Race, by Alexander Gasiorowski

“You’re late! Get out of bed!” Like ice water splashed on a sleepy face, fear flooded my mind. My crusty morning eyes shot open to see my mother, with a concerned scowl, standing in the doorway of my room. “We need to leave now if you’re going to catch the bus.” Evidently I had overslept. In my groggy state I must have turned off my alarm when it went off half an hour ago. What little grogginess remained was washed away with a splash of icy cold water as I rushed to get ready. It was Saturday morning, the morning of my first cross country meet. If I made it to the bus on time, this would be the first meet I would actually run in. Last week I was so stricken with anxiety that I vomited. Today would be different. Today I would learn to overcome my fear and anxiety.

Over the course of my high school cross country career, my cohorts and I had often joked that our sport is other sport’s punishment. There is certainly truth to that. Cross country is punishing, but the source of my anxiety was never a fear of pain. No, this anxiety ran deeper than a fear of running or of pain. I had a fear of being tested, a fear of reaching my limits, a fear of failure. It has been said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. My great concern was that when the going got tough, I would fail. I was afraid I would give up and thus I wouldn’t even try.

The last person strides onto the bus just as my mother and I pull into the parking lot. In a mad dash, I grab the bag containing my lunch and a few bottles of water, sprint through the crisp September morning, and slip onto the cozy bus. The bus is practically full, but I find a seat next to another nervous freshman. The old diesel engine roars to life and the bus lumbers forward. Except for the hum of the engine and the noise of the road, the bus is silent. Anxiety hangs sticky in the air. I quench my nervous thirst with a gulp of water and gaze out the moisture-laden window.

It was a half hour drive to the park. By now the sun had burned away the moisture left on the bus’s windows, but the anxiety remained. I busied myself with setting up camp, trying not to think about the challenge awaiting me a few hours from now. My mental avoidance continues through the rest of the morning, though the walk-jog of the course and through the other runners’ races. Fifteen minutes before the start of the race, my teammates and I stand at the starting line preparing to start our warm up stretches. By now the sun had reached its apogee, though the air remained comfortably cool. I spy nearly a hundred other runners surrounding us, everyone in their own little trance, pondering what was to come. From the starting line, three quarters of a mile of open field lay in front of us, followed by a massive hill, with the rest of the course snaking through the forest thereafter.

Out and back, skipping, stretching, jogging, that’s the warm up routine. Loose and limber, I join my comrades at the starting line. A colorful crowd has assembled to our right, emanating a low rumble generated by the collective hushed speech of several hundred spectators. A man stands in the middle of the field, two hundred yards away from the starting line wielding a miniature canon. “One minute to the start of the freshman boy’s race,” A voice booms over the loudspeaker. Thirty seconds later the loudspeaker cracks again: “Thirty seconds.” By now the starting line is silent. Even the great crowd of spectators stands silent. The loudspeaker quips one last time: “Ten nine eight seven six five.” My eyes are fixed on the man with the canon. It is at this point the mental dam breaks forth and the thoughts of the challenge that awaits me flood my mind. Hundreds of people will watch you fail, you can’t succeed. You should give up, why bother trying? But I knew this was coming. I had held back the fear and the doubt long enough. I can’t back down now, it’s far too late for that.

You see it before you hear it. Sound travels significantly slower than light, we all know that, though there are few situations in life where that difference can be experienced. This is one of those. A mighty cloud of smoke bursts forth from the canon. I’m already running by the time the sound hits me. Moments later the cloud of dissipating smoke moves by my moving feet. One foot in front of the other, the course blurs by. Fellow runners, whose race preceded my, own line the openings in the course, cheering me on. I see the faces, I know them, but my mind’s only ponderance is putting one foot in front of the other. Up the hills, down a few more and the end is in sight. The voices echo in my head: “Don’t try to beat the guy next to you. He’s faster. You will lose. You will fail.” The fear clears away, replaced by pure adrenaline as I begin a mad sprint for the finish. I bolt past the negative thought just as I pass the runner next to me. The race is done. I certainly didn’t get first place, but I won nonetheless.

To this day, seven years later, and likely for the rest of my life, I will be hounded by the fear of failure. It never truly vacates my mind. Even so, running cross country throughout high school taught me how to manage my anxiety. It was through cross country that I demonstrated to myself that I am competent and capable. My fear of failure remains strong, but I am ever stronger.

Comments RSS Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.