The Learning Games

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“When I start my run, I inhale deeply as i begin to immerse myself in the experience. The feel of my foot striking the surface on which I am running is rhythmic and carries me along, but I am not explicitly aware of this cadence for the whole of my run. Once I have completed a mile or so, I find myself almost unaware of the fact that I am still running. My senses heighten as I take in my surroundings and toil with some of the musings in my mind.” – Sarah Dickerson ‘12Sarah Dickerson ‘12

In It for the Long Run

Track and cross-country runner Sarah Dickerson says her favorite runs are when she can log 12 or more miles. “The longer I am out running, the better I feel,” Dickerson says. “It’s almost like I am able to peel away my stress with each mile.”

But this happens during a run, not a race. “Race days are all about routine,” Dickerson says. She eats the same food on a predetermined schedule—a bagel with peanut butter about five to six hours before a race and a Clif mojo bar about an hour and a half beforehand. She listens to her prerace playlist, which includes music by artists such as Third Eye Blind, Placebo, Blink-182, State Radio and Jimmy Eat World. Before warming up, she plays one of her songs on repeat, whichever one catches her fancy on a particular day. If she’s feeling nervous before a race, she’ll eat five to seven animal crackers to calm her stomach. But, she says, “I only eat the kitties because they are my favorite.”

Warm-up begins with a 12–15 minute run, followed by stretches and strides from the start line. “Strides are kind of like semi-sprints,” explains Dickerson. “The point is to simulate the start of the race a few times so that your muscles are ready for that burst of motion.”

After warm-ups, head coach Marty Owens gives the team last-minute instructions for the races. Then the team forms a circle, their hands resting atop one another as they chant: “S-U, S-U-S, Q-U, Q-U-E, H-A-N-N-A, Susquehanna U, hey!”

Dickerson, a senior English and philosophy major from York Haven, Pa., began competitive running during her freshman year of high school. She played soccer for many years before that, but decided it was time to change sports since her favorite part of soccer was running laps around the field. And although her father’s experience as a marathon racer guided her in those early years, it was the release she felt while running that solidified her commitment. “For me, the best part of running is having the time to immerse myself in my own thoughts while simultaneously gaining a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Running is the only activity I know that can generate this sensation.”

And it is this feeling that has transformed Dickerson’s definition of running. “Fitting running into the parameters of a sport is difficult because it’s really a way of life more than a sport for me,” she says.

With the miles she logs for practice, for meets and for sheer enjoyment, injury has been a persistent companion. Multiple stress fractures have kept her from running for months at a time. Most recently, she spent part of the spring season healing from a tibial stress reaction. But, Dickerson says, “The risk of injury is not something that would ever influence me to give up running.”

Neither are her race standings, although she loves to compete. “There is just so much more to running than crossing the finish line first,” she says. “If I have a great race, I’m certainly happy about it. But even in that case, it means more to me to see my coach pleased with my performance, because while running is an individual sport, in this team setting, we owe so much to our coach’s training plans and personal guidance. Finishing well makes him proud, and that’s how I say ‘thank you.’”

And while team competition was not imperative to Dickerson’s college search, she has been pleased with the benefits DIII athletics have offered her. With its focus on the student-athlete, Dickerson has learned invaluable time-management skills that allow her to balance her academic and athletic careers, and in so doing, reserve time each day for something she enjoys.

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