It was the day of my first race coming back from an injury, and also happened to be my first week of running in the past month. I was/am recovering from a “stress reaction,” which is basically a warning that if I didn’t chill on the running, my navicular bone (I didn’t know what that was either) could fracture and end my season for good. There’s not much one can do to heal in this case besides not run, so that’s exactly what the doctor ordered me to do for the past three weeks. For someone who is used to running everyday, sometimes twice a day, this turned my life upside down. Three weeks felt like three months, and although I could still workout, nothing was really the same as running.
So I took my time off and was easing back into running this past week. My optimistic coaches assured me that I was also ready to race and just “get my feet wet” at Stanford, where I happened to be seeded in the second fastest heat of this highly competitive meet. Needless to say, I was scared shitless (sorry, mom). I had no idea what was going to happen in the race. I had a really positive attitude, but the fact of the matter was, I had only ran on solid ground five times in the past month. My sixth was going to be against some of the most elite athletes in the country, with my parents, teammates, and about 500 other people watching. When it came time to race, I towed the line praying for a miracle.
The race started fast, and I felt pretty good in the beginning. After the first lap, I could tell that it was going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stick with these girls. I stayed with them the first three laps, but my body started to shut down as soon as the last lap came around. Everything was screeching in pain, and it felt like I was trying to run through a pool of Jell-O. I pushed myself as hard as I could, which still left me ten seconds behind the rest of the runners at the finish line and about 12 seconds off my best time. I know ten seconds doesn’t sound like a lot, but believe me, in the 1500m, it’s an eternity.
I was humiliated. I was exhausted. I was angry. And I was frustrated as hell. But as I walked off the track, saw my smiling teammates offering hugs and encouragement and my little sister yelling “I love you,” I realized there was one thing that I was not: a failure. The true “failure” would have been accepting this experience as just that- defeat. And I think that’s exactly what the old me would have done. This time, I tried something new. I realized that staying with these elite runners for three laps, with less than a week of running under my belt, was a victory. Holding my head high and smiling at my teammates, coaches, and family that I wanted to run and hide from, was a victory. Accepting that I know I can accomplish amazing things, but not impossible things, was a victory.
Instead of letting the weight of my and others’ expectations crush me, I accepted my reality and focused on what I can do. I believe that I can achieve great things, but I need the patience and base training to do it. And although it will be hard as hell, I vowed to make this season, my last two months as a collegiate runner, the best one I’ve had yet.
“Fear of failure” is talked about again and again in self-help books, inspirational sports movies, and Introduction to psychology classes across the country. This fear can paralyze human potential, leading us to play it safe, or be devastated in the case that we do fail. No matter what hardship you’re battling, whether it be in athletics, work, or your personal life, being afraid to fail could be the one thing that is stopping you to overcome it. As cheesy as it sounds, what helped me was changing my definition of failure. Before, losing that race by so much would have been a failure. Now, failing would have been not trying at all. It would have been feeling helpless and defeated, after one race. It would be wallowing in self-pity, instead of enjoying spending time with my family and teammates.
So go ahead, lose that race, fail that test, get turned down by that really good-looking person you’ve been crushing on -- because when it’s all said and done, you may find you’ve won more than you’ve lost. (And if you don’t, please don’t come looking for me).