A little more than a decade ago, I was a high school student in southwestern Ontario whose life revolved around her running. I spent class time daydreaming about cross-country races. After school, I would run the 600m trail sections in the forest by my house more times than I’d care to count. My friends and I had matching sets of everything: fleece hats for our meets, red sweatpants for warm-up (see the nerdy photo above), Saucony spikes for the race, and, of course, mud streaks up our legs at the finish. I ran on Christmas day, and all through March break. I didn’t know it at the time, but my commitment to cross-country then was setting up a solid foundation I came to rely on later. A decade down the road, the lessons I learned from those four precious seasons are still applicable. Here are just a few:
You’re the one who controls whether you meet your goals
This is the most important lesson running has taught me. Many of us set goals at the beginning of a season and again right after finishing the big goal race. Exams and assignments came easy to me but setting a PB, beating my rival or making it to OFSAA, my province’s championship (basically, like making the Olympics for a high schooler in Ontario)? Those presented a challenge. I did the run streak thing, I signed up for the scary track camp,
When the work paid off, it clicked: when it comes to your goals, be stubborn.
I ran in the snowstorm while my siblings watched movies. When the work paid off, it clicked: when it comes to your goals, be stubborn. I applied that logic later when my goals seemed outlandish: landing that competitive internship, forging a career in an unstable industry, growing a proper savings account and getting to write about your passion and get paid for it.
Your decisions affect more than just you
Distance running gets a reputation for being a bit of a “Me! Me! Me!” sport. While that can certainly be the case, having that team commitment when I was in my teen years kept me accountable. I could never kick the guilt after seeing my best friend’s face fall when I skipped one practice because “I didn’t feel like it.” Someone else’s success hung partially on my fitness level so I learned to show my face even when I could think of a reason not to (and certainly when I couldn’t). When someone else’s plans depend on you being there, do the courteous thing and come through. Don’t bail on a celebration dinner, don’t cancel a run with a friend last-minute, don’t sleep in when you said you’d help a friend move (even though, and perhaps especially because, no one actually enjoys helping someone move).
Yes, you’re sweaty and no they don’t care
In the mid-2000s, I ironed my curly hair flat and didn’t dare set foot in my high school without makeup. At practice though, all of my efforts came undone.
A decade later, I can’t believe I was fretting about all that.
Guess what? No one cared. I met several awesome people, including my high school boyfriend, during those cross-country workouts where I was red-faced and sweaty. A decade later, I can’t believe I was fretting about all that. No one cares about your frizzy hair or dewy forehead. If they do, their personality reeks worse than your B.O..
Breaking the ice isn’t that hard
In high school, I was shy. Participating in class stressed me out. Having a class without a single friend was the worst. The cross-country team dragged me well outside my comfort zone though (in a good way). I had to train with kids a whopping three years older than me (it seemed like such a big difference back then) and I even learned how to walk up to competitors to congratulate them after crossing the finish line (crazy, I know). As it turned out, breaking the ice isn’t that hard. That was an essential to know when I moved to a new city by myself, met the family of a partner and showed up to media events alone.
I’ll never forget the high school assistant coach, Colleen, screaming “Be aggressive ladies!” from the sidelines. No one else said that to me when I was a 14-year-old girl, and so it stood out. Don’t like the word aggressive? Try assertive, firm, confident, bold or daring, and apply that to your day-to-day life.
Your level of commitment determines later opportunities
In high school, making it to OFSAA with my team was everything. When we committed, we got there. When we worked hard, my coach invited us to his winter training camp down south. When I found out I was going to be the slowest of the kids who went, I trained more in secret so as not to embarrass myself. We actually went to OFSAA twice and the camp went smoothly.
Running cross-country taught me that how hard you work towards something usually has a lot to do with the offers you get down the line.
Later, despite being a straight-A student, I got rejected from the university program I badly wanted to attend. My portfolio was lacking. I rejected all other offers and stayed home for a year to make it better and got in. Running cross-country taught me that how hard you work towards something usually has a lot to do with the offers you get down the line.