By Issy G.
When it was first announced that Indoor Nationals had been cancelled, the first emotion I felt was relief. Of course, other thoughts entered my mind; I was incredibly disappointed to hear that I wouldn’t have the chance to race against some of the best two-milers in the nation, or to see my friends and teammates run, jump, and throw their hardest. But with this cancellation, I realized that I would have to take pride in my fitness without proving it to others, which was a huge change to my training and my mindset as a runner.
I’ve been lucky enough to compete in many exciting, high stakes meets over the course of my high school career. The competition that I’ve raced against and the results that I’ve ran to are some of the best memories of my life. But I don’t think that we hear a lot about the other side of those meets, when things don’t go quite according to plan: the anxiety in the hours, days, even weeks leading up to a race, or the disappointment of a poor performance on a big stage. I’ve struggled with these anxieties and defeats especially in my senior year. Looking back, I realize that I should have been savoring every moment I had to run in a high school race and be with my coaches and teammates.
I felt the pre-race-pressure especially before Footlocker Regionals in New York. I had expressed to my coach the week before that I didn’t even know if I wanted to run in Regionals. I emphasized that I wasn't sure about where my physical health was at, but in reality, I just didn’t know if I could take another race, mentally. I vented about my frustrations with how the end of my season had gone, and how I felt as though I had to get so psyched up for almost every race I competed in that last month. It was exhausting, I told him, to have my mind constantly thinking about my next race and the competition that I would face. I was especially anxious about the competition at Footlocker, and I felt as though I didn’t really belong there because of my last couple of performances at meets. That’s when my coach told me that he knew that I could qualify for Footlocker Nationals; in fact, he expected it of me. I was shocked. I had never really imagined what it would feel like to be among those ten girls who made it to San Diego, not really. I had fantasized during my summer training about crossing the line and qualifying, but I hadn’t ever really believed that I could do it.
My coach’s confidence in my abilities gave me the extra push I needed to make it to the line that day. However, I still didn’t really believe in myself. I felt like a fraud carrying around my Outdoor Nationals bag with its All-American patch. I told myself that my performance at Nationals was months ago, and that I hadn’t proved myself in cross country yet in the way that I needed to. I didn’t let myself feel pride in the fact that I had finally broken 18 minutes in the 5k, or that I’d won in meets against some of the fastest girls in the state. By not appreciating how far I’d come that season and believing my performance that day would define me as a cross country runner, I’d already lost my ticket to San Diego.
I finished the race in 12th. Two spots and ten seconds off qualifying, to be exact. I later learned that the 11th place finisher had been invited when another girl had to drop out. I had been one place away from making it to Nationals, and I was devastated. I couldn’t think about the huge improvements I’d made from last year in cross country without also thinking about how I had given up on myself before the race had begun.
The results of Footlocker Regionals stayed with me longer than I’d care to admit. I was frustrated and embarrassed that I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of cross country during my high school career (which, on reflection, couldn’t be further from the truth). I lost so much confidence after that race, and as a result, I had a pretty terrible start to the indoor season. I didn’t believe in my abilities as a runner. I let poor results snowball. I was tired of running in little circles, and I was a bit tired of running in general.
After what seemed like a particularly disappointing race at the Millrose Games, I sat down with my coach. Tears were shed over lots of things: my latest performance, my lack of confidence in my racing, and my uncertainty about the future. We made changes to my training, but also to how I approached my training mentally. Instead of fixating on how hard a workout was, I began keeping a journal where I would write down what challenged me and how I got through it in the end. It became my “confidence journal” (shoutout Kara Goucher!), and it was almost as important as my sneakers by the end of the winter season.
I was excited for Indoor Nationals. Really! I love the energy of the Armory in New York, and I was in great shape physically as well as mentally. But as I said before, I was relieved to hear that the meet had been cancelled. Although I had made so much progress with my mindset since the beginning of the season, I realized that I still needed time to get back to who I used to be as a runner. I have loved running ever since I stepped on a track at seven years old, and I really do mean that. But over those last couple of months, that statement seemed less and less true. Medals didn’t seem to gleam anymore, and every mile I ran, I wondered why I was still doing this.
I didn’t come here to write about how these cancellations are a ‘blessing in disguise,’ or something like that. They’re not. Of course, I understand why events needed to be cancelled, but that doesn’t make going on another solo run without my team any easier. This situation is frustrating and unfair, and I am beyond disappointed that it had to happen during my senior year, or even happen at all. With that being said, I’ll have the chance to run for almost seven months without racing, if cross country in the fall goes as planned. That means seven months of runs and workouts in my journal that I can look back on and take pride in. I’ll have seven months of Sunday long runs with my sister, who will also be (is also? Time is weird right now) my teammate at Harvard next year. Seven months to run just because I want to.
I am extremely grateful that I have at least a vague idea of what comes next with regards to my running career. I have a coach who is challenging me to use this time to adjust to new training and conditions to prepare me for my next season at college. I also have a pretty awesome sister: she is not only my training partner, but someone who I can lean on when I need advice or support. I’m so thankful that running has been one of the constants in my life right now to keep me (mostly) sane. And I’m not alone! It seems like everyone wants to run during a pandemic. I think it’s telling that the way so many people are getting through this uncertain time is by going out for a run. I can understand that. I’ve gotten through some of my most difficult days in the same way: by lacing up my sneakers and putting one foot in front of the other.
About the Author
My name is Issy Goldstein and I’m a senior at Germantown Academy. I’ll be attending Harvard University next year, where I’ll be running cross country and track. Along with running, I also love writing, and I hope to combine my interests in this blog!
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