How Running Saved My High School Experience

When I think about my high school cross country career, I often think about how much I have grown, not in terms of speed and strength but in terms of mentality. There was never a moment when I felt so powerful as when I ran for a personal record at a duel meet for cross country my senior year. Don’t get me wrong, every time I finished a race I felt invincible, as if nothing and no one could tear me down. But at this specific race, I came across the line at 25:13, the best time I had ever run a 5k. I was completely ecstatic with my time because it was a validation of all the hard work I had put in during the season, the summer, and the previous three seasons. It is by no means a “varsity” time; my fellow varsity teammates were running 5ks in 20 minutes, a feat that I felt no need nor motivation to strive for. I was running to feel victorious, not to be victorious. And if I have learned anything about running, it’s that running is the best sport for confidence; you don’t need to be excellent at running to reap the benefits of the sport.

And I needed, and still need, are the benefits of running. In the age of social media, cyberbullying, and the constant and even soul-crushing need to be perfect all the time, I don’t think I would have made it through high school if I did not run as much as I did. Furthermore, my town was known throughout Connecticut as being an uber-rich white bubble; there was an additional pressure to conform to standards that were set by the uber-rich white students at my high school. From social media to clothes to academics, the pressure to be perfect all the time was burdening. My classmates were all incredibly smart, incredibly well-dressed, and had ~aesthetically pleasing~ Instagram feeds that racked up hundreds of likes. Me on the other hand? I was a loud, outspoken tomboy who didn’t give a damn what anyone thought throughout the majority of high school. I was proud and confident in myself, and I credit that confidence to running.

Prior to high school and my cross-country-loving self, I was far more insecure and reserved. I was constantly comparing myself to others, and I analyzed the littlest of my flaws in the bathrooms of HJMS. I wore way too much makeup and always straightened my hair because I thought my natural hair was messy, unruly, and too imperfect for the perfect halls of my middle school. I surrounded myself with questionable people, people that brought me down and used me as a punching bag. The worst part of these toxic friendships was that I didn’t even realize they were toxic, but running saved me yet again. Through the meditative and thought-provoking state I found as I began training before my first cross country season, I was able to explore and evaluate my life on a deeper level. As a result, I almost immediately realized the toxicity my friendships and ended them, the first real transformative and positive effect running had on my life. And from there, it was only going up.