High school running is concurrently a beautiful and black memory for me. It is beautiful in that it's when I fell in love with running. It's when I first realized running meant something to me that it didn't mean to most of the other kids. I was often the only one showing up for 5 a.m. winter practices, putting in two runs a day year-round, and aiming to keep running farther and farther distances. While my teammates were joking around and finding ways to shortcut the runs, I was enjoying every step and wishing they were longer and included more trails. I knew I felt differently about running, but I wasn't sure yet what that meant.
I am also very disappointed in my high school self. I wussed out. A lot. I'd put in all the work and had enough natural ability to make a much bigger splash on the cross-country scene than I did but... I chickened out nearly every time. I piled pressure on myself before each race until I fell under the weight and settled for an average time and place. I laughed off my missed PRs (personal records), not wanting to show how angry about it I really was. Ultimately, I was afraid to reach my potential.
I don't have that problem anymore. At least, not when it comes to my running.
That 15-year-old freshman wouldn't even recognize her 30-year-old self. I am a college graduate; I got married; I have two kids; I am self-employed, living my dream of being a writer; and I am still a runner. Perhaps only that last one is something I actually foresaw happening.
Still, I am nothing like the runner I once was. I don't have a coach telling me what to run and how to improve. I have to figure that out for myself, and I have a great time mapping out new routes and reading and researching new gear to try out on my long runs. I have no idea what my weekly mileage is, as I haven't recorded a single mile in years. I don't know what my average pace is, because I don't wear a watch anymore. I only race a couple times a year, and when I do, I get excited -- downright stoked, actually -- not nervous. I don't feel pressure to perform any one way, as I am simply exhilarated for the experience.
Most noticeably, my form is different. I think it must be how I carry myself; I've grown my personal drive and combined it with self-confidence -- a rock solid combo. It's made me a stronger, faster, and more adventurous runner.
If I could somehow give my freshman self a good talking to, there are just three points I'd want to make:
Celebrate. Take pride in your accomplishment of making varsity. Find comfort in your right to be there and perform well; you trained hard all year and want it so bad you can taste it. The only thing getting in your way each race is yourself -- your fear that if you go all out and run the race you know you can, then you'll be expected to keep performing at that level. Why would that be so bad? Why does that scare you so much?
Get over it. Get over your fear of racing; get over your self-imposed stress from pressure to succeed; get over wanting the seniors to "like" and accept you; and get over your fear of really going for it and being as good as you know you can be. I know these things feel like a big deal now, but in the grand scheme of things they will be mere memories folded into years of other memories doing other things -- life. Running is about so much more than high school races.
Remember to look in all directions. Although you should primarily be looking forward toward the end of your run or race and toward your future goals, remember to take a few moments to look to your sides and enjoy the view. Running takes you some of the most beautiful places you'll ever be, physically, mentally, and metaphorically. In your one precious life, there are few other things that can offer you this in a healthy way -- remember to notice and appreciate it. It's okay to look back too. It doesn't mean you're living in the past, it means you're learning from it.