge and testing your limits? Physically and mentally bettering yourself? A coping mechanism? A stress-relief tool? 

running motivation: why we run 4

Photo Credit: Pro Image Event Photography 

These will obviously change depending on the situation and context, as the definition states. The role running plays to us personally underlying motivators to a goal/goals we are trying to achieve. Like goals, our ‘why we run’ should evolve over time as you evolve as both an athlete and a person.

I asked a teammate on a recent run why she runs, looking for a variety of answers for this post. She said because it makes her happy. Surprisingly, I hadn’t thought of this first thing, but as an athlete who dedicates so many hours to running, it should be the number one reason. At the end of the day, when competitions and formal practices are canceled, we run to have fun and because we love it.  better ourselves as people and athletes and become a stronger team player.

 

Running is my meditation, mind flush, cosmic telephone, mood elevator, and spiritual communion

 – Lorraine Moller, Olympic Bronze Medalist

 

Motivation: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something or the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

This often changes, different to the role of running. Often races are our motivation, but with no racing, that has had to change. My motivations each day change from a desire to explore a new trail, to feel like I have achieved something first thing in the morning, to catch up with teammates, to maintain fitness for when races do roll back around, to get to the lovely brunch + mimosas waiting on the other side of a long run… 

Motivation to run and role running has in our life can be the same at that very moment. For example, if I am highly stressed, and looking for some outside time, to make myself a little tired and get a hit of endorphins, I am running for mental health and stress relief. 

Strength through adversity

 

running motivation: why we run 3

Credit: Pro Image Event Photography (Sports)

When running becomes a coping mechanism to deal with stress, adverse life situations, trauma, and other mental health challenges, it can honestly be a savior. It is great we have a tool like running to help us through these tough times. 

The danger is, what happens if we get injured or sick, and we can’t run for a while?

It’s important to have other things you enjoy and can throw yourself into when you can’t run. Running playing the main role in your life as a coping mechanism is risky, as I mentioned earlier. If you think that you might fall into this boat here and there, or full-time, I challenge you to learn an instrument, find an art form you’re passionate about, learn a skill, like Indian Curry cooking and the purpose of different spices (I learned how to make a variety of curries from scratch over COVID, it was super rewarding and I now have a new life skill). 

Interestingly, at my lowest point this year I had very little energy or motivation to give to running at all. Even if I wanted to, mentally I was drained, which meant physically I had nothing to give. I got myself out of this rut, and I’m much better for it, as a person and athlete. 

Stress is stress to the body, I was always told growing up by the influential sports people in my life. The body can’t tell the difference between stress caused emotionally, to stress accumulated from physical fatigue. I keep this in the back of my mind and provide myself with forgiveness, patience, and love when needed in regards to training if things are on the tougher side. It’s just life! Besides, put things in perspective – for those younger runners out there, missing a session will not impact you in the long term. Distance running is a long term game, reliant on consistency, intuition, self-awareness, and mental + physical health.

Remember the cups analogy (credit to my BSU coach!) from my Smart Running Training post? Here’s a reminder below…..

running motivation: why we run 5

Credit: Pro Image Event Photography (Sports)

 Imagine your life is balanced between different cups, that are each half-filled with water. Considering this analogy, most of us have cups for:

  • Work
  • School/College 
  • Social life
  • Family 
  • Sports/Exercise/Training
  • Recovery/downtime/me-time
  • Hobbies 

 

All these cups need to be balanced with certain amounts of water, not overflowing. This is optimal to reduce stress and anxiety in our life. Before you think, “that’s impossible” – hear me out. 

If 1 cup is overflowing with water, for example – a heavy load at work, something else has to give.  Some of that water needs to go somewhere else to balance the extra work stress out. 

If multiple cups begin to overflow, we start to spread ourselves thin. Don’t panic if this is you, especially at this time in the world at present. We just have to reevaluate priorities and potentially make a few shifts or changes to better suit our needs. 

So, next time you want to push your limits or step outside your comfort zone in training, for example, make sure your cups allow for this. Same for any other endeavor. You’ll recover better, perform better, and develop smart habits for the future. It’s establishing foundations for long-term success in running or whatever it is you want to do. 

 

Running motivation quotes to get you fired up!

I have a few favorite quotes.

 

“Fortune favors the daring”

 – Virgil, The Aeneid

“I always keep in mind that it’s better to be undertrained and healthy rather than incredibly fit but injured” 

– Ashton Eaton, two-time Olympic gold medalist & world record holder

 

“Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.” 

