Fast 10’s Erika Kelly is coming to the end of an era, as a student athlete. 

Six years on, and I have finally completed my undergraduate BSc in Psychology with Counselling.

That’s 72 months; 313 weeks; 2,190 days; or 52,560 hours. For as long as I have studied, I have race walked – taking both on at a similar time back in 2014. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but has been hugely outweighed by the benefits.

I’ve loved sport since I was very young, and have now been an active member of my local athletics club (Northern AC IOM) since the age of 7, but this came to a halt when I reached 16 and discovered that trying to study for A-levels and the desire to do well, didn’t quite fit in with everything else I was trying to accomplish, including a part-time job in M&S.

I had too much of a perfectionist attitude and struggled to find the right balance… something had to give, and sadly that was sport. However, as I have come to realise, it’s completely possible! 

Distance learning

Studying for a degree at a distance is rife with challenge. Firstly, the self-motivation required to actually sit down, complete the reading, attend the lectures, revise for exams and complete assignment after assignment, is huge.

Secondly, sitting for hours on end, either at work, or to study, can really take its toll, both physically and mentally.

However, I’ve discovered that the discipline required to complete the most mundane of tasks, has been heavily influenced by a similar discipline required of athletes – the kind that requires you to get out of bed each day, come wind, rain or shine, to get all the training sessions completed.

I’ve found myself questioning on a number of occasions over the years: how meticulous would I have been towards studying without the structure and routines that sport have provided me with?

Photo: Steve Partington

Athletics and studying working together

Athletics and studying really have come hand-in-hand with each other. When I’m fed up with the tediousness of typing at my laptop, stressing out over statistical testing, or lacking in enthusiasm to get the next chapter read, one of the most appealing things is pulling on my trainers, and getting out of the door.

Breathing in fresh air, and getting my heart racing – the feel-good endorphins are real. In a roundabout way, having research to complete and assignments to write, can also lend itself as a pleasant distraction, particularly when I’ve just opened up Training Peaks to discover that Track Tuesday is going to leave me coughing my lungs up and fainting in to the long-jump pit.

Moreover, I’ve come to comprehend the importance of pushing yourself that little bit more out of your comfort zone.

Racing the Olympic distance of 20km is hard, and even more challenging when you know there are very high standards to strive for. With each race comes experience – both positive and negative – which fuels learning, and shapes new aims, goals and targets.

Realising your own capabilities

The more I race, the more I’ve come to realise that humans are capable of so much more than they care to realise. If you keep showing up and consistently put in the work, you will reap the rewards.

Learning this has been hugely instrumental towards a lack of self-belief, and has heavily influenced the way in which I’ve approached my studies at degree level. I used to shy away from challenge, and didn’t enjoy the discomfort and anxiety that came with not knowing the ‘right’ answers.

Subsequently, I was inclined to opt for the easy way out – giving up and running away from getting the best out of myself. The reality is, is that you’re not going to win a race by giving up when the going gets tough, and you’re not going to grow and evolve if you don’t give yourself permission to make mistakes. 

If you can organise your time effectively, and benefit from the support of family, friends, tutors and coaches, I firmly believe that balancing your time between studying and aiming high in sport, can be successfully achieved. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives that come with taking on each of these challenges, but a game-changer when you acknowledge the positives.

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