“What’s your mile time?” is the first question most people ask upon discovering that I run. I typically say something jokingly like, “pretty slow,” and try to brush off the question when in reality I know the exact time.
All throughout high school, I ran cross country and track and was defined by numbers—by the place I finished a race and by my times down to the hundredth of a second. I despised stepping up to the starting line, I dreaded the sound of the gun, and I hated disappearing into a sea of runners. I was forced to compare myself to others and turn a passion of mine into a competition against other girls with the same passion. Then, during my last season of cross country my senior year, I realized I had such a twisted mindset that stemmed from the competitive nature of the sport. I prioritized beating others over personal satisfaction.
Why do I even run? This question often creeped into my mind during practices and races. I had forgotten that I simply loved the feeling of running outside and exploring , of watching a whirl of color pass by, of hearing my breaths paired with my steps. The numerous benefits of running had faded into the back of my mind as well. Increased health and physical fitness, runner’s high, more energy—those had all become an afterthought.
Now I am a freshman in college and I am no longer a competitive athlete. Now I run for myself, and myself only.