To students in the Goddard School of Business & Economics and runners in the 2019 Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run: A message to start strong and finish well

August 29, 2019

by Matt Mouritsen, interim dean and professor of accounting

To students in the Goddard School of Business & Economics and runners in the 2019 Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run: A message to start strong and finish well

As students return to our university this week with anticipation of the challenges before them, there is excitement on their faces and nervousness in their voices.  Some of the students will be attending their first college classes while many others are getting one step closer to graduation.  Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts, nearly 50% of in-coming freshmen will not return next year. When I was a freshman, I too did not return to WSU after my first year in college. However, after living in Chile for a few years, I returned with a new perspective and new work ethic. My aim in this blog post is to offer some simple yet tried-and-true advice to students as they face the challenges before them. To do so, I’ll frame this counsel using the perspective I’ve gained as a trail runner and long-time participant in the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run.

Next week, over 300 runners will stand at the starting line of the 40th running of the Wasatch 100. There will be excitement on their faces and nervousness in their voices. Many of the runners will be attempting that distance or that race for the first time, hoping to finish within the allotted 36 hours. Many others will be running it with the goal of improving on a past performance or trying to complete it in hopes of one day earning the coveted 10-time finisher ring. 

Wasatch 100 runners, like Goddard School students, will face many challenges: Fatigue, sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, stress, and the uncertainty of whether or not they will cross the finish line (graduation). They will also experience the highs of summiting a peak after a long climb (doing well on exams), gliding downhill (learning how to learn), and the satisfaction of running further than ever before (reaching a new high in GPA or credit hours toward graduation). As stated on the Wasatch100.com website, “Wasatch is not just distance and speed; it is adversity, adaptation, and perseverance.” From my experience, this is absolutely true! My own experience as a student and a professor has helped me know it is also true of the college experience. Modified slightly, the above statement could read “College is not just about courses and GPA; it is adversity, adaptation, and perseverance.”

ADVERSITY ON THE TRAIL, ADVERSITY IN COLLEGE

Running an ultramarathon and working toward a college degree are difficult challenges. Both place the participants outside their comfort zones. Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultra-runners of all time and author wrote: “You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.” The 25,000+ feet of climbing in the Wasatch 100 and the never-ending list of classes and course requirements in college will certainly place runners and students in a state of discomfort. Scott Jurek also stated that “not all pain is significant.” When facing the adversity of a race or the difficulty of college, runners and students must ask themselves how significant the pain is that they are willing to endure. Speaking from experience, runners will “hit the wall” or encounter an injury that requires that they withdraw from the race earning them the dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish). In college, there are varying degrees of pain – the pain of formative and summative feedback, the pain of multiple deadlines, the pain of student loans, and the pain of balancing work, school, and personal life. There’s also pain that is truly significant. Physical, mental, and emotional distress may require professional care, in which case course requirements will necessarily be relegated to a much lower priority. Just as in ultramarathons, colleges thankfully have personnel on campus to assist with the significant pain that exceeds the typical discomfort experienced by most college students.

Advice on Adversity: Push through the discomfort. Learn from it. Accept it and even thrive alongside it. It’s preparing you for steeper climbs and more challenging days ahead. But when discomfort becomes significantly too painful and you feel immobilized by it, seek help. Talk to your professors or advisers or a counselor. Do not remain silent. In ultramarathon, it’s not uncommon for runners to be accompanied by a trusted pacer. This too can help college students fight through adversity – stay close to those whom you trust.

 

ADAPTATION IN TRAIL RUNNING, ADAPTATION IN COLLEGE

As in ultra-running, college life requires constant adaptation to changing situations. Each semester, new courses will require new approaches to learning. On the Wasatch 100, steep climbs and long sections of the course between aid stations might require the runner to slow down or consume extra nutrition. There are times that the best adaptations occur prior to the race or prior to enrolling in another semester of courses. For example, I had run a section of the Wasatch 100 course four times, each time during the annual race. Unfortunately, each time I reached this particular section of the trail it was at night. Trail running from Millcreek Canyon to Brighton Lodge past Desolation Lake in the darkness is difficult and somewhat dangerous. Finally, one summer day, along with some good friends, I ran the same section of the course. It was beautiful. The views from along the top of the ridges at about 10,000 feet elevation were spectacular. About a month later, as part of the Wasatch 100 race, I ran past Desolation Lake again at night. This time I could picture it in my mind as I had seen it in the daylight. I relaxed as I traveled the climbs, knowing much better where I was on the mountain. I could recall the views from the ridges and red dirt above Desolation Lake. I may not have been much faster, but I was more at ease and confident in my abilities to get through that section at night.

