A Day-In-The-Life: Ben Whittemore, SCAC Runner of the Week

A run through of a typical day in the life of cross country student athlete Ben Whittemore as he balances success in both school and sport

The life of a college athlete is incredibly grueling. There’s no question that trying to juggle training, competition, academics and a social life is a tall task. One sport which flies under the radar perhaps more than any other is cross country. I sat down with Ben Whittemore, a junior who competes as one of the top runners for the men’s team at Trinity, to learn what life is like as a college long-distance runner.

Whittemore and I share a couple of classes, including an 8:30. Typically, I’m up an hour before class. Whittemore’s day starts at 5:50 a.m., however, as he prepares for a 6:30 run with his teammates. Due to the nature of college courses, this is the team’s only opportunity to work out as a unit.

Although the cross country season has just officially begun with the University of the Incarnate Word Twilight Opener (UIW Twilight Opener) this past weekend, Whittemore has been prepping since the start of the summer.

“The beginning of the summer it’s lower mileage and you’re trying to build up. I was around like 40 miles a week or so, going 30 to 40, and then maybe in mid July we got up to 75 to 80,” he told me.

That is where his mileage remains right now as well. He and his teammates complete mostly longer, aerobic workouts for the time being, but according to him, this will shift as the season progresses.

“As we progress through the season and get to the races, you cut back the mileage a little bit … it’ll go down, we’ll taper to like the 50s. Then our workouts, we’ll go from the longer stuff like long progressive runs and tempo runs we’ll add in more like, 1k [1000 meter] intervals or 400 [meter] repeats. Stuff like that to get the legs moving faster,” Whittemore said.

But for now, while he remains at the 75 to 80 mile threshold, he completes a warmup, workout and cooldown that equates to about 10 miles. All comes before he steps into an academic building for the first class of his day.

According to Whittemorethe team has the rest of the morning off for classes, but once the early afternoon rolls around it’s time for the second workout of the day. This time, the runners complete a strength session in the William H. Bell Athletic Center. The team has a scheduled slot in the state-of-the-art weight room that is used primarily by varsity teams, but because some athletes are still attending classes, they are responsible for finding another time to complete this workout.

Things don’t stop there, either. A third and final workout caps the day for Whittemore and the other runners. They finish with a second run, a shakeout.

“It’s like an easy run, you go really slow. It’s like a recovery run, I guess.” Whittemore explained that the length of the shakeout varied depending on the number of miles you were logging each week, but typically was three to four miles in duration.

He also explained that, due to the fact that the majority of the team is finished with classes by the time individuals begin shakeout runs, they want to and try to run them as a team. But there is no precedent. Some choose to wait out the heat and complete their run closer to 8 or 9 p.m.

When I asked Whittemore what he prefers, he said, “I don’t really mind the heat. I guess ‘cause I live in Austin so it’s always hot. It’s nice doing it at night, but Mabee closes … then you can’t really get a good dinner.”

And as a college athlete, a distance runner specifically, Whittemore can’t afford to miss a good dinner. Burning through calories, it’s incredibly important for Whittemore to refuel with good breakfasts, lunches and dinners over the course of the day and even that is supplemented with snacks.

I asked him what a typical day of eating would look like and he gave a two-part answer, highlighting the fact that his diet is harder to control when he returns to campus.

“In the summer I can control it a little bit more. Breakfast is like bagels, eggs, lunches like spaghetti or peanut butter toast, a lot of fruit as well. And then dinners I like rice and beans, fajita tacos, stuff like that. But then in the school year it’s kind of just like a potluck with Mabee, so you just hope for the best,” Whittemore said.

For Whittemore, this is just something that he’s been forced to get used to, as are many other aspects of his life, like being a morning person or having to manage a college workload. Already a junior at Trinity, Whittemore has two full years of experience in training and managing his academics simultaneously. He says the hardest part now is simply getting to class on time.

It all seems overwhelming to me: three daily workouts that feature logging almost 15 miles, a full class schedule and trying to find the time to eat, study and stretch to prepare to do it again the next day.

Whittemore seems to have things figured out, though, as he has earned Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Academic Honor Roll distinction twice as a cross country runner (and twice more as a member of the track and field team). In order to qualify, “a student-athlete must maintain a minimum grade-point average of 3.25 for the term and be a regular member of a varsity athletic team in a sport sponsored by the conference,” per SCAC rules.

It’s also important to note that Whittemore has been much more than a regular member of the cross country team. Last spring in the SCAC Cross Country Championships, Whittemore finished second in a field of 56 runners and crossed the finish line just a half-second back of the conference champion.

Just one meet into the season, Whittemore has been honored as the SCAC Runner of the Week after beating his 6k personal best by nearly a minute and a half in a field of almost entirely National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I runners. Whittemore attributes his success at the UIW Twilight Opener, at least in part, to his teammates.

“I was happy with the race. I feel like as a team we worked really well together. One of my teammates was right next to me the whole race, so that was really nice. It helps a lot more than anything, just to have someone next to you, running next to you,” Whittemore said.

That teammate was first-year Will Salony, part of a recruiting class that Whittemore praised his coaches for bringing in as he steered the conversation away from his own achievements.

“Our three coaches brought in a lot of freshmen who are really fast. They’re gonna be the future of this team. One of their main jobs is to bring in new talent and I think they did a really, really exemplary job of that this year, and setting us up for the future,” Whittemore said.

But for now, it’s hard to deny that Ben Whittemore is the present. He will be part of a Trinity team that will compete for a SCAC championship this year. And he will do so not just as a cross country runner, but also as an outstanding student in the classroom who impressively balances multiple responsibilities, day in and day out, as a student athlete.