It was the Big Day at Steens Mountain Running Camp and the nerves from the night before had become more severe in the morning. I woke up, looked around, saw the elite runners around me, and wondered whether I really belonged in this camp. I saw athletes putting on gear nicer than mine and stretching with a bored confidence I lacked. I got even more nervous.
I wondered to myself: “What will happen if I can’t make it through?”
With no choice but to attempt the seemingly impossible, I hopped on the bus, left the camp area, and began the journey towards the most painful run of my life. Thirteen miles into the run, it was time to decide which group to join for the run out of the canyon. There were four groups to choose from, with Group 1 being the most difficult. Group 2 was where a lot of the talented and experienced high school runners ended up, as Group 1 was more for the college runners to show off their talents.
Knowing I was out of my league and against my own judgment, I decided to run with Group 2. As I began to run, my legs, lungs, shoulders, and anything else attached to my body began to burn intensely, as if each muscle was being slowly dragged apart, strand-by-strand. Sandwiched between other runners, the only option I had was to stay right behind the kid in front of me without forming any spaces, or drop out of the group and have everybody see that I couldn’t make it. In the moment, my mind was fully committed to the option of dropping out of the group. The only thing keeping my legs moving was the fear of the other runners yelling at me to stop falling behind. My eyes began to water and I began wheezing. Getting a breath of fresh air became all that mattered. Staying in the group or dropping out became the difference between whether I would let myself quit and take the easy way out, or keep going and persevere. I remembered my coach telling me, “As soon as you let yourself quit once, you will let it happen anytime the trail gets hard.”
Despite everyone seeing how much pain I was in, I finished in Group 2. I came out of that canyon through the bushes, with blood running down my legs, blistered feet, sore shoulders, and a smile on my face. With confidence, I can now tell myself that whenever it gets hard – in life or running – I never have, and never will, quit.