I love to run. This past autumn I ran on the cross-country team. I was returning from a summer vacation full of out-of-town commitments and dental surgery, so my mileage was to a minimum, much to my coach’s frustration. I was the ninth runner though, and the top seven runners were the ones that really mattered. They ran in the varsity races. Every once in awhile though, there would be someone missing, and I would get to run in a varsity race. The atmosphere before these races had a solemn sense of urgency that sucked my intestines down into my legs and tied my stomach into knots. I ran like a wounded animal. Either way, our varsity team looked great on paper, and the predictions were more than optimistic. We were hoping to place in the top 10 at the state meet. We wanted to win. By the end of the season though, overuse-injuries and stress fractures were rampant, and several runners were absent from the last few races because of disciplinary action. Our performance at the state meet was sub-par.
Running with the junior varsity team was a totally different story. Before every race there was a relaxed nervousness; the gun was never as loud, and the course was always a half-mile shorter, it seemed. The junior-varsity team wanted to run, and we did. I’d come home from junior varsity races feeling great, even if I didn’t place.
Winning isn’t anywhere near as comforting to me as knowing I ran until I was tired. Whenever I win, it’s as if I have acquired something, and like everyone, I have trouble giving up what I believe to be mine. When I lose however, I have nothing to prove; nothing to protect. It feels liberating. I’ve learned that if you do things to be better than someone else, you’ll only end up being disappointed. I do things now because I want to do them to the best of my ability, not because I feel obligated to be faster than my fellow runners.
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