It’s no secret I haven’t blogged in awhile. A year and a half ago, I launched this website for my Multimedia Journalism class, hoping to consistently post running-related content for years to come. Yet in the past few months, my future as a competitive runner has become increasingly ambiguous. As a result, the drafts section of my WordPress account included the failed beginnings of several insincere posts. I couldn’t write about something I didn’t even understand myself.
As I’m now coming out of a long, painful phase of my running career, I still don’t know what the future holds. But for the first time, I have peace.
Back in November, I grappled with a lack of closure to my junior cross country season. Though I devoted my whole life to running, running never gave me the results I thought I deserved. I finished the season frustrated, confused and hungry for a comeback.
It was painful, too, for my coaches to watch my race-day melodrama: puking before races, running out of energy during races and crying after races. Heading into indoor track season, they thought a change of pace might help. So, I traded the 3k and 5k for shorter races, like the 800m and mile.
I was genuinely excited to try something new when a nasty, mid-season virus broke my body down. Even after a two-week break from competition, I was racing slower than I had been during my freshman year of high school. Again, I was running on fumes and pitying myself for something I couldn’t control.
Filled with bitterness, I began to hate running, and I distanced myself from teammates who were performing well on the track. Coming to practice was a chore; I lost all motivation. After indoor track ended, my coach asked me what my goals were for the upcoming outdoor season.
Honestly, I had no idea.
Staring back at an exhausted, teary-eyed athlete, my coach realized that I desperately needed a break from racing. He told me that outdoor track was “off the table,” and he’d continue to check in with me, assessing whether or not competitive running was best for my long-term health. Moving forward, my only goal would be to find enjoyment in running again.
I was completely on board.
After taking nearly an entire month off — of all physical activity, not just running — I slowly reintroduced my body to short, easy runs. For the first time in my entire running career, I relaxed. No longer did I strive for absurdly high goals, setting myself up for deep future distress. Instead, I just ran — for fun!
Taking a break from competition, especially this late into one’s running career, can be controversial. Typically, coaches who encourage their athletes to take breaks fall under two schools of thought:
First, a break from competition can set an athlete up for future success. Coaches who adopt this philosophy often see breaks as a means to an end. In every corner of the internet, one can find inspirational stories of athletes who, after taking breaks, built up fitness and returned to their sport as a stronger, faster competitor. Often, this success comes because, rather than pushing through a mental rut and burning out, the athlete has opted to take a step back, rediscover a passion for the sport and persevere with a healthier mindset.
Unfortunately, success doesn’t always follow breaks. We like to read stories with happy endings, but the reality is that many athletes who take breaks will never bounce back. Of course, this doesn’t mean that breaks are bad. Coaches (like mine) who fall under the second school of thought encourage athletes to take breaks for the sake of their overall health. Though athletes (including myself) often develop tunnel vision, the truth is that life includes far more than athletics. Developing an obsession with one’s sport — an obsession that, when starved of results, turns into anger and self-loathing — can jeopardize an athlete’s overall health. Obsessions breed stress, and escalated stress can compromise long-term physical and spiritual well-being.
This philosophy scared me; it required accepting that I might never PR again, that I might never race on the national team. It involved sacrificing my childhood dreams for something bigger than myself. It meant letting go of what the world says and turning to a countercultural God, who I had brushed aside in my obsessive pursuit of earthly treasures.
Yet, there is unexplainable freedom in abandoning these earthly obsessions. Though I love running, I cannot define myself as a runner. Running — or school, work, etc. — cannot measure one’s worth; only God can do that. And, the amazing thing is that we already know what He thinks of us! God loves us, pursuing us even though we continue to sin. He chases those who are lost and delights when we turn back to Him. He fills us up with the Spirit and never abandons us in suffering.
Running is great, but running will never do THAT.
The future still looks ambiguous. Only after continued prayer will my coaches and I decide what role I’ll play on the team in the fall. If I compete, I will race with no expectations, striving only to run with full joy and full effort. After that, it’s all in God’s hands. If I don’t compete, I will still serve the Lord by being an encouraging, loving teammate on the sidelines.
Regardless of my running status, nothing can take Christ away from me. The apostle Paul says it best in Romans 8:38-39:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”