– Shaquille O’Neil (15x all-star, won 4 NBA Championships)

 

Remember, we are all just trying to do our best as people. Running is a reflection of life in this sense – hurdles, barriers, obstacles, tough days, great days, proud moments. Feel through them all, one step at a time.

Being a Student-Athlete in College

student-athlete

Being A Student-Athlete in College

When you think college athlete or student-athlete, the common things that come to mind are becoming part of a college team, NCAA (national collegiate athletic association), high-quality fields of talented individuals, traveling to meets, fast cross country courses, lots of team gear, completing a degree, and moving out of home – potentially even overseas. All these things are a part of the student-athlete experience. I personally chose to come to the US and study at Boise State as a graduate/masters level collegiate athlete. I was offered a sport halfway through my undergraduate degree in Australia, after winning the 2017 U20 National Cross Country Championships. It was fair to say that this race changed my life forever. A bold statement, but sitting here at my computer now and reflecting on my first year living in Idaho, this is an extremely fair conclusion. 

It was difficult to make the decision to move my life overseas aged 21 when I felt comfortable in Australia with my coaching set-up and university team there. However, I felt like I needed to take on a new adventure. I wasn’t quite ready to go into the working world full-time (I tried this for half a year before I left), Sydney is expensive to move out of home in, and a collegiate athletic scholarship would provide me with the luxury of being ‘paid’ in a sense to do what I love, be a part of a team and make new friends, move out of home, live in a foreign country and see new places,  and experience the true long-term independence I had been craving. 

What does it mean to be a student-athlete?

student-athlete 12

If you’re a student-athlete, you are expected to balance your academics, training, and college life – and do it well. I have improved my time management skills immensely, learning to prioritize and time-block (scheduling – I personally love to use Google Calendar) so I can travel to meets stress-free and perform at my best, and have the social life that I desire as a graduate student in a new country. This was a must for me. I am the best athlete I can be when I’m happy, which means a balance of social life, study (I study a master’s of music performance in vocal studies), and training. 

I had some idea of what to expect when I moved to America to study at Boise State as I had been in continual contact with the coaches, asking them numerous questions for over 9 months. I wrote a list every time I thought of a question and would cross them off as I asked them. The coaches were always willing to answer, and answer promptly. 

 

What are the benefits of being a college athlete?

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The support system is one of the biggest benefits. I’ll use my school, Boise State, as an example. The program here has been designed to optimize training and student-athlete health, so you can perform at your best and balance your other life commitments. We have multiple training staff that attends our training sessions, a team sports-performance psychologist, sports nutritionist, and some excellent athletic trainers and athletic training facility. We are allowed to visit the athletic training room 6 times a week if we wish and work with the athletic trainers to address niggles and injury concerns, and recover from training sessions/workouts. Often we go straight after practice, as the center is right near the athletics track. The room is decked out with foam rollers, compression boots, thera-guns, cupping, and dry needling kits, an ice bath, compression ice gear, heat packs, and a small rehab weights and equipment area. 

The Training

The training is slightly different from home, which is to be expected with any new coach and program. We keep with the standard recovery run, 2x workouts a week for the most part (including fartleks, tempo runs, track sessions, grass sessions), a mid-week longer run, a sprint session, and a weekend-long run to finish off the week. The main differences for me were the addition of pre-cross country season altitude training up in the hills and ski resort in the warmer months, the team-based focus including groups for workouts, and a very season centered workout approach (Outdoor, indoor track, and cross country). 

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Team Focus

There is no denying that team camaraderie and a team-based focus is crucial to student-athlete life. One cross-country season at Boise State was enough to show me the immense importance of working as a team in what is often regarded as an individual sport, and as a result, I have friends and training partners for life, all around the world. In cross country, it is so important that the team finish as high as possible, so we need the whole team to perform at their very best, to place well in meets. To do this, we must work together in race scenarios to optimize the result at the end. It is also important to mention that I love having people to run with all the time. I can choose whether I go solo on some days, but for the most part, it is nice to know that I always have friends up for a jog. 

collegiate athlete

Finances

Yes, we do get a stipend. The university pays us a certain amount each month to cover living expenses such as groceries, rent, phone bills, potential car payments, and entertainment money. This will differ from university to university. 

Travel

Traveling and team camps are also another perk of being a collegiate athlete. In this past year, I’ve had the opportunity to visit states such as Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana for competition, and explore heaps of Idaho. We also have a team camp once a year, which is a great way to meet new teammates, and have a weekend away in a cool part of Idaho. 

