Contributor: The Nerd
About 15 years ago I had a surge of motivation in early November and signed up for a mid-April marathon. I wasn’t anywhere near marathon shape when I signed up, but I figured that I’d be in amazing shape in five months. I wasn’t.
My training was limited by the time demands of a young family, my winter was filled with accounting deadlines and overtime hours, and subzero temps kept me indoors on too many days. The day before the race, I drove six hours to Oklahoma City with just a 16-mile long run in my running log and a supreme lack of confidence. Later that afternoon, I struggled to finish a three-mile jog. I looked at the race-time forecast at dinner and found even more bad news: 80-degree temps and 70% humidity.
That night, as I struggled to fall asleep in an unfamiliar bed, I watched the documentary, “Running the Sahara”, on my phone. It’s the kind of movie that only running nerds would love, and the title gives away the plot; three ultramarathoners decide to run over 4000 miles across the Sahara. I won’t ruin the ending, but one of the men deals with tremendous self-doubt. He manages it by repeating the mantra, “I have no room in my heart for fear or doubt.”
The line was just a snippet in the documentary but it was just what I needed for my marathon. The forecast was spot on and my fitness was as poor as expected. However, by repeating that mantra hundreds of times during the race, I finished in good form. Three weeks later, I ran a much better marathon with a 26-mile Oklahoma training run under my belt.
The majority of Nebraska high school runners will end their season this week. It may end at a JV meet or it may end at Districts. By my count, 853 boys and girls competed at the 2020 State XC meet, and the NSAA reports that 4,797 boys and girls competed in XC in 2020. That means that just 18% of athletes qualified for State.
Did the other 82% do it for nothing? Absolutely not. In fact, many parents would argue that the act of completing an entire season – or having the courage to even join the cross country team – was a life-changing event for their child. Newfound confidence, new friends, better health and hopefully a string of personal records. More importantly, most of these athletes have run farther and faster than they ever imagined. Are they losers? Absolutely not. Every one of them is a winner.
It’s Districts week, and many of the teams and runners on the bubble for State are filled with anxiety. While a few nerves can be healthy, anxiety can be debilitating and detrimental to performance.
I have a few observations and some advice.
1. How fast you run this week or next will not change the arc of your life or running career. A great race doesn’t guarantee success, nor does a bad race doesn’t predict future failures. I have a son who, for three consecutive years, ran his worst race of the season at State. He kept working at it, and eventually he found success.
2. I’ll post my semi-annual end-of-season article in two weeks but here’s the gist: you’re a better human because you ran cross country this season. Your probably have a healthier lifestyle, hang out with people who support that lifestyle, and it’s likely your grades have improved.
3. You are not defined by your race times, your place or whether you qualified for State. I never came close to qualifying for State, and yet my high school career was wonderful. Running may be one of your greatest joys, but it is a small part of your life. Let it give you happiness, but do not let it drag you down.
4. When you run, even if you run poorly, you are a light to your loved ones. We love that you run. We love that we get to cheer for you. We’ll mourn when you’re finally done competing. Let us be a part of your greatness.
Finally, set aside your nerves. Use my mantra – there is no room in my heart for fear or doubt – or use your own. For example, Samantha Rodewald of McCook shared with me last year that her mantra is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Running is joy expressed through motion. Be joyful. Leave no room in your heart for fear or doubt.
Originally written for and posted in October 2021 at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle.
Like this coverage of Nebraska high school distance running? There's more of this at www.preprunningnerd.com. Check out the Blog tab for our frequent stories, the Articles tab for long-form articles, the Results tab for every Nebraska high school race we could find this year, and the Rankings tab for team and individual rankings. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow us on Twitter @PrepRunningNerd or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd. Finally, if you thinking runners are the best thing on earth, you'll enjoy our article, "The Runner with the Broken Heart," from 2018. Since we wrote it, Noah Lambrecht has been a guest at the State of the Union address, won a national award for perseverance in sports, and been featured in Runners' World.