Running in Circles
Darya Farah Foroohar
May 13th, 2019
My head shot up as soon as I heard the supposedly soothing tones of my alarm. It was 6 A.M. and my eyes were already wide open, my body covered in a cold sweat. I had tossed and turned almost the entire night, my stomach in pain from the nerves that fluttered incessantly about me. It was time to go. I pulled my clothes on, grabbed a sip of water, and headed onto the subway to face what was making me anxious: my first cross country practice.
I’ve always been someone to overthink things, to get needlessly nervous, partially because I often base my own self-worth on arbitrary external factors. Cross country was no different. Having signed up for the team because I needed a fall sport and I thought I might not be too bad at it, this was my first time seriously running long distance. I worried that I’d be left behind, both socially and literally, and that people would judge me, or worse, pity me. I can still remember the embarrassment I felt when I went on my first run that day– a mere 2.25 miles, but more than I’d ever run before– and watched the figure of the girl I was with get farther and farther away while I was passed by people running longer distances than I. Yet with the internal humiliation came a feeling of pride that I had done something seemingly impossible a few months ago, that I had challenged myself by running 2 miles instead of 1, that I would keep running and hopefully improve.
And I did improve. Every day I went to practice, I could feel myself getting faster, growing stronger, and building up stamina. Every time an upperclassman on the team talked to me, I felt aglow, every time my coach offered words of praise, I surged forward with even more enthusiasm. But it wouldn’t last.
Before every meet my stomach would fill with dread, even worse than when I joined the team. It was a chilling reminder that even though I had grown to love running, I would still hate myself if I wasn’t good at it. I dropped a minute each week, but it was never enough. Once I hit a certain time and had established myself as one of the fastest members of the girls’ team, I lived in fear of falling behind ever again. If I didn’t get a time I wanted, I tortured myself inside my head as I cheered everyone else on, going over everything I should have done. Even though I also PRed (got a personal record) in the subsequent track season, I still felt worthless. Running became less of a privilege and more of a punishment, the voices in my head constantly telling me to stop trying because I’d never be fast enough.
This year, I have yet to reach my times from previous seasons. Both cross country and track have been endless cycles of despair, tears, and slower and slower times –– even though I’m putting in just as much, if not more, effort as last year. Some whom I’ve asked for guidance have told me that my problems are all inside my head, and thinking back to when I started running, I believe they may be right. For a brief moment after that fateful first practice, when I was still stretching my legs and didn’t even know everyone on the team yet, I genuinely enjoyed running. The moments during practice when I had just finished climbing a hill, as I surged to the finish line, and when I felt a wave of endorphins hit me, telling me I could run forever without stopping once– those are the moments that made running worth it. They are the moments that I cherish, now that the sight of my few measly medals triggers a wave of regret and anxiety.
There haven’t been as many of those moments this year. I’ve let myself get discouraged because of my slow times, and that discouragement has made them even slower. But growth is never linear, or at least that’s what I’m trying to tell myself. If I can show myself once again why I used to love running, maybe I can find a way to love it again, and fly across the finish line like I do so many times in my imagination as I’m waiting for the gun to fire.