Year after year I gear up for a fresh season of racing. I lace up my brand new spikes trying to block out this deep fear that seems to have taken permanent residence in my muscles. During my first few strides I catch myself wondering where my energy went. My body feels like it’s running with a 70lbs weight vest strapped to its core. My legs feel like they’re trudging through mud, consumed by an overcast of worry. I whisper to myself, “You are going to be okay.” I move my legs quicker and faster to remind my muscles what they are about to endure. I try to eradicate this fear altogether, but like clockwork it always shows up right on time. It never seems to take a year off.
Fear is uncomfortable. It evokes anxiety. I can spend hours systematically dissecting my fear, trying to understand what scares me and why it scares me. I ask myself, “Why do you put yourself through this fear and potential rejection and pain year after year?” Ultimately, fear is a product of uncertainty. With a portrayal of confidence I can tell you my greatest workout, I can tell you I’m ready to race fast, I can upload my best and most exciting pictures to instgram (which I do), and then you can scroll through them and think, “Yeah, she’s doing okay” but in reality we just don’t know.
A long time ago (21 years to be exact) I started running competitively. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I would soon be exposing my heart to the greatest amounts of pain and rejection I would ever grow to know. For years I have invested tears and sweat into my training all because I wanted to go head-to-head against other amazing, talented women who like me worked just as hard to put everything on the line, literally. A race.
From my earliest racing memories to just last year at the 2016 Olympic trials, fear has had a lasting imprint on my heart and in my mind. I remember as a 10-year-old walking to the start line of the 400m prelims at the Junior Olympics in tears. I looked for a familiar face in the stands. I caught a glimpse of my mom’s smile. She spotted the tears trickling down my cheeks and onto the track. I can just barely make out her blurry hands moving in a forward motion, encouraging me to dip deep and find my courage. That race I crossed the finish line with an undeniable smile across my face. In just 66 seconds I went from feeling like I was going to shit my pants to exhilarated. Not every race ends in a smile. Testing your grit on the track is scary. All I have ever wanted that day and every day since was to prove to myself and to the people who support me that I am strong, I am resilient, and I am brave.
It’s the day before the 2016 Olympic Trials. I’m about to race with a fractured foot and after two grueling months of training on an elliptical or in the pool (not the most ideal build up to a race). My 2012 versus 2016 Olympic Trials experiences are like comparing a banana to an orange. Yes, they are both Olympic Trials, but they taste different, they feel different, they look different, and frankly one is just better than the other. I’m told you shouldn’t spend too much time comparing year to year. I think we naturally do, but looking backwards for too long is unproductive (another lesson I am becoming way too intimate with). I reference my journal…
June 30, 2016
…It’s my birthday and it’s the night before the first round of the 800m at the Olympic Trials… I biked 20 minutes for my warmup and attempted a few strides in my trainers. Yes, it [my foot] still hurts. Despite feeling frustrated, an overwhelming feeling came over me — I belong on this track, I belong at this event and I deserve to be here. I’m excited to continue my fight. Lining up tomorrow is proof to myself that I am tough, I am brave, and I am capable of enduring more pain than I ever thought possible… I may not be in peak shape physically or mentally but I am brave and maybe that’s all I need tomorrow…
July 3, 2016
…I needed more. Although I was disappointed in the outcome, I was proud of myself for lining up. Of course, I was counting on my bravery to power me through the rounds. It was my best strategy and it was my only strategy. It was the same strategy that propelled me to a first place finish at the Festival of Miles just one month prior. I was scared of what the next 2 minutes would bring. I scanned the crowd for a familiar face. I saw my mom jumping with anxiety. I knew she was more nervous than me, and in that moment I would have done anything to run over to her, give her a hug, and tell her “everything’s going to be okay.” Instead, I gave myself a little pump up talk, “You have been through a lot of pain and hurt these past 2 months, and still you stand on this starting line about to race at the Olympic freakin Trials. You are going to hurt on this track today and when that pain comes, embrace it, run through it because nothing can hurt as much as the pain you felt exactly 2 months prior…”
Although the track can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, fear is an important ingredient to survival. The unknown isn’t going anywhere, which means fear isn’t going anywhere, either. Fear and courage do not exist without the other. Fear is courage’s brother. They go into battle together. This season I may have the same drive and desire to compete, but I’m taking on a new approach. I’m leaning into the unknown. I am going to make fear an integral part of my team. Fear is not the enemy. I no longer want to declare war against fear. I want to make space for fear. Navigating the unknown is inevitably a scary journey that often provokes emotion and can leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. I know this will not be an easy path, but moving forward this is my best chance. All I can do it keep investing, and maybe that will lead to a lot of tears and sweat, but I will channel my bravery and hope for the best.