Yesterday was a particularly emotional day for me because I ran my last race with a school jersey upon my back. There are no perfect beginnings, no perfect endings nor circumstances and conditions. It was a terrible race (and a terrible way to end my competitive running life), but there is much to be reflected on that transcends the results of the race. After 8 years of competitive running, it is time for some reflection.
My running journey began when I was 13. The Cedar cross country team exposed me to many values and lessons that shaped my identity today. Perseverance, integrity, diligence. To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. I don’t think I had much of a gift –if anything, I was far from gifted. I was just a relentless young girl always hungry for progress.
I moved on to other pursuits in JC when ‘progress’ took the form of other (non-sports related) things, but the lure of running eventually pulled me back in. In university, I was back at it again and with greater intensity than ever. I planned my life around my training schedule and weekly mileage. This included food –what to eat and when, sleeping times, arrangements with friends and ex-lovers, lessons etc. In retrospect, I cannot say that I regret the commitment but I often wonder how different my life would have been without running. Running taught me many things, but privileging it over other experiences meant lesser time for other adventures and learning opportunities.
It has been particularly difficult to consolidate and coherently pen down these very personal thoughts. There is just so much to think about and too much to say, but I’ve decided on two broad points:
- Far from seeking answers, closure is about being at peace with the process and knowing I gave my all for what I was given to work with.
- When it is time to let go of something, it will always be a process and a negotiation.
Running is a curious loop
I remember being 16. I had a fever, but desperately wanted to run my last race wearing the yellow Cedar singlet. I remember my vision blurring and my nose running during the run. My legs felt like jelly and my hands were cold. I remember the crunch of the gravel, each crunch a promise that the pain would be over soon.
The past weekend was so emotional for me because here I was, being close to 23. There were 7 years between my last race as a Cedar runner and my last race as a university undergraduate. Yet, so many things still remained the same. I ended the run with a terribly unsatisfactory timing. I could not feel my legs, my vision was blurry, my head felt like a balloon about to pop, and I wanted to throw up. I didn’t feel accomplished –I was not ready to let go of the sport with that kind of ending. Waves of disappointment, self-pity and anger crashed against me. Why did I have to have a viral infection for weeks before my last race? Why did I have to be given this body that gave me so many problems? How could everything loop back to the same anguish?
I don’t wish to rant about my health afflictions over the years and how it has affected my responsiveness to trainings. These details are irrelevant. I’m not trying to justify the poor and inconsistent performances I seem to always loop back to. My concern is not with offering answers for why I fall short of my expectations. There are so many questions that will be unanswered, but answers are not what I need. What I need is closure.
When the initial emotions of the race settled, I found a clear head to reflect. I remember that toward the end of the race, a friend yelled “You can do better than this!” He’s right. I can do better than to ask why I was given such circumstances in life. I can do better by rising above my bitterness. This means acknowledging that there are many things beyond my control. I realised that what you are given does not matter. What matters is what you give despite what you have been given.
Repeat it until I believe it: “I have given my all, for all that I was given.” That has to be enough at some point.
Letting go: A dialectic
Running has been constitutive of my character and personality. I have learnt to be alone with myself without being lonely. I have been taught (the painful way) that effort can sometimes betray you because we exist as mortals without perfect knowledge nor complete control over our circumstances. I have also learnt to love pain – Pain is sometimes a promise of better things to come. Nothing worth having ever came easy, and if it’s easy it certainly isn’t worth doing. However, a wise person once said, “Love, even when it is most sincere, is part of the shackle.” Love binds us to things, and this can be either a boon or a bane depending on the nature of the relationship. When the relationship becomes toxic, it is time to let it go. In an earlier post, I wrote about letting running ‘kill’ you (in a metaphorical sense), but not consume you.
Letting go means not giving it the power to consume me. Letting go of it as a primary source of meaning, I learn to not build my life around it. I learn to make sense of my worth without attaching it to specific notions of progress.
Letting go is a process, and it is a bittersweet dialectic –a non-linear trajectory involving a negotiation between two poles:
- Being entirely indifferent and apathetic towards the role of running – this is not something I would want for myself, because running after all, is very dear to me.
- Clinging to the familiar routines and emotional investment –this doesn’t seem like a viable option either if it has become an unhealthy relationship.
The product of this dialectic is the ongoing process of letting go –the changing meaning of ‘running’ and a journey of self-improvement. This does not mean that I’m never going to run again. Instead, meanings continue to overlay and the symbolism of running evolves. It is characterised neither by apathy nor fervent passions.
The smell of the track will still trigger mixed feelings –it has been home to a whole spectrum of emotions for many years Above all, it is a familiar, comforting scent. It will remind me of a long-time friend that I’ve shared much of my life with. Like every healthy friendship, it should provide me the space for growth and grow with me.