When Patrick Musgrave (COL ’16) arrived on campus last month, the first thing he noticed about Georgetown wasn’t the preppy clothing or his dancing Orientation Adviser. It was the runners.
“From what I’ve seen, there’s a huge [running] culture,” he said. “Even when you walk down the hallway in the dorm leaving for a run, someone will want to go with you.”
Whether they’re just out for a morning jog or on mile 15 of a training run for their next marathon, runners can be found almost anywhere on campus. Students who compete in the classroom take that streak with them to the trails, tracks and paths that surround Georgetown. They challenge each other — and themselves — to run faster, farther and more often.
Georgetown’s pervasive running culture has an impact on nearly everyone who sets foot on campus, even those who have never considered the sport before.
For Faher Elfayez (COL ’16), a native of Jordan, seeing hundreds of her peers lace up their shoes every day for a quick jog is something new. In her home country, hardly anyone runs outdoors.
“I feel running in general, for both females and males, is not a common thing [in Jordan] … especially in the street. For females especially, it’s not at all normal to run, because it’s just not culturally accepted,” she said.
Seeing the enthusiasm of her fellow students has motivated Elfayez to take up the hobby.
“It’s awesome. I want to start running,” she said.
The many Georgetown students who run have chosen this sport for a variety of reasons. Some do it to relax, others to make friends. While some savor the thrills of competition, many hit the pavement in hopes of losing weight.
NEED FOR SPEED
The Georgetown University Running Club is at the heart of this campus running culture.
Because Georgetown boasts highly ranked Division I track teams, talented high school athletes who can’t or choose not to compete at that level often gravitate toward GURC. Composed of about 60 dues-paying members, the club trains for the sake of collegiate competition and sheer love of the sport.
Tim Dougherty (COL ’13), the current president of the club, joined his freshman year after running competitively in high school. On top of organizing new-member activities and races throughout the fall, Dougherty is training for the Philadelphia marathon in November.
“In high school, running was really intense. … Now that I’m in college and running for just myself, I take it less seriously and really use it as a way to chill out,” Dougherty said.
Evan Cunningham (COL ’14), who also ran for his high school track team, said he enjoys the camaraderie of running with GURC.
“In high school — and here, too — it’s a very social thing … I get to meet a lot of new people and build friendships,” he said. “Runners in general are very outgoing and friendly people, I couldn’t tell you why.”
The club meets six days a week for group runs; Mondays and Thursdays are track sessions, while Sundays are reserved for longer runs.
Though the regimen might seem intense, Dougherty said that the club runs are as much a social event as they are a workout.
“We really don’t want to scare people off. It’s more about creating a sense of social community … to relax and enjoy one another’s company,” he said. “With track workouts, especially, you’re running in a circle, so even if you fall behind, you can still cheer on others.”
GURC’s meets provide an even greater opportunity for club members to cheer on their friends.
The team is set to compete at four events this semester, including the National Intercollegiate Running Association championship in Hershey, Pa.
For Clare Murphy (SFS ’15), a GURC co-captain, these meets are a major motivator.
“The worst feeling in the world is standing on the starting line, waiting for [the race] to start, but the best is when the gun goes off,” she said.
She ran a personal record last fall at the NIRCA championships, finishing a 6-kilometer race in just under 23 minutes. She placed 14th out of 300 competitors, helping the Georgetown team to finish fifth overall.
Murphy said she thrives on this team aspect of running. Though racers are competing against each other, there are times when the concept of team is a greater motivating factor than personal glory
“When you’re running with your teammates, it’s the first five runners across the line who count for your team points,” she said. “Having your teammates to race against helps you push up the hills, and you can do pack running, which creates a group mentality that helps drive you along.”
GO YOUR OWN WAY
Though GURC maintains an active presence on campus, many students enjoy the benefits of the group mentality without joining the team.
Kate Schmitz (COL ’13), who chose not to run with GURC because of scheduling conflicts, instead recruits friends to keep her company on her runs.
“It’s a great time to catch up with people, and that’s one thing people try to build into their schedules,” Schmitz said. “When you have someone to talk to, it’s so much easier to run. … You get caught up with talking and being with a friend, so you can go 45 minutes to an hour.”
Tony Lin (COL ’14) agreed, adding that his running partners are a source of inspiration.
“I find that when running with friends, we push each other to run harder and faster. It’s the companionship,” he said.
Other times, a solitary morning jog can provide more solace than even the closest of friends.
“It’s really nice to get off campus, out of the academic setting, where I don’t have to think about schoolwork or my job. It’s a time I reflect on God’s blessings in my life,” Schmitz said. “Sometimes [those blessings are] in the beautiful day that it is or in my health in that I am able to run. A lot of times, that reflection turns into a time of prayer, whether it’s for other people, myself, gratitude or seeking help or discernment.”
Though she frequently runs with GURC, Murphy also sees the benefits of running solo.
“[Running is] something you can take with you and do anywhere. You don’t have to have a team or equipment. You can just take running shoes and go,” she said.
“PRESSURE TO BE ATHLETIC”
Others, however, find fault in the pervasiveness of the Georgetown running culture and feel that losing weight rather than enjoying the sport is the main motivation behind some students’ decision to lace up their sneakers every day.
“In my experience, a lot of people at Georgetown do run, and I guess it comes down to the reason why,” Lin said. “In my opinion, a lot of times it’s just to lose weight. … There’s a definite culture at Georgetown in which a lot of people here, myself included, believe that in order to succeed, you need to look good, and fitness and running tend to be a part of that.”
Stefanie Palencia (COL ’15), a regular on the treadmills at Yates Field House, agrees that students prioritize both working out and weight management.
“There’s definitely a pressure to be skinny. It’s reflected by how people dress. The gym is always full. People work it into their schedules to either feel good or be fit,” she said. “Even if it’s not deliberate, there’s pressure to be athletic.”
It’s not just female students who feel that they have to run to look good. Cunningham said he sees this pressure all around him. He runs not only because he enjoys it, but because it helps him feel better about his body.
“To fit in, a lot of students feel like they have to be in shape, because so many people are in shape,” he said. “One thing that has always struck me about Georgetown’s student body is that so many people are in shape and are physically active.”
According to Matt Chung (COL ’14), vice president of GURC and co-captain of the men’s team, the competition and self-motivation involved in running fit neatly with the driven nature of Georgetown students.
“This is a whole group of really talented, really smart, really competitive personalities kind of all jockeying for control, and I don’t think that competition takes away [from life here],” he said. “I think it deepens discussion, and it’s like racing against the person.”
Cunningham believes that students are strong time managers and apply it to their workouts.
“Georgetown students … are very conscientious about taking care of themselves, and so from that, they have the discipline to fit in a regular workout routine, to run on a regular basis,” he said. “That could be … fueling the fitness level on campus, the general diligent quality that Georgetown students in general have.”
But at the end of the day, Cunningham said it is his dedication to the sport that keeps him running.
“I personally run not just to stay in shape, but because it’s what I love,” he said.