By Sara Gillett
I am a runner.
Throughout my high school career, I competed in both cross country and track, and I wish I kept track of the number of miles I ran in total, or how many laps of our track that I completed because I promise it had to be some record.
Every time I’d meet someone new or catch up with someone old and they’d ask what consumed most of my time, my answer, always running.
Nine times out of ten they would ask me why I would do that to myself. And every time the answer was:
I have no clue.
That is where the headache began.
It took me a long time to figure out the purpose for my daily pain and struggle. It was simply an uphill battle against myself.
Before high school, I had played many sports. My parents liked for me to always be active, and I enjoyed it. Both the team aspect as well as the physical aspect always made me feel good about myself.
I actually thought that I was going to play soccer once I got to high school because that was the sport I was most involved in at the time. However, I deemed soccer extremely political, along with many other sports, and I just was not interested in trying to climb my way up those totem poles.
My older brother Paul had already been running for two years, so I decided to give it a try.
When I first joined the team, I was so young. I mean, of course, I didn’t think that at the time, but anyone at the age of fourteen is so incredibly ignorant.
Fortunately for me, that ignorance fueled me.
I didn’t know what self-doubt was, let alone how or what to doubt myself on. I made the varsity team easily, and qualifying for regionals was light work too.
The craziest part, over the next four years, I wouldn’t even touch the times that I had set as my personal records my freshman year.
Sophomore year was when things started to go downhill exponentially.
Up until that point, I hadn’t faced a single struggle or obstacle, and I had goals for where I wanted myself to be by my senior year.
It’s funny because I can picture the exact day and race where I first doubted myself.
Cross country season had just started, and in those first races, everyone was trying to be the top seven on the team to place, because that meant you were on the varsity team. I had done it so easily the year before, so I was expecting the same thing.
I don’t remember exactly what in my head caused this, but I do remember crying in the middle of the race as people both from my team and other teams passed me easily.
That started to become every race.
Every race I either cried or threw up.
And every race I got slower.
I was so incredibly confused and upset that this was happening. The most frustrating part was that I didn’t know what was wrong.
In addition to this frustrating me, it also frustrated my parents very much. They wanted me to do my best, but for some reason, I just couldn’t.
At this point, my coaches started to get worried about me. They tried to help but nothing seemed to work. One of my coaches told me that I should get my blood tested to see if I was anemic, or iron deficient, which is common in runners, especially girls.
I don’t know why, but my mom refused to believe this was the case, so I didn’t.
Junior year came, and it was the same story, for both track and cross country.
My parents started to get angry. They didn’t see the point in me still running if I was just getting slower, but I refused to quit for two reasons.
First, the team had become my family, and the thought of not running with them anymore made me so sad.
Second, I was so determined to turn myself around and start doing well again. I just didn’t know-how.
A senior year finally came, and I had the slowest cross country season yet.
At that point, I was running out of motivation.
It was that season though that one of my teammates gave me a realization. There was one boy on the team who that year had become one of the fastest on the team. The crazy part was that in the years before, he wasn’t even on varsity. It’s not like he had a sudden growth spurt or anything.
It took me a little, but I started to realize how positive he always was. He was always encouraging everyone else, and you could always see the determination on his face when he ran.
That was the opposite of me. I always let my pain show through on my face.
I knew then that it was solely a choice that he made.
Whether it was in one day or over a period of time, he had decided that he wanted to be faster, and that’s what he did.
I knew that I had to make that same choice.
I had let new expectations and my self-worth be tied into winning races and setting times. I knew it was time for a change. I needed to get grounded back into that freshman year mindset of just being happy to compete and doing my best. So that’s what I did.
Things started to get better, or at least look like they were going to.
My coach and I finally managed to convince my parents to take me to the doctor, and after some tests, we found out that I was actually very anemic. I started taking iron, but at that point the virus hit, and my last season came to an end.
I was so upset with the world and myself because I felt that I finally had found my courage to make the decision, but my last chance was taken away from me.
One time one of my coaches mentioned to me that running is ninety percent mental and ten percent physical.
Originally I did not understand this. Running was the most physical thing that I had ever done.
I had never participated in a singular activity that could make me cry, throw up, and collapse all at once.
You would think that after the four years of doubt and pain that running had caused me, I would want to be done for good. I honestly thought so too.
But the marathon continues.
It’s funny though, now that I am in college and not running anymore, I find myself missing it.
I miss the strict schedule that I had to follow every day.
I miss having a team that has literally seen me at my worst, yet they show endless support.
I miss traveling to different places and running against new people.
I miss the feeling of excitement when watching a teammate you know have been working so hard finally reach the time they were going for.
And I especially miss the feeling of pushing my body to do something difficult.
I miss the process.
It’s that sense of challenging myself that I never thought I’d miss, but I miss the most.
My only advice is this.
Do not become the expectations and results of the world around you. If you constantly feed into the idea of setting new times and moving up the ranks you will fail to recognize that those who are truly successful in their fields are those who focus everything on the process.
I let the pain I was feeling create disdain for the sport I loved instead of channeling it and getting to the bottom of it right away.
And let me tell you.
Pain in anything is going to make you wish you were anywhere but in that spot.
Simply stay present in all that you do, especially what you are passionate about.
Just like the boy I was telling you about or the Sara from freshman year…
People are not going to remember him or me for our accolades. They are going to remember the attitude of getting after it every day with no fear.
But just as easily as you could be remembered for this superman mentality, you can always be remembered as a negative nancy sulking in your own shortcomings.
The choice is yours.
Enjoy the process.
It is all you ever look back on and remember.
And just an FYI, all those people you’re trying to set records for or prove something to, they’re only going to remember your mentality too.