Transition periods are weird and uncomfortable. Logistical nightmares. An anxious person’s own personal hell (@me). But at the same time, they can be exciting and are perfect opportunities for rapid growth and learning. Often, they are catalysts for some of the best experiences and memories we will ever have.
I would say that my transition from collegiate to professional running has ticked all of those boxes and more. For those of you unfamiliar with professional running here is a quick rundown (and don’t worry, I myself did not know pro running was a thing even just 4 years ago):
On a basic level, pro running works just like any other professional sport (with some exceptions on the pay scale). There are groups of teams/individuals who have coaches and often these teams receive financial support from brand names such as Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, Asics, and HOKA (holler!) amongst others. These groups/individuals train all over the country and the world pursuing physical greatness in the world’s most primal sport, and the name of the game is just RUN FAST.
Now that you are all up to speed on what it is exactly that I transitioned to, I will tell you from the very beginning the story of how this transition came about for me…
Once upon a time, circa Spring 2016, a young Grayson had just qualified for her first ever NCAA West Regionals in Outdoor Track for not just one, but 2 events. Even qualifying for this regional meet was a huge accomplishment for me. I ended up finishing about 20th overall in both events that year and considered myself pretty good
at running. Shortly following these races, I started wondering “hm, I wonder just how good I could get at this whole running thing?”. I reckoned that with the right resources, coaches, teammates, and support system I would be able to get pretty great. And how long could I do this? I had only been running for 2 years at this point and I only had 2 years of college eligibility left, but I knew that 2 years remaining was not enough time for me to reach my potential. I wasn’t ready to stop yet, I had just started! So I decided that I must try to run professionally, giving me the time that I wanted to continue on with this new-found passion of mine.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2016 and I am now enrolled at the University of Utah, a new transfer student (attending my 3rd college in 3 years, agh!). The University of Utah had all the resources and support I thought I would need in order to continue striving toward my goal of running pro. What was even better was that I put all my cards on the table from the get-go, and my coaches and teammates very much knew my end goal of running pro. I believe that this openness with my teammates and coaches was integral to helping me realize my dream. With everyone on board we went to work and after 2 incredibly successful years at Utah, I signed my very first professional running contract in July of 2018 with NAZ Elite sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE.
The recruiting process in speaking with professional teams, coaches, and agents is eerily similar to that of the college recruiting process with a few key differences. As a college athlete you have remaining eligibility to maintain and consider, and some extra hoops to jump through (thanks NCAA) in terms of who you can talk to and what exactly you can talk about. Talking about contract details and money specifics is a no-go while you still have eligibility remaining. As you might imagine, this was very difficult and anxiety inducing trying to plan the next chapter of my life with no real numbers or certainties to work with (an engineer’s absolute nightmare). However, talks with coaches and agents about generalities is mostly fine (some exceptions apply). I felt like considering all the professional running teams, coaches, and sponsors was a bit like when applying to different colleges except that I had many more mix & match options.
Ultimately, I ended up choosing NAZ Elite because it was what I thought would be the best fit for me and what I believe I needed to achieve my goals. Being so new to running (we just had our 4 year anniversary this fall <3) I knew that being in a team environment like that of NAZ Elite would foster the growth and guidance that I would want and need. Having amazingly accomplished women role models such as Steph Bruce, Kellyn Taylor, and Aliphine Tuliamuk as my teammates is a dream come true. Also new to the team with me were 3 of my most accomplished peers from college. Can you name a better combination of people?! So, while the team environment is smaller as a pro (only 7 women and 5 men are on NAZ Elite right now) it still has that same college team vibe (with the added bonus that we are all professionals and so the drama is kept to a minimum).
The training as a pro is maybe the biggest difference (at least for me) from college. However, I think this is different for everyone and I know some of my new teammates don’t completely agree with me. The total weekly mileage has gone up, and that was expected but also something I was very much looking forward to. I ran about 45-50 miles/week my first two years of college running and by my last year of college I had reached a weekly maximum mileage of 65 miles/week during cross country. However, in my last track season this spring I averaged only 50-55 miles/week to accommodate the shorter 3k distance of the steeplechase. Since joining NAZ Elite I am proud to say I have run my first week over 70 miles (woohoo!) and am averaging about
The biggest (and weirdest?) difference I’ve noted between college and pro running is that you continue to do all the workouts, weight sessions, and rehab/prehab that you did while in college except that then you don’t have any classes to rush off to. No office hours to attend. And no homework. That’s right you heard me… NO HOMEWORK. This continues to rock my world, and I have admittedly actually missed having homework to do and classes to go to. To curb my appetite for learning and doing, I have taken a part time position with an engineering firm in Flagstaff in the hopes of postponing me losing my mind. But I do like that I can focus on recovery, on eating ALL the fruits and ALL the vegetables, and taking care of myself with the excuse that “it’s work”.65-70 miles/week in this training cycle. Another key difference I’ve noted is long runs have gotten longer. My longest LR in college was 13 miles and I have gotten up to 15 miles with NAZ Elite. Buttttt I’m a LR kinda girl and making my long runs even longer is really the key to my heart. Another great difference to training pro is the cropped top uniforms that we get to wear, still very jazzed about this.
So, there you have it, the major differences that I have thus far uncovered during my transition period from college to pro running. It is safe to say at this point that I absolutely love my job. I feel so grateful for everything and everyone that helped me to get to where I am today. How lucky am I that I get to say that I do what I love every day AND I get paid for it? I hope that this post, while brief as it may be, offers some insight into the college to professional running transition. If you have any specific questions about trying to run professionally, I would be more than happy to offer some of my own personal anecdotes and/or encouragement. But also, I hope that this post can be looked in a broad light and that maybe you can extract some lessons about being open with your goals to those you trust, the importance of patience, and that while it may be weird and uncomfortable, transitions are necessary and integral to creating the life you want.