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MIT student blogger Michael C. '16

Is MIT too hard? by Michael C. '16

warning: metaphors ahead

For most people, sprinting a mile in under 5 minutes is physically impossible.  And yet world-class marathon runners are able to run twenty-six back to back 4:45 miles.  How do they do it?

The answer is that they aren’t sprinting.  Instead, through training they’ve built up an enormous aerobic capacity, which allows them to run at blazing speeds for long, sustained periods. What’s sprinting for us, is a comfortable pace for them.

A proper base of training shifts your perspective of what’s possible.


^ a non-metaphorical sprint, from a past weekend in Big Basin.



I used to think that MIT was unnecessarily hard.  Certainly it feels that way in the middle of a hell week – what’s the point of having midterms, psets, and essays clustered in the same few days, anyway?

And you know what? MIT is unnecessarily hard — at least if you think the purpose of school is to “teach you material.”  Tight, clustered deadlines don’t make you learn material any better.  Turning in a pset 24 hours late doesn’t mean that you have a lesser understanding of the subject.

But now that I’m here working in the Real World™ (sort of), I’ve learned to appreciate the frantic pace of MIT – the sense of urgency for urgency’s sake.  Like the marathoner’s training, it builds up your base endurance, your tolerance for discomfort. It sucks in the moment, but lets you do cool things. And it means that when something is actually urgent, you’re prepared.

After all, when Tim Cook wants something on his desk in three hours, punting is not an option.



Last week, I worked 75 hours — which, well, is not something to be proud of.  As my friend Steph C. ’15 sardonically put it, “Congratulations on being a professional workaholic.”

But what I am proud of, is the fact that I’ve managed to put in these hours while also (1) getting the most sleep I’ve ever gotten, (2) eating the healthiest I’ve ever eaten, and (3) exercising the most I’ve ever exercised.  And the reward? Getting to work on and take some ownership of the coolest projects I’ve ever seen.

Without the rigor of MIT, I don’t think the transition would have been so smooth.

In the end, people who tell you that life is a marathon, not a sprint, are correct.  One way to respond to that statement is to slow down. Another way is to train so well that your marathon pace is someone else’s sprint pace.

Work hard, play hard, and listen to your body. That’s how you pull away from the pack.



Michael C. ’16 is currently taking time off from MIT to work in Apple’s iPhone Product Design team.  He spends most of his time frolicking in the sun while laughing at the snow photos his MIT friends post on Facebook. He also is finding it increasingly awkward to write in third person, though second person is fun too.



For the Course 7s out there looking for a more scientific answer to the marathon metaphor: an untrained athlete’s slow-twitch muscle fibers are not powerful enough to run at high speeds for long periods of time without dipping heavily into precious glycogen supplies and getting assistance from powerful but inefficient fast-twitch fibers.  On the other hand, an elite marathon runner can derive 95% of the required energy to sustain such a pace from slow twitch fibers using an efficient mixture of fat and sugar for fuel, only sipping at glycogen reserves.  For more on training, check out my friend (and elite mountaineer/Patagonia alpine ambassador/overall badass) Steve House’s fantastic book Training for the New Alpinism.