What a Time To Be a 1L: Getting Through Mile 20 Of the Marathon

April 28, 2020   |   Brooke Kemp

We wish the best of luck to law students across the state as they finish up the academic year in circumstances less than ideal.

Law school is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

I heard this phrase over and over again during my first few weeks of law school. In theory, the concept seems simple. A marathon is really hard and it takes a long time to complete.

But, as a marathon runner, I have a different perspective of that phrase and how it relates to law school.

I believe there are more similarities between law school and training for a Boston Marathon qualifying race than actually running the race. Running the marathon is not the hardest part; the hardest part is the training that happens months before the race. Most runners would agree that running a marathon in a Boston Marathon qualifying time is a true accomplishment. A runner must qualify with a truly competitive race time to be eligible for an entry.

Membership Chair Brooke Kemp ran the 2018 Boston Marathon in a steady rain.

When I decided I wanted to qualify for Boston, I re-kindled a friendship with a coach and he agreed to train me. I stuck with his training plan religiously. I wanted to achieve this goal so badly, and if he had all the tools to get me there, I was going to comply. My fastest time prior to my qualifying race was 3 hours and 52 minutes. I needed a time of 3:40 or faster to qualify for Boston. In the running world, that’s an extremely significant difference in times. My qualifying race was Tobacco Road in Cary. I finished that race in 3:29. I did better than I could have ever dreamed because I stuck with a plan I knew worked. I also believed in my coach who gave me the tools and the support I needed to run fast enough to qualify.

Think of the training it takes to qualify for the Boston Marathon as law school. Training to qualify (graduate) takes months and sometimes years of preparation. It takes religiously sticking to a plan that has been tailored by a coach (professor). It takes showing up to runs (class), even if that means waking up at 5 a.m. to get there. It means pushing through the hard days and continuously putting in the work. It is extremely hard, but the goal of qualifying (graduating) means more than quitting. It takes making sacrifices because the victory will be so sweet.

Finally, the qualifying race is the bar exam or the final exam.

There is another part of the marathon that I didn’t initially plan to discuss when describing my first year of law school because I didn’t feel like law school adequately compared to the mental challenges that occur during miles 18 to 20 of the marathon. There is a point of hitting “the wall.” There did come a time during the marathon where every ounce of my body told me to stop. No joke. My brain screamed at me to stop because our brains send signals to protect us from danger. At about mile 18, everything that I had eaten that morning and the night before had been absorbed. The water and special drinks I had been consuming during the race, including the sugar gels, weren’t cutting it anymore, and my body was physically breaking down. So naturally, the brain tells the runner to stop. I did not think the mental toughness of law school was as brutal as hitting the wall in a marathon, but…

Finishing the first year of law school during the COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably miles 18 to 20 of the marathon. The hardest, most physically and mentally draining and most delusional part of the race. I saw the signs and knew it was coming, but until I was in the middle of it, I didn’t realize how mentally difficult it would be.

None of us did. I thought about giving up and accepting whatever grade my muddled brain could manage. In a time when the world is in crisis mode and inevitably even when this ends nothing will ever be the same, how can I continue to focus and put in the work necessary to reach the finish line? When every ounce of my body is tired and my mind is mentally drained, how can I push on? When law school has become the distraction instead of the focus, how can I turn it around?

This is how: I put one foot in front of the other. I remember that I am a human. I remember that humans are capable of incredible things and my body can endure more than I can comprehend. I remember the training that I have put in to get me to this point in the race (school). I look straight ahead and put every negative and distracting thought coming from my brain and the world out of my head. I remember why I started this journey. I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I wanted to become a lawyer and effect change in my community. I wanted to help people. I wanted my children to see what is possible and to be proud of me. And I remember that victory is sweeter than defeat because I have felt it before. I remember that there is an end in sight, and it is so close I can almost see it. I press on and finish the race giving it my best shot.

Finally, if law school coincides with a marathon, 2L and 3L years will be the last 10k of the marathon. Difficult, but the end is in sight. The hard work is paying off. Movement is a bit easier. Understanding where I have been to get me to this point is propelling me forward. I will cross the finish line and get my metal. And what’s even more rewarding… I will qualify for Boston! I will graduate, effect change, and help my community.

Brooke Kemp is membership chair for the NCAJ Legal Assistants Division. She is completing her first year at North Carolina Central University School of Law.