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It was the most important track meet of the season against our rival team. Our coaches calculated a mock score sheet based off probable times and recent results. It was going to be a close one. That meant every event mattered. The team’s fate was dependent on each individual performance.
All the best girls and boys would compete in their max allotment of four events. I was to run the 4 x 800-meter relay, the mile, the 800 and the 2 mile. My eyes were on Pleasant Valley’s number one girl. I’ll call her “Skingle.” Although younger than me, she was intimidatingly legendary in our high school’s conference. We talked about her like she was a god. She also happened to be a top wrestler.
Our team was doing well so far. We had won the 4 x 8, I placed in the mile and we had a winner in the 800. Weirdly enough, Skingle hadn’t made an appearance since the 4 x 8. It was likely that her coach wanted to keep her fresh until they really needed her for the 2-mile race, the last distance event. As the top runner on the girl’s distance team, my coaches didn’t expect me to beat Skingle. Even if I got second place, that would put us in a good spot. Of course, winning that eight-lap event would further secure an overall team win.
The butterflies were active as ever as I got on the line. The race itself was a blur. My only focus was to cast that fishing line and reel in Skingle as close as I possibly could. Lap by lap, all eight of them, I pulled and pulled. At one point, I realized my “fish” was actually much closer than I had expected. Much to my surprise, as our distance covered increased, the distance between us shortened.
Sam won. I came in second. I felt good. I was happy with my race. After much joint effort, Stroudsburg had secured the team win. The next day, Coach Sickler found me after class. He told me: “Great job.” Though, in confidence, he also said, “You looked good out there. You think you could have beat her? You think maybe you just had this idea that she was untouchable?”
Wow. I hadn’t even considered that thought. But now, it plagued me. Maybe I could have beat her. I wasn’t nearly as tired as she looked at the end. She was gasping for air when I approached for a high-five. Maybe I couldn’t have passed her. Though had I believed that defeating her was possible, I bet I would have come pretty close.
Coach Sickler’s words were a wake-up call. I was just as good as her. In fact, I was better than her. This thought didn’t make me cocky, it made me confident. How would I ever beat someone faster than me if I didn’t think I could? Has there ever been a winner that said to themselves, I won because I was worse than the rest of them?!
You can bet I never allowed the idea that I wasn’t good enough to enter my mind again. Or rather, if it did I was quick to push it aside. I could beat anyone. No one was impalpable. I went on to run competitively in college. My silent motivational chant became, I’m better. I’m better. I would even use this phrase during practice with slightly different wording because I really like my teammates. I would remind myself that I’ve done the same training as all of them. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be right next to whoever is leading this workout. If I began to fall behind, this thought often brought me back.
My coach was quick to assist if he sensed me backing down during a race. He would shout, “T, you’re better than her. You’re not tired.” Whether he truly believed it or knew it was what I needed to hear, it worked. Those words made me confident. It was what I needed to tell myself and it gave me an extra boost coming from him.
As runners, we know that mental strength largely contributes to the outcome of a race. There are tons of people with more skill than you or more natural speed. We also know we’ve passed some of those people before. Sometimes the mere belief that you are capable will make up for any lack in skill or training.There always will be someone better than you. You’ll never be the best but you should run like you are!
No winner has won because they didn’t think they could. So whether you are running a road race or trailing behind a stranger on the sidewalk, think to yourself, I am better, and surge forward.