Reclaiming the love for your sport
February 16, 2023
For so long, my entire identity was centered around being a runner, and now I love to run even more than I did before.
It started with a few laps around the community track and soon I was hooked. From running the mile in middle school to racing cross-country courses with some of the best runners in my home state, I loved every second of it.
The love always remained, but as I progressed through my first two years of high school I began to place more and more pressure on myself. My pre-race rituals had to be exact and races caused me a lot of stress.
Instead of the excited and jittery feeling I once had before racing, I felt dread thinking about the starting line and couldn’t wait for the race to be over.
I let running take up so much of my mind. Even though I loved it, I had become obsessive and too fixated on my race results.
I found I would rather cheer my team on from the sidelines in order to avoid the anxiety that accompanied racing.
“A certain level of physical arousal is helpful and prepares us for competition,” according to a Jan. 24 Verywell Mind article. “However, when the physical symptoms of anxiety are too high, they can interfere with your ability to compete.”
For so long, I let fear and self-inflicted pressure dictate the feelings I had toward running. Quickly, running became something that was a chore rather than a joyful activity.
Then the pandemic hit. At first, all I could focus on was whether I would have a spring track season or not.
Soon, it was extremely evident that spring track, along with many other aspects of normal life, would be put on hold.
As isolating and scary as the social distancing was, it was also a period of extreme growth for me beyond running. I scratched the surface of some of my other interests, giving running a little bit of a break.
Entering my junior year, the college process began and choosing whether to pursue collegiate running put me under strain.
I was so afraid of what would happen if I didn’t continue to run in college. I feared not having a team and felt inclined to pursue running because of the pressure there is to continue your sport after high school.
I was constantly asked whether I was going to run during my undergrad. People asked if I would search for a school team and if not that, they suggested I could do club running.
Though college sports are great for many people, deep down, I didn’t feel like I wanted to continue my competitive running career. I felt more stress than excitement at the thought of becoming a college athlete.
With three seasons left of high school running and no plans on continuing after that, I knew that I finally just wanted to allow myself to have fun with running.
During my senior year of high school, my team helped me shake up my pre-race rituals and step on the starting line excited to race together.
We were speedy but I didn’t focus on the times.
I stopped putting so much of my worth in the numbers. Though I understand good athletes need to track stats such as time, number of goals scored and weights lifted, quantifying the aspects of my activity was not for me.
So much of my time practicing had previously been filled with negative thoughts and strict expectations about how I should perform, leaving me to neglect enjoyment and the natural flow that accompanied running.
Getting into the flow of your workouts breaks up the negative thoughts, self-demotion and overanalyzing that usually comes with optimal performance, according to a March 11, 2016 study by faculty at the University of New England in Australia.
Instead, the absence of these limitations allows for prime physical and psychological function, according to the study.
Cyclists underwent mindfulness training and were evaluated on aspects of wellbeing such as sport-related anxiety and flow occurrence during sessions. The group given the training saw increases in mindfulness and flow, according to the study.
Only did my joy towards running return when I aimed to enjoy the process, focusing less on when the race would be over.
I began to judge my races off of how I felt and not off of strict paces and micromanaged milestones. No one was recruiting me based on my time, as I had decided not to run in college, so there was no need to be so hard on myself.
To love your sport again, you have to allow yourself to have space from it. You must find out who you are without it in order to realize that you are not your sport; that you are so much more.
Beyond running, this can apply to so many competitive activities. It is so easy to get stuck on the outcome, whether it be winning, losing or gaining certain skills for meets and games.
So much of a sport is practice. If you are not present in the process and finding joy in practice, then it is hard to find fulfillment in the results.
My cross country season was amazing and winter track felt more enjoyable than it had been in years prior.
By the spring track season, I wasn’t running as fast as I previously had been, but I was happier and healthier. I started my races excited, finished satisfied with how I did and quickly moved onto the next part of my day.
Eventually, my senior track season ended and I took a long time away from running. After weeks of complete rest, I began exercising more intuitively and allowed myself to move my body in ways that felt good.
Since my time off, I’ve reentered my running journey. I started without tracking my running at all, just going for however long I felt.
Now, I have started wearing my watch and tracking my mileage again in a healthier way. I even felt ready to start training for a goal that I’ve always wanted to reach: a half-marathon.
But I couldn’t have reached this point without first detaching my identity from running. I needed to find myself outside of the sport.
In taking a break from a serious sport, you find that you have so many diverse interests and aspects of your personality. I rekindled my love for reading, nature and cooking.
It sometimes saddens me that I am not on a track or cross-country team anymore, as I miss the team workouts, pre-race pep talks and times we were supposed to be stretching but were chatting and laughing instead.
But I’ve learned that there are so many teams present in my life, both formal and informal. There are friends, study buddies and clubs.
Though my relationship with running was toxic in the past, I wouldn’t take back any moment. I am ready to move forward and pave new trails in the sport I love so much.
Know that sometimes you need a break to learn to love something again, and that it is not wrong to want to take some time off. Distance can be healthy.
So, love what you do and do what you love because ultimately sports should add to our lives, not cause extreme stress.