Standing Alone at the PA Track Championships

February 28, 2011 § 7 Comments

When others offer little affirmation, offer your own.

While jogging in the paddock of my final indoor state championship, I smiled earnestly feeling the building pressure caress my nerves. Rarely do the pressures of racing allow me to calm down. As I prepared for my race, I began to embody the same frantic yet calm drive I had as a Sophomore racing for my first time at outdoor states. Today would be the day people realize what I have been working towards for months – my first individual state medal, a PA #5 time, a National #21 time, and a personal record in the half mile. But many doubted I could achieve any of this – and with good reason too.

My seed time had barely broken the state qualifying bubble: I ran a 2:00.36 and the required time was 2:00.9. 26 other runners were seated ahead of me out of 34 total and I was placed in the slowest heat. The fastest runners had qualified with times 5 seconds faster than my own and some of them had split faster in relays! Even as I talked to a fellow half miler, after mentioning I was in the 1st (slow) heat, his smile slumped into a frown as he seemingly pitied me. “At least you made it to states,” he said, and as his shoulders shrugged we wished each other good luck and left. Already I was being counted out. I have never seen someone medal from the slow heat and I knew how hard it would be. But I was not running for a medal, I was running for my coaches, my teammates – for you and myself. Though I admit, I craved for a medal!

Its times like these when motivation seems to lack. The runners in my heat seemed reserved and submitted to their fates as non-medalists. At least we could “pr” was a common mindset. Here we were at states, with one chance to win an individual state medal, and some runners were giving up? It doesn’t seem right! Yet how often in life do we treat ourselves like we’re in the “slow” heat? During most competitions, the slowest heat rarely has a runner push the pace – not allowing for a tighter competition and a better race. There aren’t runners to push you towards improvement, there’s no competition to force you to run, there is just you and the track. Sometimes, that’s all we need.

This past Saturday, I ran in the slow heat of the open 800. Beginning the race on the top ledge of Penn State’s banked track, I sprung into the front after the gun shot and sprinted my way to a leading position immediately. Holding this position for 4 full laps, I ran 4.5 seconds faster than my seed time, in turn winning my heat. There was no one beside me to push the pace. There was no one in front of me to run down. There was nothing but me. Yet my internal drive led me to a life time personal record and a time which would beat every runner in the 2nd heat and all but 4 runners in the fast heat. This accomplishment was not mine alone, as I would be nothing without my coaches, teammates, and parents. Each of whom led to my acknowledging that there may not be anyone else there and that it doesn’t matter!

Truth is, we won’t always have a competitor to push us towards success but we don’t need them either. The training we put in today doesn’t evaporate when there is no one around us to race. Our abilities are still the same, our motivation set is just different. Competitors surely help, that I cannot deny. But the internal drive you have is so much greater than anything a competitor can give you. Never let a belief of inferiority, whether an external belief or your own, prevent you from going after your goals. Whether in sports or in life, shouldn’t we give our all always? In the same way that the stigmatism of the “slow heat” can cripple a runner, our beliefs bred in inferiority can stunt the growth of our dreams. So whether you’re racing for yourself, for your friends, family and coach staff, or if you just want that medal – never let inferiority bring you down.

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§ 7 Responses to Standing Alone at the PA Track Championships

  • JC says:

    Great job, Craig! You’re absolutely right, there aren’t many medalists that come from the slow heat in any event. I’ve seen it happen, but it’s rare. I frequently have to remind my team about “The Little Blue Engine That Could.” Basically, if you believe it, you achieve it. That includes if you believe you’re too slow to medal, you’re right; if you believe you’re good enough to medal, you’re right.

    Coach Sanborn

  • JC says:

    And by the way, what are you doing in lane 2? You’re not passing anybody, so shouldn’t be there!

    Again, congratulations.

    • Craig says:

      Ahaha, thanks for catching that Coach Sanborn! That was my final 20 meters so I came off the turn and ran from lane 1 into lane 2. You’re right about the little blue engine – I haven’t thought of that story in years! Its crazy just how powerful positive thought processes can be when it comes to motivating people, perhaps its a lot like your pr bars.

  • Mike says:

    Not only do you have terrific courage as an openly gay young man and impressive conviction as an athlete, but you have a knack with the written word.

    I’m impressed. Thank you.

  • Jacob Woods says:

    Reminds me of “Keep on swimming, Keep on swimming.” Great post Craig.

  • tristram says:

    Kudos, Craig! And thanks for sharing your story.

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