At Tufts, students can gain credits on a pass/fail basis for running a half-marathon — or at least seriously training for one. The physical education department offers a section of Physical Fitness specifically designed to train students over a semester to run the 13.1-mile race. For some, this might be harder than taking a traditional academic course.
“It’s not like you have to sign up for a half-marathon, but I think [the class] is a training plan leading up to it,” Mark Waterman, who teaches the section this semester, said. “So, by the end of the semester, at least, you’d be prepared if you want to sign up.”
Waterman is an assistant coach for the Tufts men’s soccer team. Before Tufts, Waterman was captain of the Denison University soccer team as a midfielder.
“I got into running once I was done playing soccer in college, and it’s something I really enjoy,” Waterman said. “I’m going to run the Boston Marathon [this year]. … I think that’s also helped with running the class, because I’ve been training for a marathon too.”
Gaby Ackermann Logan is a senior studying environmental engineering enrolled in the half-marathon training course this spring.
“I ran cross country in high school and track, and I kind of wanted to get back into running,” Ackermann Logan said. “I was honestly mad at myself for not running a half-marathon when I was already up to the mileage.”
Though the primary focus of the class is training for a half-marathon, Waterman also aims to foster a sustained passion for running.
“If they get into running, even if they don’t run a half-marathon, I’d consider that more of a success,” Waterman said. “If they’re like, ‘Okay, now three times a week, I’m going for a 4-mile run,’ rather than just like, ‘Alright, I ran that half-marathon, I’m never doing it again,’ they’d probably get more out of that.”
Despite its lofty ultimate goal, the class begins with a more manageable mileage, starting with 1 to 2-mile runs for the first few weeks and slowly building from there.
“I think it’d be pretty overwhelming or pretty stressful if it’s like, ‘Okay, welcome to class, first day of class we’re going to go run 10 miles.’ I don’t think that would go over well for everyone,” Waterman added.
The training program aims to prevent injury by pairing running with other forms of exercise, especially as the mileage increases.
“You have two days off, and then you up your mileage on Saturdays and Sundays, and then once a week, you do cross-training,” Ackermann Logan explained. “So it can be like cycling or walking or weight lifting or swimming, whatever you want, which I really liked.”
Although Physical Fitness is a beginner-level class, Waterman also caters to advanced runners. In fact, one of the students is simultaneously training for a full marathon.
“[One student is] using this class as supplemental training of sorts, or a way to get credit for training for the marathon, even though this is preparing her for a half-marathon. So, she has to [adjust] the workouts accordingly,” Waterman said.
It can be difficult to find time to run the actual race with the flurry of events that often comes towards the end of the semester. According to Ackermann Logan, many students in the class had been very keen on running a half-marathon in Providence at the end of April. However, plans have changed now that the date coincides with Spring Fling. Some students intend on running a half-marathon together after finals.
In addition to the health benefits stemming from exercise, students in this class have also developed connections with each other.
“We’ve gotten into the habit of telling stories or updating each other,” Ackermann Logan said.
One challenge students face while training is the cold weather. Students have the option to run on an indoor track or a treadmill, but Ackermann Logan prefers to run outside no matter the weather.
“I’m used to running in the cold, so I still ran in the cold [this semester],” Ackermann Logan said. “It’s only when it was really icy, that little bit in February, that I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I won’t risk falling,’ then I ran inside.”
Given the trajectory of the seasons, the spring semester training schedule aligns well with the warming of temperatures.
“The tricky part is in the middle of the winter: It can be pretty miserable running outside, [but] they’re shorter [runs],” Waterman said. “Getting into the year when now you’re doing like, an 8-mile run, or a 10-mile run, it’s all of a sudden nicer.”
Alec Driver is a sophomore and member of the Tufts Running Club. He agreed that the weather doesn’t present too much of a problem for outdoor training, even if he is used to warmer weather in his native California. An indoor alternative he suggested is the indoor track at the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center on the Medford/Somerville campus.
“You do eventually warm up,” Driver said. “If it ever gets too bad … the indoor track is sometimes available. If you go up there and there’s no ‘track is closed’ sign, just go for it.”
Unlike other courses in the physical education department, this half-marathon training class does not currently have a high representation of student-athletes.
“My boss, Kyle Dezotell, the head men’s soccer coach, he coaches golf, and that [has] — from the sounds of it — a lot of Tufts student-athletes,” Waterman said. “The majority of the [half-marathon] class are just regular non-student athletes.”
Students who aren’t involved in varsity athletics may feel intimidated by Tufts PE classes when the majority of the class is very experienced, despite the best efforts of PE trainers to cater to all ability levels.
“In the weight training class, it was very athlete-heavy, and I walked into the varsity gym for the first time, with all of them throwing, like, 25-, 50-pound plates, and I’m standing there like, ‘I do not belong,’” Ackermann Logan said.
However, Ackermann Logan was encouraged by the welcoming environment created in the half-marathon class.
“[Coach Waterman] really has made it a beginner’s class and more chill,” Ackermann Logan said. “[It’s for] people who aren’t athletes but who really like running, or want to get into running, or are just there to have a good time. There [are] a few athletes in it [too].”
Unfortunately, the half-marathon training class is highly coveted, so securing a spot in the class requires an excellent registration slot.
“I would say 75–80% are seniors, and then the rest are juniors. … Four of them are in my major, and we’re all engineers,” Ackermann Logan said. “Since we [had] the [earlier class registration] time slot, we got it.”
Since it can be challenging to enroll in the class, interested students can also look to the Tufts Running Club as another avenue to find a tight-knit group of runners.
“It’s, I think, a really great community and everyone there is incredibly nice — some of the nicest people I’ve met at Tufts, which I feel like is overall a pretty welcoming school anyways,” Driver said.
The Running Club can be an alternative source of structure to encourage physical fitness.
“You not only get to hang out with a ton of new people, but you get to exercise, [and] finding the willpower to exercise, I know, can be hard sometimes, but doing it with a group of people makes it so much easier,” Driver said.
At the end of the day, if a Tufts student wants to try running, they have a wide variety of options to choose from.
“Whether or not you join through the running club, through [the] Tufts Marathon Team or a PE class, you end up in the running community no matter which way you enter,” Driver said. “Tufts has plenty of options.”