Student-Health Support and Athletic Trainers

I mentioned this earlier in the post, however, it is important to mention it as a massive benefit of being a student-athlete. We have amazing athletic trainers who help us manage niggles and injury, to get us running and healthy again. I also have worked with the sports psychologist and sports nutritionist to optimize my mental toughness and mental skills, and diet to match my energy needs. 

Student-athletes and academics: how do you balance it?

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A good college program will have an Athletic Department Academic Advising facility and resources. At Boise State, we have PRECO, a study area with printers, computers, and group study areas right where the athletic facilities are such as locker rooms, the weight room, and staff offices. For undergraduate students, they are expected to log a certain number of hours studying in the PRECO center – as a graduate student, this is not required, however, I took advantage of this resource to remove myself from the distractions of home. Our team academic advisor is brilliant – she handles inquiries about classes, difficulties with the competition, and class commitment and helped me keep on track with my academics over the past year.

student-athlete 1

The school expects you to get a medium range GPA each semester, to meet the academic eligibility standards so you can compete in collegiate competition. Most student-athletes in the past 2 years have recorded an average of GPA 3.0 or higher. This is definitely achievable. It is truly about time management and making sure you work productively. Some tips I utilize include:

  • Work to your chronotype (early bird or a night owl, maybe you’re a bit of both!) I am an early bird – so I like to start my day with an hour of work, and then train. Or train, then work. 
  • We are more creative when we are tired, as our brains are more easily distracted. That’s why you come up with cool ideas right before you fall asleep. Keep a journal beside your bed to jot down anything you need, so you don’t forget
  • Eat the frog first – do your least favorite piece of work first thing. This way you’ll ease into the day better, and recover better from training by facilitating a less stressful environment in the evening. 
  • Make your to-do list visible. I pin mine up on the wall at the beginning of the day and have a sticky note open on my desktop. 
  • Make sure your workspace is neat and free of distractions. Maybe put the phone in a drawer on silent for a couple of hours?
  • Download f.lux for technology screen lightning that suits the time of day you are working. 

 

Can NCAA Athletes have jobs?

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If you are an American citizen, you can have a job anywhere in the city or on campus, and work the number of hours that suit you and fit in with your training load, academics, and social life. You just have to submit a form to the student-athlete compliance office to let them know you have a job and the details. There are rules set by the NCAA that you must meet to ensure you retain student-athlete eligibility. For example:

 

  • You can’t use your name, image or likeness to make money at current. However, there is debate and talk of change around this rule in the near future
  • You must be paid the going rate for the job you are doing
  • You must be hired under the intention that you are the right fit for the job, and not simply because you are a student-athlete.

 

If you are coming to the US from another country, the rules are slightly different. My F1 student visa allows me to work up to 15 hours at an on-campus job. It is more limiting in options than for a US Citizen, in this sense. The jobs are well-advertised and not too tricky to apply for. We use a platform called ‘Handshake’ and have careers advising center which was helpful for me when looking for an on-campus position last semester.

Any student-athlete can apply for internships if they are approved or organized by the athletics department. I know plenty of athletes that take advantage of this opportunity during the long summer break.

Fun facts about college athletes:

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  • When we travel, especially for track meets, in our free time we can often explore the city we are staying in. For example, when we traveled to Seattle we could explore some of the city in the evening if we wished
  • When recruits come to visit, often we will throw team events and dinners to introduce them to the team, the team culture, and show them around Boise. It’s super fun to be a tourist in your own city for a little bit. I’ve eaten at some nice places and met some lovely potential teammates by being involved in the recruiting process. I personally made an official visit to BSU before deciding to commit to the program. 
  • You can choose whether you live on or off-campus. I live off-campus and like this option, as I can separate school life from personal life more effectively 
  • We do get awesome new shoes often from our team sponsor Nike. We are very lucky to receive this support. It’s like Christmas every time we get a gear drop! 

 

College Student-athlete

  • Yes, we do have a social life. Boise has a great down-town. I love to go dancing when it fits in with competition and training, it has great Italian, Mexican, Japanese (yes, including poke bars), Vietnamese, Thai food, and there’s even Himalayan which I recently discovered. It has a nice bar scene, including cocktail bars, distilleries, and wine tasting cellars. I’m over 21 now, so it is silly to deny that this isn’t a small part of my student life here. I’m an avid post-long-run beer fan. Shout out to Boise Brewing Company.