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Running Away from the Anxiety of Racing

By Vanessa Su

I crouch down on my block, waiting for the starter pistol; my heart beats loudly in my chest. Time slows, and I feel like I’m about to explode from the anxiety and stress churning within me.

I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to race. I don’t want to disappoint.

Suddenly, the pistol goes off and my legs carry me forward—eventually across the finish line. Out of breath, I slowly walked back to see my time, and as I predicted, I didn’t improve or place very well. My head immediately fills with voices telling me I’m not good enough, I’m burning out, I’m just a disappointment. As everyone congratulates me, explaining that the others were older and more experienced, the words of supposed comfort contort in my head. Their sympathetic words feel more like accusations, fueling my innate discontent.

When I started track, I fell in love with the sport because of the high-spirited team dynamic and the exhilarating sensation of running. But, my passion to get better was mostly fuelled by the comments from my friends, telling me that I was super fast. Hearing that, I worked hard to improve, not for myself, but to see their impressed faces. However, this attitude led to me putting extensive pressure on myself. I expected to get better with every race and began comparing myself to others. My times, my ranking, and my records became the only things I could focus on. Even if I accomplished one goal, I would always turn away and criticize myself for the other things I didn’t do as well in. Soon enough, this fear of not being good enough evolved into a resentment for track altogether.

I began feeling increasingly pessimistic. I tried not to care, to pretend that times and placings didn’t matter to me. But who was I fooling? Even when I acted calm and collected, as soon as the time for my race approached, the facade quickly faded and was replaced by anxious thoughts taking over my entire body.

Instead of running my race, I wanted to run away from all the worry constantly clouding my thoughts instead. As my motivation faded, I tried to think back to why I joined the sport in the first place.

Then it hit me.

The inside jokes, the lively team dinners, the feeling of my feet pushing off the ground when I run; that’s why I joined track. In the midst of trying to be the best, I completely forgot the reasons why I loved it. While trapped in my anxiety-inducing mindset, I was letting all the happy memories pass me by.

I began looking at track in a different way. It was supposed to be a fun sport that gave me a break from the intense routine of homework and studying everyday. Unlike school, there were no consequences in losing or making a mistake. Before, I would convince myself that people would care whether or not I improved every single time, but the only person that cared was me. Much like how I don’t get frustrated with my teammates for messing up a relay, they also understand that no one is perfect and that constant, consistent growth is not realistic.

There is no benefit to feeling anxious or working myself up because it only hinders my performance. Now, I approach every race telling myself to calm down and run the best I can. I clear my mind and focus on the techniques that help me in my race. This mindset allows me to relax and makes racing an enjoyable experience.

I still get nervous about racing and am still sometimes disappointed with my performance, but I’ve come a long way with regard to how I feel about track. The dread that stems from the fear of failure continues to linger, but the support I receive from my friends is beginning to overpower that feeling. The worst that can happen is making a mistake or not racing as well, but that’s acceptable because it’s impossible to be perfect. Instead of looking at these shortcomings as failures, viewing them as areas for improvement serves as my new motivation to continue pushing myself.

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