In college, gaining a new perspective of the content you are about to learn can make the difference between drawing deep connections with concepts and simply passing a class. For many business students, particularly at Weber State, that new perspective can be gained through internships and career-related work experience. Seeing new course material through the lens of relevant work experience can provide students with new ways of relating to the content being taught. This is quite typical, and even expected, for Weber State MBA students who have returned to school after many years to learn (or relearn) the principles and practices of business. Their years of work experience give them a new perspective that helps them see course content in a new light, which improves learning, retention, and application in their workplaces.

Advice on making adaptations: Gain a new perspective by linking what you are being taught to what is familiar to you. If you are working, link course content to people, processes, and experiences at your place of employment. If you have hobbies, relate class topics to the details of your hobbies. Obviously, I can relate trail running and ultramarathons to nearly every aspect of what I teach (just ask my students). Also, regardless of your perspective, you must remain focused and fully engaged in the learning process (and in trail running). Many students must put away their phones and disable notifications while studying so that they don’t interrupt their focus. In trail running, don’t even think about looking at your phone while plowing down a steep trail. 

PERSEVERANCE IN AN ULTRAMARATHON, PERSEVERANCE IN COLLEGE

If half of first year college students don’t return to school the next year, it’s only slightly better for starters of the Wasatch 100. Each year about two thirds of those who start will finish the race. There are many reasons for each and too many to address now. However, the impact of one’s attitude toward patience and endurance, as applied to running and learning, is powerful. 

Scott Jurek learned early in his life that “sometimes you just do things!” Rather than complaining or whining, or wondering how to get out of it, we simply need to “just do things!” In the time it takes to complain or whine or wonder why homework is assigned (or a hill must be climbed), that task may have been completed. Do it, do it now, and move on.  See what’s next. Similarly, and shared by Jurek in his book Eat and Run, Robert Frost said that “The best way out is always through.”

Jurek, who won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven consecutive times, wrote the following: “Run for 20 minutes and you’ll feel better. Run another 20 and you might tire. Add on 3 hours and you’ll hurt, but keep going and you’ll see—and hear and smell and taste—the world with a vividness that will make your former life pale.” Yes, sometimes we “just do things” that need to be done but committing to them for the duration required to complete them well might actually be transformative. Speaking of transformative, the Goddard School’s vision statement states that “Through the educational experiences we create, our students will be able to transform themselves into leaders who grow their communities and positively impact the world.” There is so much more that awaits students, if they will persevere!   At the Wasatch 100, there are times when all a runner can do is hope to get to the next aid station, which might be 5-10 miles away. Surprisingly, the runner, upon reaching the aid station, may find that they’ve found new energy and a new attitude and rather than dropping out, they continue on, and on. So it is with homework and classes and semesters. Students can learn much about the material, and about themselves, by pushing themselves through 20 minutes at a time, or two hours, or two days, or two weeks at a time.

For those who finish an ultramarathon, the prize is usually a belt buckle. Why? That’s another story. For those who graduate from college, the prize is a diploma. However, for runners who are finishers and students who become graduates, those simple tokens of completion represent so much more. In Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the modern version of William James’ 1906 statement is attributed to Scott Jurek: “Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.” That’s what a belt buckle and a diploma represent: the acquisition of strength we never thought we had in ourselves. With that new-found strength, what we choose to run, or learn, or achieve next is even more within our reach.

Advice on Perseverance at the Wasatch 100 and at Weber State University: Stay the course. Accomplish the small tasks or the small climbs. Spend 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes. Take the next step. Involve your friends and family as your crew and your pacers in the race and in your studies. Think of the belt buckle or the diploma that awaits, but don’t forget to enjoy the experience along the way. “We focus on something external to motivate us, but we need to remember that it’s the process of reaching for that prize—not the prize itself—that can bring us peace and joy (Jurek).” 

Good luck students (and good luck runners at the 2019 Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run)!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew L. Mouritsen is the interim dean of the Goddard School of Business & Economics as well as professor in the School of Accounting & Taxation. He served as the director of the Master of Business Administration Program from 2008 - 2019. He teaches financial and managerial accounting courses and courses in the MBA Program in the field of information technology management and project management.

Prior to his appointment in higher education, he was a technology manager overseeing asset management, disaster recovery and information security functions at a regional bank.

Mouritsen received his Bachelor of Arts in accounting at WSU and an MBA and PhD in business information systems and education at Utah State University. His research is directed at practitioners and includes publications and presentations in technology asset management, pedagogy, ethics and stakeholder trust.

Matt is a ten-time finisher of the Wasatch 100.

BACK TO BLOG