by Uma Sanker*
"Running is a sport in which you can either choose to find yourself or lose yourself."
Reading the Big Nate books growing up, one thing that I always admired about the protagonist of the books, Nate Wright, was that he never gave up on his ambitions. Whether he’s being thrown in detention for the millionth time in a row, or his friends are telling him that it really won’t work out with Jenny, he keeps working towards his goals. Even if they’re quite questionable goals sometimes.
When I first started to run competitively, I was definitely more of a Chad - the insecure, chubby boy who’s one of Nate’s various friends and does things cause he enjoys doing them, not because he’s good at them. In sixth grade, when I walked to room 274 to scribble my name on the cross country sign-up sheet, I was someone you’d expect to have their head buried in a book. I was someone who you’d expect to be on the math team. Someone who you’d never expect to see busting out a six minute mile. Nate would have probably called me a nerd who needed to, “get a life,” much like he frequently said to Francis. I didn’t really have anything that I wanted to work towards at the time; nothing to ground myself. I hadn’t found who I really was yet.
Running is a sport in which you can either choose to find yourself or lose yourself. You can choose to work your hardest and be the best version of yourself, or mindlessly drag yourself through miles on end. One causes you to find yourself, and one causes you to lose yourself. The work you put in, the training that you dedicate yourself to, all define who you are as a runner. Both paths will get you to the same place, but in different ways.
Nate embodies the confidence that I tried to when I placed my name on the sign-up sheet. He doesn’t care what other people think about him. He shamelessly goes after what he wants, and doesn’t give a crap about what other people may think. He doesn’t strangle himself by conforming to the stereotypes that the world has provided him with, and in doing so, he’s found himself.
In the process of finding yourself, it’s quite easy to lose yourself. I remember in my freshman year of cross country, that my summer training - although I did 200 miles, all of them were half-hearted. It was apparent that I cared, but I didn’t have the motivation to improve. The moment you begin to feel like you can’t improve anymore is always a point at which you lose yourself.
The way to combat losing yourself is hard. You may think that the obvious answer is, you need to find yourself, but it’s not that simple. It’s a battle that occurs within the mind; it may not be visible on the outside, but can be an ongoing struggle. It sounds so easy to not be sucked into the trap of succumbing to your ego, but it’s ultimately easier said than done. I had to shatter my ego; wake up and realize that the world was not waiting for me, to continue to find myself. Although Nate has a huge ego, he doesn’t succumb to it. He knows, although he verbally never says, that he can improve. He knows that he can keep working on himself. Yet, he stays true to himself and doesn't change for anyone but him. Maintaining that balance, is key.
I like to think of running as a beacon within a storm; the competitiveness. Throughout my middle school years, cross country and track fed my inner competitive side I never knew I had. I started to grow an idea of what I was looking for. High school further showed me I had long ways to go, but that I was stronger than I realized.
The pain is just as much as critical a part of the refuge as the serotonin. Workouts are the stepping stones to success, races are the mile markers. Pain is a part of all of it, but it is a constant that doesn’t change. The pain shows that you’re improving. The improvement is the motivating factor to find yourself; the constant desire to improve and to be the best version of yourself. Remodeling yourself from having a Chad mindset, to having a Nate mindset. Trying not to lose yourself amid the process. Quoting what Nate says when he begins to do something, practically anything: “What could possibly go wrong?”
Listen to this:
*Huge thanks to Uma for letting me share this post with the RWM readers. It is such a pleasure to work with you and watch you grow both as a runner and a young woman. Stay after it.