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Last updated May 31, 2023

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How to Write a College Essay About Running

Key Takeaway

Some college essays about running make admissions officers run in the other direction. To keep your admissions officers' attention in your college essay about running, make sure it says more about you than running.

If you love to run, you may be interested in writing your college essay about running. You’re not the only one.

Think about how many students are on a track or cross country team compared to, say, a basketball or volleyball team. A lot.

Since so many students find track or cross country to be a central part of their high school experiences, there is no shortage of running-related college essays.

Admissions officers read countless stories about make-or-break track meets, season-ending injuries, and thought-filled solo morning runs.

All this isn’t to say that you can’t write a standout college essay about running.

But the ones that are most effective come from students who find a genuine way to convey why they hold running so dearly.

We’ll lay out what specific topics you should avoid and give you a few questions to help you determine whether a college essay about running is the right choice for you.

Topics that college essays about running should avoid

Running for team captain

Students who write essays about running for or being voted captain of their track or cross country teams are likely trying to show leadership and strong community involvement and support.

But the reality is that, unless done very tactfully, an essay about this topic isn’t likely to tell admissions officers any more than they already know from your activities section.

If you won the race, your leadership and excellence will be apparent just from the fact that you earned that position.

And if you lost, then chances are you have another story to tell that is more compelling.

Detailing the ins and outs of how you won or lost the captain position likely won’t add much more valuable information either.

Space in your application is precious. Use it wisely.

So unless you have an incredibly original or telling story about being captain, you’re probably better off using the story for a supplemental essay or choosing another topic altogether.

Overcoming an injury, losing a race, or wrestling with team dynamics

Students tend to choose these topics to discuss a pivotal moment in their lives. Their goal is often to show their admissions officers their work ethic, determination, or resilience.

While challenges like failure or team conflict seem like critical points in your life, the stakes usually aren’t that high or unique in the long run.

Your injury may have been devastating, but you’re hardly the first runner to be injured and unable to compete.

Plenty of other students have had to exhibit the same kind of character traits to overcome similar injuries.

While your college essay isn’t primarily about showing how unique you are, it is about showing your admissions officers something central to your background, values, or motivations.

Some students do have exceptional circumstances that can work with these topics, but essays on these typical kinds of setbacks tend to remain on the surface of who you are.

A college essay simply needs to do more than that.

Questions to ask yourself before writing a college essay about running

Now that the overused topics are out of the way, you may be left wondering whether you should still write your college essay about running.

The following questions should help you determine if this topic is the right choice for you.

They’ll also help you identify areas where running intersects with other important parts of your life, an approach that can be incredibly useful for writing a meaningful essay about running.

How has running shaped your sense of self or daily experience?

Thinking more specifically about the role running plays in your everyday life can sometimes be a helpful place to start.

After all, you run regularly because it serves a bigger purpose.

Since the most cliche essays about running tend to focus on participation in a track or cross country team, identifying how running impacts your life outside of your teams can encourage you to think about the deeper meaning it holds for you.

Example answer 1: My home life was chaotic. My daily run was my escape. With each mile I ran, I found more distance, literally and metaphorically, from the people who were holding me back.

Example answer 2: I have a condition that makes it hard for me to breathe. Running is a constant battle with my body, yet I do it anyway. Why?

How has running been part of your connection to a significant person or place?

Running can be a transformative individual and community sport as it gives you time and space to connect with the world around you.

For those who run with others, there can be intense camaraderie or emotions as you push yourselves side by side. And when you run outside, you’re also inherently connecting to place.

Think about how the relationships and values you hold closest developed from or are manifested through running.

Example answer 1: I’ve gone on nightly runs with my dad since I was ten. We’d talk as we ran. He’d tell me about the stars. I’d tell him what I learned in AP physics. We’d argue about the best way to get to Mars.

Example answer 2: My weekly run would take me through my local park. Over the years, I noticed the changes: increased litter, degrading play structures, fewer ducks. I used my story to advocate to city council for increased funding for park maintenance.

What meaning do you see in the details that make up the experience of running—your schedule, gear, bodily experience, etc.?

If most of your running experience has occurred as part of your school team, or if you still haven’t been able to find any significant connections to make, this final question may spark some new ideas.

Think specifically about the logistics of what it takes for you to run: when you go, where you go, who you go with, what you wear, how you feel, how long it takes, what parts you love and hate most.

By identifying salient details, you also begin to close in on what the actual experience of running looks like for you. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can begin to extrapolate deeper meaning.

Example answer 1: My track team got new uniforms that were supposed to make you faster, but I felt uncomfortable with how much of my body was exposed. I began researching and became fascinated with the differences between men’s and women’s athletic uniforms.

Example answer 2: I have nowhere in my neighborhood to run, so I decided to train for a marathon on a treadmill. Doing so taught me a lot about how to creatively confront obstacles.

The bottom line

Try this exercise. Excluding any tell-tale details, imagine that you hand your coach your essay to read. Now pretend that you ask them to guess which member of your team wrote it.

If your coach could read your essay and attribute your narrative and main takeaway to anybody else on your team, then your essay doesn’t tell admissions officers enough about you.

To write an effective college essay about running, you need to focus on the meaning you make through running rather than the running itself.

Concentrating on the meaning will encourage you to leave behind overused and cliche topics in favor of ones that communicate something that is authentically you.

Use caution when choosing running as your essay topic, and dig deep to find a theme that resonates with a core part of who you are or how you’ve experienced the world. It's all part of creating the perfect cohesive application narrative.

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