The Next One
My favorite part of cross country is and always has been racing. The ultimate showcase of all of the training we've done is the perfect way to scratch that competitive itch. To race means to make yourself vulnerable and put everything you've got onto the track. It can be exhausting, especially when you've got one race every week for months at a time. Staying motivated in the middle of a season where there are just as many races in front of you as there are behind can be extremely difficult. The opposite is true as well. When your next race is months away, it's hard to find that competitive spirit to keep going. What I like to keep in mind whenever I train is that there's always going to be another race. Maybe it's soon. Maybe not. There's always another race. One more test to show what you're made of. Keeping that in mind can positively affect training and motivate you to keep going in the summer and winter months especially.
One of my least favorite parts of the year is summer training. Track season is finished and cross season seems so far away that it's hard to feel like you're actually training for something real. In Texas, where the heat can be worse than the actual mileage, I find that summer running is the hardest. The best thing you can do to keep your head in the game when you're literally being cooked by the sky to think about the upcoming season. Even when it's far away, it's important to have a clear-cut goal to strive for. This makes workouts seem to have more purpose. Over my four years as a runner, I've seen people squander their summer training only for it to come back and ruin their season. I've seen the other side of it too, however. Sometimes, a new freshman joins the team and works so hard throughout the summer that they drop nearly a minute off of their mile time. Since I've been a runner, I've experienced both kinds of summers. Some of my summers have been amazing and I've come out of them stronger, but others have made me tired and slower. In those harder off summers, I struggled with motivation. The next race was still months away and it's hard to see the end through all of the heat. I, for one, haven't found a cure for motivation in summer training besides the fact that you just have to stay focused on what's most important to you. It's harder in the summer because coaches aren't always present and running solo is extremely hard. But finding discipline in the summer can lead to an extraordinary fall season. Knowing your goals can keep you going even when others around you may be struggling.
Inversely, during a racing season, it's easy to get fatigued and begin to start going through the motions. Rather than pushing yourself in workouts, you begin to simply survive. The difference between surviving a workout and completing a workout is pretty simple. Firstly, surviving a workout means that you finished it, but only barely. When given the opportunity to push yourself to go harder at the cost of pain, you decided it wasn't worth it. Completing a workout is when you decide to go faster, even when it hurts more. During the season, possibly more than any other time of year, it is incredibly important to complete every workout and never choose to merely survive. What I find helps me to complete every workout, rather than survive them, is to focus on helping those around me. Everyone hurts when they run and it's easy to get
caught up in your own pain. Remembering that everyone running around you is hurting just as much if not more can be a real motivator. Turning your attention away from your own pain so that you can push and encourage those around you helps both those you're helping and yourself. It's a win win scenario and it takes only a little more effort than regular running.
Now, at the end of my last cross country season, I'm faced with a new situation I hadn't even thought about until now: I've run my last cross country race. Of course, there's still track in the spring and I have a few road races coming up, but my career as a cross country runner is at its end. I'm both terrified of what's to come and proud of all the work that I've done up until now. It's only been a week, but I'm already finding it hard to stay motivated. It's strange waking up and knowing that there are no more trips to Nike or McNeil. It's over. However, as I continue to run, I've come to realize that just because I don't have a race coming up, those around me do. The next generation of runners is only just getting started all around me.
So, to runners with years still left to run, keep running and lean on those around you. Focus on lifting those up around you and you'll lift yourself up without even knowing it. For those of us who are at the end of our careers, use what time you have left to leave your team better than you found it. I am who I am today because of the seniors that took time to mentor me when I was an underclassman. This is my chance to give that back and be a mentor for the next group of runners. I encourage all who are nearly done with their careers to turn around and pay it forward. If you can leave a team better off than you found it and you teach the next generation to the same when they're done, then you'll have built a team that will last forever.