As of the diagnosis a few weeks ago, I have hip injuries. They are not serious, but require my absence from my school’s Cross Country team as well as physical therapy two or three times a week. In fact, I did some physical therapy earlier this week after school. During this hiatus from running on the Cross Country team, I have really been able to step back and view the experience from a fresh perspective.
During the season, when running around 30 miles a week with grueling meets every week, it is difficult to pay attention to anything but keeping your head afloat, getting through every practice and meet intact with the end goal of improving your speed. While the long runs through Central Park or hill repeats at Van Cortland Park can certainly be difficult and require real mental fortitude, meets are the most grueling in my opinion. The race, around 2.5 miles in length, is non-stop pain — both mental and physical. Especially when running with the Varsity group, where so many other kids are extraordinarily fast, it seems like I’m pushing myself to the limit and still coming in at the back end of the group. The beginning of the race represents the first of the emotional pitfalls for me, as most everyone sprints right out of the box. Even though coaches say that it is a bad strategy, I never manage to see many of those sprinting runners ever again throughout the rest of the race. This is one of the few flat sections of the race, and being at the very beginning, adrenaline can play a key role in boosting my speed. Unfortunately, this adrenaline boost wears off just as the massive horde of scantily-clad high school boys nears the hills — the worst part by far.
As the vast expanse of field narrows down into a small dirt opening to the hills, things start to get messy. There are shoves and feet-stepped on in the process to get into the hills without finding oneself stuck behind a row of ten runners seeking to fit into an opening that fits only two side-by-side. At this point, my adrenaline starts to wane and I find myself thinking, “Why did I sign up to do this?” Usually, I develop a small cramp heading into the hills, which is not the ideal moment to cramp up. Anyways, the crowd thins out in the hills, as each runner struggles with the steep, dusty inclines and the sounds of heavy breathing behind them. When you are running in the hills, there are no coaches, no parents or fans, just you and the other racers, left to fend for yourselves. The difference between success and failure is how hard you push yourself when you are the only one that can. No peer pressure, coach/parent encouragement, nothing. You could even just give up on one of the tougher hills, later chalking it up to an injury or slipping. For me, my legs usually max out in their capacity to bring me up steep inclines only around halfway through the hills. However, I keep going, often breathing very heavily and taking mental note of the many pains going on across my body.
Last year during the final race, the championship race for our league, it was only around 50 degrees out and the team wore only the uniform: a loose tank top jersey, and incredibly short shorts that covered half the quad if lucky. The cold hit hard, but luckily, after around five minutes of pain, receded into a dull throb. My knees hurt more than usual, and breathing was more difficult. Rather than thinking about the pain — which was getting harder to ignore as the race progressed — I decided to try to think about things that made me angry. Imagining scenarios worse than the one I was currently in, and somehow convincing myself that running harder would keep me from those terrible scenarios, was my chief strategy.
Now, this was the last meet of the year, and there were certainly expectations. The team was vying for a spot in the top five, something that our team had not managed to do in a few years. I had also gotten a faster time every single meet that year, which was something I was hoping to keep up. None of this was in my head, however, as I neared the finish line. My numb limbs were starting to get to the point where they were stinging again, and my muscles were definitely feeling the impacts of running up and down dusty hills for 1.5 miles. As the big yellow post rose out of the horizon as I exited the hills, I felt a sense of cautious optimism. I knew, from previous races, that the distance between the hills and the finish line was deceptively long, so I did not want to get my hopes up. The last stretch can feel especially long as you cannot help but focus your eyes on the bright yellow sign that stands right out in the green grassy field. After what felt like half an hour, I ran through the finish line and gasped for air. Looking up at the timer, I realized that I achieved another season best time! I was stoked, as that was the perfect end to the season. I ran a 15:53, which was seven seconds faster than my last race. My calves were cramping, but I did not really care, since I knew that I would not run the painful race for another year.
As I was walking around, talking to my teammates about the race, I remembered the constant advice, from coaches and teammates, to keep hydrated before practices. This meant early on in the school days, since playing catch-up would lead to dehydration during runs, which was painful and exhausting. I had actually maintained high levels of hydration throughout the season, mostly due to the constant reminders set out by the team. I also knew that there would be immediate consequences to showing up to practice dehydrated, as the run would be exponentially more difficult. Thinking back to this made me realize that I should not need to stay hydrated exclusively during the season, but throughout the rest of the year as well. As someone with Moyamoya, it is imperative for me to stay hydrated even throughout normals days. Yes, it can certainly be difficult to remember to drink water when the day is jam-packed with activities and there are a thousand thoughts and concerns whirling around, but I need to be able to remember, and that is perhaps the most important lesson I took away from the season.