Going out to race can be really stressful and nerve racking.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about running — something that I am still learning — is that in order to be successful you need to learn to run fearlessly. I started learning this at my first ever track meet. I was extremely nervous. I had done some fun runs and a season of cross country, but this was my first ever race on a track.
I was running in a 3 kilometer race — the same distance I ran in cross country — so not totally new, but on an indoor track it would be 15 laps of torture. I remember my older sister making fun of me for being so nervous.
“What could go wrong?” she asked. “Just turn left.”
A lot more could go wrong than she thought possible, but I’m happy to say that I did not get lost and I did remember to turn left. Despite how freaked out I was, I made it to the start line. The gun was shot and almost immediately I was spiked; a girl tripped, so they restarted the race.
I was bleeding as I walked back to the start line, but I shook it off — not a big deal.
The race was going to be good.
It finally started and I had never felt worse than I did that day, and it wasn’t before long until the leader lapped me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, as if someone had knocked me out.
I stopped and walked multiple times. I was desperate for the race to just be over.
It was absolutely awful, and when I crossed the finish line the race official held up one finger, indicating that I had another lap left. Reluctantly I ran one final lap which was actually my 16th. Clearly it had not been my day, BUT I did finish the race (I even did extra!).
I could’ve seen this first race as a sign that track was not going to be my thing. Maybe I should’ve given up and focused on basketball.
That race was extremely painful and humiliating. I would be fine if I had given up that day — I’d still have a normal life. However, I am so happy I didn’t, because running and racing has become such a huge part of my life.
I have accomplished so much because of it and I have met so many awesome people, had I quit everything would be different.
I would be a different person.
Rather than seeing that experience has a reason to quit, I saw it as an opportunity. While it really, really sucked I survived it, so I know I can survive again. Even if the worst case scenario does happen, life will go on, and this can be important to remember when you’re stressed for a race.
It’s scary to get on the line because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
But you can always prepare, and with time you’ll learn and gain confidence and trust in yourself. You’ll get stronger. The lesson I’m learning is that being brave is crucial to a successful running career. When I started running it was just getting on the line, putting myself out there, being willing to compete and suffer.
As I’ve grown as a runner, the times I need to be brave have evolved.
Now it’s telling people my goals or taking the lead in a big race — which is the absolute scariest feeling in the world.
You have to trust yourself and race without fear of failure — something I am definitely still working on — because if you don’t you’ll never get better. You have to leave your comfort zone of discomfort, which I’m not gonna lie is a lot easier said than done.
I’ve come a long way since my first race. But I’ve still had a lot of fails and without them I wouldn’t have any successes, because they teach me to push through the pain and to not give up.
In the end all the pain is worth it, so keep on running — and hopefully you never have to run an extra lap.
HEIDI NIELSON — CINCO RANCH HIGH SCHOOL
2019 ADIDAS BOOST BOSTON GAMES DREAM MILE CHAMPION
2017 FOOT LOCKER NATIONALS QUALIFIER
2018 FOOT LOCKER NATIONALS QUALIFIER
2018 NIKE CROSS NATIONALS QUALIFIER
2019 NIKE CROSS NATIONALS QUALIFIER
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