My reasons for running have changed slightly since leaving the collegiate competition scene. I used to run partly out of a conviction that, if I worked hard enough and did everything right, I could avoid failure. I wanted to nab that traveling spot, score at conference, make it to the next meet. Failure meant losing those opportunities, and the fear of losing to failure took away some of the joy of running. Now I run because it’s the one area in life where I feel free to fail – poor performance no longer means disaster.
Although I very much miss the depth of competition, the fun of being on a team, and the support of having a coach, that came along with running for a DI program, I’ve been incredibly grateful recently to no longer have to deal with the pressure of staying fast enough for scholarships, fighting to stay on the traveling team, striving not to let my team down at meets, and trying to impress a coach. It’s been a sanity-saver to have something in my life where it really doesn’t matter if I do well or crash and burn.
I’m still dreaming of getting back into competition, and still want to run fast. However, I’m realizing that it really doesn’t matter. If I run well, awesome. If I run like crap, I’ll be disappointed personally, but there’s no real-life consequences. It’s no longer “run slow at one race, don’t race the rest of the season.” If I screw up my training plan, I can scrap it and start again – I’m no longer at a level where I have to worry about falling behind the competition, or losing my spot on a team.
It’s such a huge contrast to grad school right now where EVERYTHING seems to matter – grades, deadlines, research, networking, figuring out what to do next week/month/year, fighting to stay funded, competing with my peers, trying to impress my advisor. Failure is not an option if I want to continue down the research path – the chances of starting over are extremely limited, and there’s a constant pressure to keep rushing forward at break-neck speed. All I can do is forge ahead, but doing so through the doubts and fears is like slogging through ankle deep mud – you can only do it so long before you get weighed down and need to pause and scrape the clinging, heavy muck off the bottom of your shoes.
So I run. Because once the ground is flying by under my feet and my heart is pounding, it is pointless to think about success or failure. In the middle of workout, long run, or race, the only worthwhile thing to focus on is moving forward.