Living in my hometown of Canby, Oregon over the summer, I took a stroll down to my former high school’s athletic fields. I entered the gate and there it stood, the red, 8-lane track that I had performed countless workouts on year-round, from the frigid days of winter to the sweat-drenching afternoons in late August. On this rubber surface I had dug my track spikes into, feeling the flood of adrenaline and anxiously waiting for the blast of the starting gun. Today I walk along the backstretch of this ever-familiar track, over four years removed from any meet competition, and line up at the 200 meter starting line. My high school running days are long gone and the stadium is empty, but my mind, normally cluttered with the stresses of a fifth-year college student, is focused on these vivid, unforgettable memories. As I glance at the lanes ahead of me, that familiar adrenaline rush returns and as if nothing has changed, I let loose and build up to a full sprint. For a mere 25 seconds or so I am back in that Canby High jersey charging toward the finish line, with my friends and family cheering me on.

Moments like these which I have had several of since graduating high school in 2007 have shown me what a special and memorable experience my youth running career was. Although my current life rarely ever revolves around competitive running anymore aside from the occasional community 5K, my four-year career as a high school runner has brought me profound, lasting memories of training and competing as well as meeting new friends and simply having fun. In fact, I met my best friend through Track & Field and we continue to share our experiences and will for years to come. I also learned some valuable lessons from coaches, teammates and through my experiences that I have continued to keep in mind when dealing with life’s ups and downs. For example, one of the most notable lessons I have learned through my track and cross country days is to always put forth your best effort, and if you don’t get the results you were hoping for, keep your head up and continue to work toward your weaknesses. I look at this lesson as the most valuable because of how I will be applying it to my job search and work ethic upon graduating college next year. One of the main weaknesses that have haunted me in life so far is my tendency to get down on myself and blame myself for too much, and I will need to use this lesson along with the same support group that I was provided with during my high school running career to overcome this crucial weakness.

Just moments after I finished the final race of my senior track season, the 400 meters at the district prelims, reality set in and I became very emotional because I had made the decision (although I still don’t regret it) not to pursue collegiate track or cross country, and I knew this was the end. For the following months it wasn’t a major life problem, but I definitely felt the strain of the emotional bond I had with track and cross country. This especially showed in the summer after graduating high school when I participated in my former high school’s off-season workouts despite knowing that I wouldn’t be back the following season. During the transition to the college life, motivation to stay in shape was one thing I had to adapt to without weekly meets or set workouts. I was able to adapt fairly quickly by using the fitness center and continuing to set goals by increasing the intensity of my workouts each week. Besides the desire to stay in shape and maintain a healthy lifestyle, a lot of the motivation to work out in college has come from the familiar feeling of accomplishment I experienced time and time again during my high school running career. The truth is that before I got into track and cross country, I never really believed in a “runner’s high” and running was just a form of punishment, but after those four valuable years of experience, running has become an ever-important part of my life. It has become a way to stay in shape, reflect on the great memories in track in cross country, continue to set goals and boost my self-esteem, and help battle the stresses of life.

Cherish the moments of your youth running career, learn the valuable lessons that track and cross country can teach, and run every race as if it’s your last.