Pick any classic New England fall Saturday between 1988 and 1997: cold, crisp air, blazing foliage, the smell of woodsmoke, and a mass of nervous teenage girls in polyester singlets that never lose their funk, standing twitchily behind a chalk line on a muddy field.
I stand with the few other girls on my cross-country team, hopping from foot to foot and trying to ignore the dread roiling my stomach. There were so many thoughts in my mind at any given time that it’s hard to distill them down, but they were usually something like:
Ugh. Does my hair look stupid? Running makes my hair look stupid. Also it’s so annoying to be so slow and I hate it that I always start out too fast and my hair is so stupid.
I could already feel the way my legs would turn to lead and my mood would tank by 10 minutes in. Sure enough, I’d start with a seven-something first mile before slowly disintegrating into a jogging, self-pitying mess, crossing the chalk line again in 24-whatever and never getting any faster.
Despite a lack of any apparent talent, and my aversion to races*, I always loved to run: cross country and track in middle and high school, more cross country in college. Of course, as Ginger has explored, you can’t know how “talented” you are until you actually try. Looking back I realize I never found out whether I could have run faster, limited by my belief that you either could run fast or you couldn’t. The speedy girls running 18 minute 5k’s in high school? I had no clue that they were as angsty as I was about running, that they worked hard for their wins and, in some cases, suffered hard with eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. Stunningly oblivious for a person with so many A’s on her report card, I figured they were just lucky to be fast while I missed out on the speed genes. Read more >>