High school cross country and track athletes run themselves into the ground because all they see is the end to their career in four years. Beyond that, most of them will never race again. I did the same. I ran until I could not physically run anymore but my perspective was even more stunted. I would look season to season. So I had three months to get into great shape and attempt to become one of the fastest runners on my team.
I would either lose motivation or get injured and sometimes both. At least when I became injured I was not able or allowed to run. And after maybe a week my interest and excitement would return with full vigor for the sport that I dreaded shortly before. I raced my best my sophomore year. I ran all my personal records of high school my sophomore year. I became accustomed to those speeds, times, and placings. I enjoyed the thrill and racing as one of the top.
Of course I got injured though. First it was iliotibial band tendonitis. My junior year the same injury plagued me on the opposite leg. And my senior year I topped it off with a completely torn ligament in my ankle and a stress fracture. Post injury I would come back with a burning desire to run my hardest and race those splits I could once reach. I didn’t want to accept the injury as an excuse to take it easy. So I ran even harder than I did before and the result was still the same. With the training load I took on, I was bound to get injured every time.
Between years I raced triathlon and cycling under my coach Michael’s leadership, coaching, and rules. I have yet to get injured over his guidance. He knows what he’s doing and better yet, my eye is on a long term goal rather than seeing the end of my career approaching way to quickly.
Fact is, I was never one of those high school prodigies. I showed up and ran 25 minutes for my first 5k. And yes, breaking one hour in a 10k was once a goal of mine. Beyond that I was never the guy that could train hard every day and expect results. I tried but I failed. I have always needed to train, back off, train, and back off again.
I suffer from a torn ankle ligament that I did not have enough patience to let heal. I still have regrets about running myself into the ground through high school. When I see most of my old teammates, they are busy running themselves into the ground in the other direction. Meanwhile I am a freshman in college, in the best shape of my life, have not had a drop of alcohol in my body since, well I forget, and I am running, cycling and swimming faster every year. And my goal is long term. And of course the goal of health and relationships is there, but I swear I can make it big. I sure want to and it seems my body is complying with this challenge.
This morning I ran a 10:59 2-mile. It was the first time I had run that race at that speed since my sophomore year. Yet now I am not lying to myself and I am not hiding inevitable injury. Now I am recovered and on a steady path to improvement. Fact is, high school distance running destroyed me for years. It broke my body, it shook tears out of me, and it turned all of burning desire to hatred of a sport that I claimed I loved.
My senior year, having been plagued with a stress fracture and a sprained ankle simultaneously, I did not return to the sport with burning desire. I remember walking into my much respected coach’s office and handing my jersey to him a folded paper grocery bag. I prayed he wouldn’t be in his office so I could just drop it off and walk away quietly from a four year career. But I had to walk in with my head held high and tell him how I could not do it anymore. Before, I wore those colors with pride and enthusiasm. Now, I turned in as a sad, confused cripple.
That season they didn’t have enough uniforms to give to all the athletes. So the next day, another runner wore my singlet and shorts. Just like that, I was replaced. A spot opened up for another excited kid.
I pray that kid doesn’t have to go through what I did. I pray for the guys who I once ran beside and I especially pray for the guys who are still there. I pray for the high school guys on my triathlon team to keep patient and avoid injury. And I pray that no one is ever as impatient as I was.
No one but me is at fault for these sufferings and I do believe those injuries happened to help me grow. And I do think that the rush to get fast in four years is shared by most high school runners. But now, that troubled past is gone, my heart is bigger than ever and my peak lies a long way from now.