I was ready to quit. I hadn't run more than 20 times in three months. I hated running. I felt sick, slow, sluggish and discouraged. I only went on runs because I knew I had to. I finally got in my car and headed to see my coach to tell him I was quitting. But something stopped me and I never made it. I suffered through a week of cross-country camp hating every second. I couldn't finish an easy 20 minute recovery run. There was something seriously wrong with my body. I felt like I'd been hit by a semi-truck and my muscles had turned to jello. Running had never ever been so hard.
In Wyoming, the first race of the season, I finished almost dead last in a 2.5 mile race that felt at least ten miles long. I had resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't quit, though I still wanted to more than ever. Every time I ate I felt sick. Every time I ran I felt even sicker.
After a month of this, I finally went to the doctor and discovered I was intolerant to pretty much everything I eat. After cutting out gluten, eggs and dairy I suddenly started to blossom again. I was starting to keep up with my teammates. I finally finished my workouts. And suddenly I wasn't only finishing, I was toward the front of the group. It was a glorious two weeks that gave me an inkling that gave me a glimmer of hope in my dark abyss.
Then came the real test. My first race in over a month. My first race since my complete failure in Wyoming. I wasn't nervous. My months of failure and battle against myself had taught me that when I enjoy running just for the sake of running, that its enough. I don't have to do well to love running. That lesson was probably the hardest lesson of my life. But as I warmed up the day before the race, I was enjoying running because it was fun. Fun to be with friends, fun to have a body that was capable of running, and fun to be there. I didn't feel great the day before, my legs were stiff and tired, but I didn't try to lie to myself. I admitted they were tired, and I told myself it wouldn't matter; I could push through it.
Race morning. We warmed up on the course. I was starting to get a little nervous. I didn't know what to expect from my body. Was it going to shut down on me like it had many many times before? Or was it getting better like the past two weeks had shown me? As we toed the starting line, I told myself, "This race is about me. About my body. Listen to what it says. Let your body control your mind. Just let your body do its thing. It doesn't matter what the outcome is, as long as you do your very best"
I got out slow, started in the middle of the pack. But by the half mile I was already catching people. At the mile mark I had moved to the front of the middle pack. My body felt good, but I was nervous to let it take off. I didn't want to die like I had done so many times before in a cross-country race. At a mile and a half I was still feeling good. I powered my way up the biggest hill on the course. I passed people. I wasn't afraid of pain. I wasn't afraid of pushing myself. I wasn't afraid. That was new to me. I was always afraid of cross-country. I was afraid of any distance race. But here I was at two miles passing my teammates who I had never, EVER, beat before. But it wasn't even about passing them. It was about how my body felt. How I was letting myself go. I felt free. My mind wasn't in control, my body was.
With just over half a mile to go I finally started to feel tired. But by this point I had gained so much confidence and was shocked to be doing so well that I forced myself to push through the pain. For a brief moment I gave up and held back. And then I snapped out of it. There was no way I was going to do this well only to give up! My teammate and best friend was just ahead of me. I gave myself the goal to catch her. Up and over the second-to-last hill. This was her strong point. My weak point. Was I going to let it be to her advantage? No way. I powered up that thing, gaining ground on her. She pulled ahead on the downhill. One more small loop. This time she pulled away on the hill, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. I charged down the other side.
I didn't collapse at the finish like almost every other race of my life. I didn't cry. I wasn't disappointed. I had no idea what my time was, no idea what my place was. It didn't matter. It was how I ran the race. That was the key. That was what had been missing in my brain. Running a race isn't about where you finish or who you beat. Running a race is about that, running the race. Its all about how you run it. I just learned how to run a distance race. And it felt amazing.
That race taught me a lot. About myself and about running. It gave me the confidence that had been absent for so long. It taught me that you can push through any pain. I learned how to turn off my brain and let my body do what I'd trained it to do.
I wasn't the only one in shock. My mom was crying she was so happy. My coach told the reporters I had the race of the day. My best friend couldn't believe it. My team was so happy for me. But for once, the biggest satisfaction was how I felt right then in that moment.
And that was how I became a distance runner. A runner who didn't let bad races discourage her. A runner who knew that it was okay to fail a workout because the next one could be better. A runner who ran because it was fun to run. Not because it was fun to win or do well.
And that is when I finally started to succeed.
Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.