Abby Scott holds PRs of 2:12.67 in the 800, 5:08 in the 1,600, and 18:12 in the 5k.
Dear Ugly Ducklings of Running,
I've read many touching writing pieces describing running: the unparalleled beauty of a runner's raw desire to fight to the finish, the hard fought triumph when a runner blazes onto the national scene, the records broken under glittering stadium lights, and the moments of disbelieving joy everytime a competitor lifts their arms in victory as they break the tape. But for most of us running isn't like that.
According to USTFCCCA, high school track and field surpassed one
million participants in 2009 and hasn't looked back since - continuing to grow more rapidly than
any other sport. To stand out is a feat most runners regard as unattainable (US Milesplit rankings
only go 1,000 deep in each event) given the magnitude of competition.
I'm writing this letter to refute the foregone conclusion that talent will always win.
I joined high school running my freshmen year with little idea of what to expect, my prior running experience including neighborhood games of capture the flag and dashing away from my brother when I'd stolen his favorite sweatshirt one too many times. During our first cross country meeting my coach started talking about summer milage, casually suggesting 50 plus miles for the varsity runners in attendance. He must be referring to total summer mileage, I thought to myself. Right? As all of you know (but my terrified freshmen self didn't) he was referring to weekly mileage.
Despite my initial apprehension, I finished freshman year with a newfound passion for running- and a set of PR's that placed me as average. Fast forward four years and I graduated with a 2:12 800m (17 second improvement), 5:08/5:00 alt converted 1600m (32 second improvement), 18:12 5k (63 second improvement), and a few races that jumped into the national rankings.
In those past four years I've done a lot wrong. I've experienced the races you wish you could erase from MileSplit as well as your memory. I know what it feels like when your best just isn't quite good enough. As I reflect back on my anxious freshmen self, here is the advice I wish someone had shared with me.
It's not about where you start, it's where you finish
Barbara Cook may have first sung these words in Broadway's Seesaw, but the message applies to running just as well. My coach once told me he didn't think I was the best 800m runner he coached at Durango High School, "heck I don't even think you're in the top five". An odd statement to make to the school record holder. But he's right, I'm not. Talent sets the mark for what an untrained runner can do, but discipline and dedication set the stage for a runners potential to achieve their goals.
Do the little things (sleep, strides, stretching, eating right) to swan
Everyone is going to push themselves in workouts/races when the adrenaline is flowing. As the age old expression goes, "it's what you do when nobody is looking that matters." I've always been a student first, athlete second which often resulted in training on less that 8 hours of sleep. My senior year I made the decision to cut back on other extracurriculars so I would get the sleep
I needed to run my best and immediately began to see improvement. I've gotten some loving flack from my friends for my "old-lady" sleep schedule, disinterest in drinking/parties, and health nut tendencies. You might get made fun of sometimes, but at the end of the day it's more important you stay true to yourself and what you want.
It's okay not to be perfect
High school is a confusing time for everybody, regardless of whether you're a runner or not. A lot of high schoolers (side note: I'm guilty of this) try to protect themselves by creating a facade of who they want to be. Athletes in particular often choose portray themselves as people of strength, untouchable by a bad race, breakup, poor grade, or other issue. I don't believe you're doing yourself any favors by bottling up insecurities. At least in my experience, the physical pain of racing is already difficult to endure without adding negative emotions into the mix. Simply put: it's okay to not be okay sometimes.
Don't worry about what you can't change
I grew up in rural Colorado so I would spend seven plus hours on a school bus and then camp (to save district money) with my team before big races on the front range. As a result of this we didn't travel to high level competition meets as often as any front range team. I spent too much of my time focusing on how this felt like a disadvantage, instead of being insanely grateful to be able to train at 7,000 plus ft, have trails within running distance of the school, and be coached by an olympic level athlete. Often what feels like a challenge to you can end up being an advantage. As I look back I'm grateful for having to tough it out in snow storms instead of use an indoor track, the long bus rides that brought me closer to my teammates, and learning how to race the clock.
A smile a day improves your 5k (and I'm told it keeps the doctor away too)
Never forget why you fell in love with running, whether it was at age five or your freshman year of high school. At the end of the day whatever accolades you earned in high school will fade (or in my case end up in a forgotten box under your bed) but the memories won't. Bring a little bit of fun to practice everyday. Whether it's blasting Taylor Swift on a bus ride (shout to the Durango girls) or surprising your teammates with a water balloon attack (thank you Durango boys) these are the moments you'll remember when you're trying to prove to your grandkids you were once cool.
I'm headed off to college feeling like an ugly duckling all over again. After all in comparison to someone else, we are all at some point an ugly duckling. Just like you I'll be training, hating, and loving, this crazy sport that has us all hooked. I'll be cheering for you.
Abby Scott, an Ugly Duckling of Running