May of 2018 marked the last month I would ever run competitively. My final race wasn’t particularly victorious or exciting. In fact, during the entire 2-mile run, all I could think was “I’m almost done forever.” Not in a dramatic way, but in a “thank-god-this-is-almost-over” way.
My times had improved since seventh grade, but only marginally. Through years of effort I had managed to maintain a mediocre spot on the team. I made varsity, but I was always the alternate—the one who didn’t compete in the big races unless someone got hurt. My running career was decent and not much other than that.
As I rounded the last curve on the track, there was no sense of finality or accomplishment like in the movies. I didn’t miraculously drop four minutes from my personal best time, win first place, or become a state champion.
Instead, I stumbled over the finish line at a strikingly average time. The small crowd in the stands clapped half-heartedly. I shrugged at my younger teammates who asked me how it felt to be finished forever, and went to find my water bottle.
Now, eight months later, I no longer consider myself an athlete. This is weird for me. After being an authentic Student-AthleteTM all throughout middle school and high school, it’s strange for the year-round training and competing to suddenly cease. It’s no longer a part of who I am, even though sometimes I still feel like it is.
I don’t run anymore. After running almost every day for six years, never skipping a practice, I just stopped. Cold turkey. My decision not to join a collegiate team was based entirely on the fact that I felt burnt out. The passion just wasn’t there anymore; I promise it’s not as sad as it sounds.
Competitiveness has been all but erased from my vocabulary. Cross country and track have gifted me countless good memories that I’ll cherish forever, but also gave me a great deal of pain and heartbreak through a fair amount of failures. When I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to continue competing, it didn’t require much debate. I had learned a lot from running, but I was ready to move on.
My transition into “non-athleticism,” as I affectionately call it, has been a journey. I hadn’t thought much of it at first, but now, eight months in, I’m noticing a difference in my life. Like all things, this new lifestyle is a mix of better and worse.
My first concern upon no longer being an athlete was that I wasn’t exercising as often as I used to. Going from seven days a week of strict running workouts and weight-lifting routines, it’s jarring to have to decide my workouts for myself. Not to mention having to motivate myself to even go to the gym. The scary thing is that it’s so easy to do nothing.
Regardless, no longer participating in organized sports means that I have the ability to design my own workouts and partake in exercises that I actually enjoy. I don’t have to suffer through sprint workouts on the track—instead, I can practice yoga, or attend dance classes, or do whatever the heck I want. The freedom to choose is a beautiful thing.
Still, another consequence I’ve had to deal with is no longer having teammates. My favorite part of cross country and track was the community. There was always a shared sense of understanding and unity because we all went through the same torturous workouts and anxiety-inducing competitions. We all knew what it was like to love running more than anything and dedicate ourselves to it in countless ways. My new, non-runner friends can’t exactly relate, and there’s sometimes the underlying feeling that they don’t understand me or where I’m coming from. This is just about as melodramatic as it sounds.
The flipside of not being a part of a sports team is that my friend group is full of people with diverse interests, who in turn introduced me to new interests as well. I have an extra three hours each day not filled by training that I can spend at clubs and activities I was never able to be a part of before. As a result, I’m discovering hobbies I’ve never had before: writing, photography, hiking, and even learning to play the guitar (or at least thinking about learning to play the guitar).
All of these activities have suddenly become accessible by dropping the sport that took up so much of my time.
The most difficult part of deciding not to compete in college was that I lost the sense of identity that made it easy to answer the dreadful request, “Tell me more about yourself.” The feeling of not knowing who I really was snuck up on me in the months following the end of my final track season. I didn’t want to define myself in the past tense (“I used to run long-distance for fun,” with ensuing gasps of horror), but I also didn’t know who I truly was.
Nowadays, I’m a mix of a million different things. One label simply doesn’t cut it. College student, psychology major, amateurish writer, science-fiction reader, occasional photographer, wannabe guitar player, clumsy dancer, casual yogi, unpracticed cellist, outdoors enthusiast—and more. Runner isn’t on the list right now and I’m okay with that. Giving up running allowed room for me to explore a whole new world of hobbies, and like I said, I was ready to move on.
Indeed, there are many other, less severe changes I’ve noticed over the past eight months. For example: my sleep is more restless since I’m not as exhausted, which means I have dreams every night. Crazy. Also, I don’t have to chug liters of water each day to prepare for difficult workouts, so I spend less time going to the bathroom and filling up my water bottle. I don’t need to shampoo my hair every day, either, which means it looks better than ever.
Ultimately, my personal favorite consequence of becoming unathletic is this: owning a bunch of leftover team gear, race shirts, and other running-related clothes. When I wear them, people squint at me and say, “Wait, you’re a runner?”
To which I gaze at them mysteriously and respond, “Nah.”