The Wrong Track

When I was in seventh grade, I decided to try running track. I had never been much of an athlete, struggling through three miserable years of Little League and hating every minute of it other than the pizza slice at the end of the game, and I had played Valley Junior Athletic Association soccer for four years, enjoying some of it despite being pretty darn terrible at it. But I had been told by several people — including my uncle, who was a runner — that I had the build of a distance runner.

Trouble is, after running for only a short distance, my chest would always feel like it was being crushed, acid would rush into my throat, and I would feel like I needed to throw up. I couldn’t breathe. Half of the time, I did throw up.

Some people suggested that I just needed to build up my endurance. Some people thought it was my heart. I suspected that my hiatal hernia was to blame. At one point, I even heard a theory that being hypoglycemic somehow affected the lactic acid and blah blah blah (I tuned out at that point, realizing that it was going to go beyond my memory of biology class very quickly).

I’ve never gotten past that when running. I can walk for miles and miles without tiring, but when it becomes running I hurt. A lot. It’s terribly frustrating, terribly annoying, and it always makes me feel like a failure on some childish level.

Running track, I thought, would get me to the point that I could actually improve athletically, and maybe get past that pain. It never happened. (I was also annoyed, years later, when I realized that there was no actual coaching from our coach for those of us that he didn’t have much hope for. I don’t blame him — he was overloaded with too many kids and I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway — but in a gym class my senior year, a friend suggested a change in my stride that he said would help me cover more distance in less time, and it worked. Now why couldn’t anyone have told me that years earlier?)

And so when I was in track, I was constantly grumbling about it. I hated it. I hated every minute of it. If I had won any event, ever, I probably would have held on to that memory like Gollum held on to the One Ring. But I was one of the smallest people out there; my dad used to tell me that I was matching them stride for stride, but I just had a shorter stride. That was simultaneously encouraging — to think that I didn’t completely suck — and discouraging — because, as they say, you can’t teach height.

One day in track practice as we were running a route that would take us up and down a brutal hill and then a few more blocks to the entrance to a small park where we would turn around to return to the school, it started raining. It wasn’t a deluge, but for a miserable, hurting, unwilling runner with glasses on, it was enough to push me into a simmering rage of resentment.

It lasted only a few minutes. And then a girl who had been running at my pace the whole time said under her breath, “Thank you, God!”

This girl and I had an odd friendship, where we often annoyed each other, but I think we respected each other. I suspected that she often tried to annoy me (I’m pretty sure I was completely wrong), and I tried to figure out why she would choose to do so that way. As I was also impatient, my attempt to deduce her motive for saying that lasted all of two seconds?

What?” I challenged her, pushing the words past the knot of fire in my throat.

“What?” she asked innocently.

I realized that she had honestly not expected me to hear her.

“You thanked God for that?”

She looked at me sideways, astonished, and I could tell it was genuine. “You didn’t think that was refreshing?”

…oh.

I hadn’t.

Until I realized that, yeah, actually, it was cooler now. It was a little easier to run.

Ever since then, I’ve tried to be conscious of when my pre-established mood might blind me to when something is actually good. Not an easy lesson to learn, and not an easy thing to do.

Sometimes, it takes a while to realize that when it rains on you, it might just be the best thing that could happen to you that day.

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3 Responses to The Wrong Track

  1. sinwi says:

    I gave track the college try in 8th grade. Everyone said the pain would pass, and it didn’t. I would waddle home and collapse in agony every night. After waiting what I thought was a decent amount of time to see if my body would adjust, I left that endeavor never making it to an actual meet. I don’t seem to recall any actual “coaching” either. Just run.

    However, your experience was totally worth it to have that last sentence in your (and now my) head.

  2. Catherine Meeker says:

    Yes!!!

  3. Lummox JR says:

    Running never agreed with me. I can sprint a little at need (not in any kind of athletic capacity, just getting a short burst of speed), but I remember in elementary school when we’d have to run laps around this painted oval in the grass–I hated it. For most of that time I had not yet been diagnosed with asthma, but breathing issues aside I found I just couldn’t run any kind of distance without my stomach muscles killing me.

    I frequently look back on gym class and wish I had just had the courage to say no, I won’t do this because I can’t. In hindsight I doubt the consequences would have been significant. On the flip side I’ve done many things since that I didn’t think I could, but I do think this was a little different because the experience had sucked so badly and so many times, so it wasn’t like I never tried. Now that I’m an adult I can see the difference between knowing when to give up, and trying what seems to be impossible, though I don’t know if I could have processed that at that age.

    Frankly I should have also said no to the stupid bear crawl.

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