I have run for nearly four years.
I've been a runner for one.
The difference between "just running" and "being a runner" is huge, actually. And the main thing that separates the two is motivation.
I think last fall, my junior year, was when I began to take running a bit more seriously. I was training for a half marathon with my mom, but I did a walk/run program. Of course, it's hard enough to do a half marathon anyway, but I definitely didn't push myself to my full potential. I wasn't bad, but I lacked some of the motivation that I've so recently discovered.
This fall, I signed up to run on a homeschool cross country team. And it was the best choice I have ever made.
I've never considered myself to be athletic. Like, at all. I've played sports before, but I was never the greatest. I wasn't usually a starter on my rec soccer team, but I wasn't horrible. I've run (ish) before, but I was never the greatest. I averaged about 32-minute 5Ks before this season.
It's easy for me to say "well, at least I did something! A lot of teenagers don't." And, although that's true, it's also kind of a cop-out. I realized that this summer, and I wanted to change that.
So I signed up for cross country, not really sure what I was getting myself into. I could barely run two miles without stopping at my first practice (and I had run two-three days a week before work all summer to prepare). I was discouraged. Everyone on the team was better than me, it seemed. I couldn't breathe when I tried to run faster. I had so many moments of wanting to give up.
A month into the season, we ran our first race. I finished at 29:59, and in all honesty, I was just thrilled to break 30 minutes - even though I had to stop and walk a few times. It was a good race, and I was happy with how my season had begun.
Then came the discouragement. And oh, how hard it came.
Practices went well enough. I could complete the workouts without many problems - running, on average 3 miles, without stopping to walk. One friend of mine often ran with me, and she pushed me. It was going great. I thought that I would be good to go on my next 5K.
I was wrong. I faded out after 2 miles, and ended up on the ground throwing up. I walked and ran the last mile, and ended up with a time of about 31:00. I was highly discouraged. I thought that I must be a failure, since I added time.
So I trained harder, and I thought I was ready for my next race. See, my goal all along was to break 27 minutes. My fastest 5K ever was on the road last spring. I did walk/run it, but I did it in about 28 minutes. So, my goal all season was to beat 27. I was determined that this race would be it. I was determined to push.
But the discouragement struck again. I had to walk most of the race due to breathing problems, and finished in close to 32 minutes. Added time again. Felt like a failure again. After that race, I actually debated quitting, right then and there. It was so discouraging, and all I wanted to do after the race was cry. I had fallen, and I did not want to get back up.
I did, however. And that week, I actually went to the doctor and found out that I probably had exercised-induced asthma. I got an inhaler, and began using it before every one of my runs. It helped some, but I still had breathing problems. I had to learn to control my breathing, which made it a lot more difficult. But it was nice to finally have an explanation for my troubles.
I ran faster at my next race - about 27:30. I couldn't beat 27, however. I broke down close to mile 3, and ended up on the ground again, trying not to be sick. Trying to breathe. But I made it to the finish. (I consider that to be my greatest finish - my boyfriend drove four hours down from college to surprise me at the finish. I hadn't seen him in six weeks, and it was an incredible surprise. But that's another story, for another time.)
So okay. I was finally taking off time. Next race I could be sub-27, right?
Nope. Try 29. I was discouraged, again. I was crying at the finish, again. And I wanted to give up, again. At the end of that race, I was debating telling my coach that I wasn't going to race ever again, because it only ended in frustration. But instead, I wiped away the tears and walked down to the finish to cheer my team on. I ran the last .1 alongside every member of our team and cheered them on. And although it was such an upsetting race, I consider it to be one of the best nights of my life. I found joy in being an encourager. (Again, that's a wonderful story, but for another time.)
I wanted to quit many times over the next few weeks. Practices were hard. My breathing was awful. My knee started to hurt. But I hung on, and trained hard.
And that's when things changed for the better. Because at my next race, I ran my 5K in 25:56, and I did not walk a single step. The course was very easy, yes, but I broke 26. And I could not have been more thrilled.
Success didn't end there. Today was my state meet. That course was hard. Very hard. And the conditions certainly weren't ideal. It was cold, and cold air is hard to breathe. But I pushed. Even though I ended up in tears for half of the second mile. It was a hard, hard race. I came under a lot of emotional, physical, and spiritual attack during that race. But I pushed. And I fought. Because I no longer give up.
That was my last time of the season. 25:13. I cannot express how happy I am. More so, I am thankful to God for giving me such wonderful success. I fought for it. Not one step was easy. I persevered, despite all those struggles, and I was rewarded. I wanted to quit, day after day, but something kept me going. And now I understand.
I don't love running solely because of the physical challenge. It is an emotional battle for me. It is me fighting a battle against myself, against my mind.
And I have finally won.