Rock Chalk Weekly: The Inner Struggle

Written by Josh Carson, Kansas Communications Student Assistant

Like his path when running distance events for the Kansas track & field team, Josh Munsch’s college career has taken many turns, but those turns weren’t as mapped out as the simple lefts he takes when he is on the oval. He has overcome obstacles that would cause most to hang up the spikes, all for his love of running.
Growing up in Hays, Kansas as a middle school student, Munsch dreamed of making it to college to play football or basketball, but things changed when he began running.
“I started running when I was in seventh grade and realized I was decent at it,” Munsch said. “High school came around and I was still planning on playing football and basketball, but I ended up going out for cross country. I had success in it and decided it would be more realistic to run in college than to play basketball.”
His high school days continued and his running career progressed. Getting offers from a variety of schools, he began making visits to schools throughout the state of Kansas. His first trip brought him to Lawrence.
“This was my first official visit and it kind of set the bar really high,” Munsch recalled. “After the visit I was pretty sure I wanted to come to KU, but I wanted to check out other places too. After the other visits I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Munsch graduated from Hays High School and made his way to Mount Oread, running shoes in one hand and books in the other. Not long after his arrival, his path took another turn, this time in the classroom.
“I came into college wanting to do something in the sciences, but switched to design after my first semester,” Munsch said. “The way the design program works, the classes are only offered in a sequential order, so I couldn’t speed it up.”
The change of major set him back at least one semester, so graduating in four years would be nearly impossible. With design though, Munsch found his calling and knew it is what he wanted to do, but during his sophomore year he was faced with another challenge. His running was getting in the way of his design work and began to wonder if it was time to give up the sport.
“I was getting frustrated because I wasn’t able to put the time in that everyone else in my class was putting in,” Munsch said. “I was doing fine and my projects were okay, but I wanted to do better. I am a competitive person, so I wanted to be the best in the class.”
Munsch remembered one specific night when his track career nearly came to an end.
“I remember lying in bed the night before a meet,” Munsch said. “I was so mad at myself for slacking on my design homework and I wanted to quit because I wanted to do better in school. It kept me up all night, but I ran the next day. I didn’t run spectacular, but after the race I felt great. There is just something about running I love.”
He stuck with it and his struggles paid off. Munsch made it to the NCAA Outdoor Championships his sophomore season in the 1,500-meter run and, though he said his nerves got the best of him and though he didn’t run well at nationals, he earned United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-America Honorable Mention honors following his 22nd place finish in the event.
Munsch continued to get better, in both the classroom and on the track his junior year. He notched a personal-best time of 4:03.18 in the mile at the Big 12 Indoor Championships in February, good enough for a third-place finish. Later in the year he finished the mile with a time of 4:02.09, earning him seventh at the Kansas Relays.
During his senior cross country season, Munsch won his first gold in cross country at the first race of the year, the Rim Rock Classic. He went on to earn All-Big 12 honors and was KU’s top finisher at the Big 12 Championships, when he finished finish 13th in the 8K. He also claimed USTFCCCA All-Midwest Region honors after finishing 19th at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in Ames, Iowa.
With everything looking up in his running career, Munsch had big expectations going into his final round of indoor and outdoor track seasons until, yet again, things led him down an unexpected trail.
“I had a lot of solid training over winter break last year and came in on the first day we were back on campus and did a workout,” Munsch said. “It went really well and I had high hopes after how the workout went. The next day my leg was killing me, so I had it checked out and I ended up having a stress fracture in my tibia.”
The injury forced him to redshirt for the entire indoor and outdoor seasons, which was disappointing because of how well he was feeling with the workouts he completed over the break. The injury, however, freed him up to focus more in the classroom. With the ability to focus on his schoolwork, Munsch again began to wonder if the time had come to end his running career and concentrate entirely on completing his degree.
“It took a lot of thought (about coming back), because my major is super time consuming and being creative doesn’t just happen,” Munsch said. “When you are dealing with being tired all the time or you have to go to practice and drop your ‘creative Zen’, it’s hard to come back from all of that and try to be creative again. That took a toll on me over the course of my first four years.”
It took until May for his injury to fully heal so the question lingered, but once he got back to running, his decision became clear.
“Once I started running again, I realized I was happiest when I was running,” Munsch said. “I thought without it, I would be able to focus on school a little more, but without running, it just didn’t feel right. That was a sign for me to finish it out. I told myself I have worked too hard to quit. Why end it with being injured?”
Munsch said another major factor on coming back was his competitive spirit and ambitions he still had.
“There are some things that I still want to accomplish and I felt like if I didn’t come back it was like would be giving up on those goals,” Munsch said. “I want to run well at the Big 12 Championships, make it back to nationals and hopefully become an All-American.”
Knowing he had to make sacrifices to continue running and be successful in the classroom, Munsch has found ways to put as much focus on both as he can.
“Because of class conflicts, I have had to run by myself quite a bit, so what I have started to do is listen to podcasts about either design or business, just a variety of different things,” Munsch said. “Podcasts are a good way to distract your mind and its taking care of two things at one time.”
While logging over 80 miles a week for training, there is plenty of time for podcasts, but Munsch says he also had to dedicate most of his weekends to doing schoolwork.
He also hopes that with returning for his final season he can help his younger teammates become better runners by teaching them lessons that upperclassmen instilled in him when he was new to the squad.
“My first couple of years we had a great group of upperclassmen who helped us younger guys figure out the whole process,” Munsch said. “High school running and college running are completely different, so being able to have someone guide you is really beneficial.
“Learning how to race well takes experience, so with me having the most experience I try to communicate to the younger guys things to think about how to stick to a strategy and also how to take care of your body outside of meets by rehabbing, getting treatment, eating right and getting good sleep.”
Along with strategy and taking care of your body, two other huge things that Munsch mentioned when talking about being a successful runner were attitude and mindset.
“With the kind of mileage we run, you have to have discipline to improve yourself,” Munsch said. “When you are putting in all of those miles and aren’t enjoying it, it can make you miserable, so being focused and disciplining yourself are big parts of making yourself better.”
After all of the twists and turns in his career, Munsch is finally coming down the home stretch as the track season is underway and he is in his last year of classes. He said it has been a fun experience, but admits he won’t know what to do with all of his free time after his college running career is over.
“I plan on continuing to run for fun after I graduate, but probably not as much as I do now.” Munsch went on to say jokingly, “When I’m done I am hoping I feel like I can take on the world because I won’t be running 80 miles a week.”

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