Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Second Helping

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One of many line-ups of award recipients at last week's region championships...

When I was in high school I ran. A lot. I say this not to brag, but to offer some context. Running was a big deal to me, and running fast was even more important. I needed to be fast enough to win championships, fast enough to win scholarships, fast enough to prove that I was worth something.

You can see why this was a problem.

My high school running career was all but smooth. It started in an unexpected whirlwind when I placed second at the state cross country championships my freshman year of high school, and ended with disappointment when my senior year was capped off with my fourth runner-up finish, officially giving me the "always a bridesmaid" status among the high school running elites.

I still went off and ran in college, but even as I raced at national championships on a very competitive team, winning came to mean less and less. By the time I graduated, I was content to hang up (or box up) my running spikes for a three month hiatus from running, and almost a year break from racing. I was mentally exhausted from eight years of training and racing and carrying heavy expectations--which were mostly my own.

This fall has found me back in the running scene, running alongside teenagers as they train for races and yelling along the sidelines as they test their limits. I have been asked by many if it feels odd to be back--back at the same races, training on the same trails, following the same schedule (exhaustion). The answer: sort of.

Yes, it feels odd to walk into coaches' meetings when some of the coaches knew me as a high school athlete. Yes, it is odd to jog the courses where I lost state championships in the final stretches. At the same time, the time I invest and the emotions I carry with me to practices and races are very different than back in high school. There's no pressure on me when I show up to races. There are no expectations haunting me when I cross the finish line after someone that I think I should have beat. There is no nausea the night before every race and nightmares the preceding week.

A couple weeks ago I ran the community race after all the high school races were over. The athletes I coach lined the course and chanted sayings to me that I often yell at them while they race. They were loving the role reversal, every minute of it. After I finished (in a time "only" a minute slower than a high school comparison) a parent that used to watch me race in high school commented to me that it's the first time she's ever seen me race "without a piano on my back". I was out there, physically challenging myself, but just having a good time doing it.

And I guess that's why when people ask me if I "wish I was back" in the high school racing scene, I really am not tempted at all. Carrying that piano around got pretty old. I'm not quite sure when and where I dumped it, but I'd be just fine with never seeing it again.

This weekend will mark the first state championship races I will attend since I lost my senior year. And while I have fond memories of the experience of being on a high school team, I am perfectly content to watch and cheer and yell and take pictures from the sidelines.

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