It can be hard to remember a time when we didn’t run. For most of us, it’s become an important part of who we are, so it feels like it’s always been with us. A lot of people have been doing this literally since elementary school, and I think that’s great. But I feel a little different. I’ve only experienced one real season of track (spring 2021) and this year is my first on the cross-country team. I’ve changed so much since I started, and I think it’s worth thinking about how far running and the team have brought me.
Winters got me thinking about this by pointing out the sweatshirt I was wearing last pasta night. It was one I wore almost every day in his class freshman year, and then sent into retirement. He said it felt like something from an entirely different era, and he’s absolutely right. For you to understand what I’ve changed into, let me first tell you what I changed from. In the present day I have almost nothing in common with the person I was at the start of my freshman year. Honestly, I think I just wasn’t very interesting. For starters, I had a buzz cut and wore glasses. I didn’t participate in any activities, I didn’t play a sport, I didn’t even really hang out with my friends much. After school I would head home and proceed to sit around doing nothing until I fell asleep. I didn’t have any motivation to do anything. It felt like I was just floating through life, and I think there are a lot of people who can relate to that.
Being on track, and then cross-country, changed everything. Spring track 2021 was an incredible season, and it felt like the only thing keeping me anchored was going to practice every day. The last meet of the season, Diamonds are Forever, was when I really started to understand how it changed me. My performance at the race was decent, but I still didn’t really have a strategy down to make my races good. The part of the meet I remember most is what happened right before I went home. I’d been acting all gung-ho about the season ending, but when it actually came time to leave, I was anything but. I had to go home eventually though, and when I went to say goodbye to Winters, he said something that I don’t think I can ever forget: “You can be good at this, I promise.” That was when I realized that that was what I wanted. I want to do well, I want to be an asset to the team, I want to make myself and you all proud, and I don’t care if I need to hurt to get there, because it’s going to be worth it.
It turns out the way we think about running and racing can apply to almost everything in life, even if we don’t realize it. It’s embarrassing to admit, but before this all started, I used to be the kind of person who would just avoid things when they were difficult or frustrating. After all, I didn’t have any real reason to work hard – I barely even knew what that meant. Thankfully, that isn’t me anymore. I’m not afraid to do things that might be hard, because I finally know what it’s like for something to be worth it. Just like in running, sometimes in life we have experiences that are going to hurt like hell. You can’t avoid it. You can’t make it hurt any less. All you can do is embrace it. Knowing that makes all the difference.
I understand that this whole spiel might sound meaningless to someone who feels like they aren’t seeing any results. I think if I handed this speech to myself circa 2019, I would’ve said something similar. I want to promise you that isn’t true. You are getting better. I’m living proof. You just have to keep at it.
Please feel free to talk to me privately if you have any questions or thoughts on what I wrote here. I’m always available.