With states wrapped up, the year is coming to a close for high school runners. For the class of 2021, this is not only the culmination of a season but the culmination of an important chapter in our running careers, and the first step into an entirely new level of competition! It certainly has been a bumpy ride. Missing out on an important recruiting season last spring and dealing with the uncertainty of fall racing was a serious challenge. Nevertheless, we made it through, meeting up to do time trials, finding opportunities to compete where we could, and making them ourselves when we could not. Resiliency is an incredibly important trait to have as a distance runner, and the resiliency it took to go through a global pandemic and come out on the other side even better is an important experience that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
After a year of injury and another year recovering, my junior cross country season, which was supposed to be my comeback season, ended in illness and disappointment. I was gearing up for a fast track season to make up for it, but then the season was canceled due to the pandemic. While the pandemic threw a serious wrench in my plans for a breakout junior track season, it also taught me a serious lesson about running, one I think everybody has to learn at some point in time. With spring races out of the picture, fall races uncertain, teammates quarantined, and the entire world shut down, I found out what running truly meant to me. It’s easy to be motivated when there is a race every weekend, and you have your teammates surrounding you in training. For the first few weeks of quarantine both of those were missing. Seeing nobody outside of my immediate family and having all of my plans uprooted was a shock. I was sad, angry, and frustrated. But for some reason I kept working, even harder than I ever had before. I was honestly confused as to why I was so invested in running at that point in time. Why now, with no races on the horizon and no friends or coaches to impress, was I suddenly taking more and more time to train, and being more and more meticulous? I had always thought my motivation came from my desire to win, or the fear of letting my teammates down. While both are still sources of inspiration for me, I found that the true reason I ran was far more personal. Running isn’t just what I do; it’s who I am as a person. The daily routine of waking up, lacing up the shoes, going for my run, stretching, lifting, and writing it all down in my log at the end of the day provides me with a purpose, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I balled up all the feelings of fear, anxiety, frustration, and disappointment generated by the pandemic and left it out on the trails. For years I had been struggling to figure out what running really meant to me, and I found the answer on a silent, empty track, clicking off splits in a world void of hope and motivation.
To me, this sense of purpose is what separates the truly dedicated from the casual runner. We are all going to experience moments of loss that leave us feeling hopeless and down. It’s what we do in these moments that defines us as athletes. Those who are truly dedicated to the sport train not because they have to, or even want to. They train because they simply couldn’t imagine not training. The casual runner misses a goal and his motivation falters. The dedicated runner misses a goal and stays the course, because for him that goal was only a small part of the reason he got on the starting line. We aren’t going to be fast forever. Twenty years down the road, when our bodies begin to falter and our times are not what they used to be, the dedicated runner will still be working to better himself.
This realization that running was a much larger part of me than I had ever imagined has had a profound impact on my future plans. I know now that I want to stay in the running world for as long as I can, and I want to spend my life surrounded by the running community. It’s changed the way I’ve perceived my future career choices, and it’s changed the way I look at myself. If there is one piece of advice I could pass along to next year’s seniors, it would be to find out why you do what you do. When you understand your motivation, you’ll gain a newfound appreciation for the sport, and be able to push yourself further than you could before.
Thanks for reading these journals. I have really appreciated the opportunity to write them, and I hope you were able to find something of value in them. To the rest of the class of 2021, I’m so proud of everything we’ve been able to accomplish, and I could not be more excited to see what happens these next four years!
Editor’s Note – Stephen finished his high school career with a 3200m PR and a 6th place finish at the PIAA class AAA State Championships, running 9:14.82. Thats’ s good for 7th all time in the LL League. Stephen is headed to Bucknell this fall where he will run XC and compete for the Track and Field team. Best wishes!!