"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift" – Steve Prefontaine
Listen to my narration of the text:
I started running just shy of my 13th birthday, in 2014. Since then, I have made some of my best memories, met some of my best friends, and grown as a person in ways I could not have imagined.
Running has taught me to push the limits of what I thought was possible for myself, both mentally and physically. I learned it's always worth doing the extra rep or picking up the pace, whether on the track or in my other daily endeavors. It taught me that when I think I've given everything I have, that's probably not true.

High school boys compete in a race at Nike Cross Regionals Midwest on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. Over the course of multiple races, athletes competed despite rain, hail, snow and a windchill below freezing, many in just shorts and a sleeveless jersey.

The lead pack of the SEC Championships men’s race splashes through the mud on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021 at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, Mo. Columbia had seen an inch of precipitation in the two days before the meet, but in true cross country fashion, runners competed despite the wet and chilly conditions.

"Although it pains me to run harder, I always know stopping hurts more"                     –Unknown

Homestead High School (In.) sophomore Addison Knoblauch comes down a hill on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. Knoblauch finished second behind fellow sophomore Rachel Forsyth in a time of 18:11.

The lead pack in the Missouri Class 5 Championships race strides past the 3k on Friday, Nov. 6, 2021, at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, Mo. Hauser, pictured third from the right, ultimately placed first, setting a school and course record at 14:52.7 a year after his older brother, Matthew, won the 2020 title.

Cross country and track has taught me how to push through and truly give everything I have in me. I am not satisfied until I do the best I know I am capable of. I owe this mindset to many years within the sport, and it inspires me to see each new generation of runners experiencing that same shift in belief.
When you learn to give your all, there is no such thing as losing.

Shelby Senior High School (Oh.) senior Caleb Brown catches his breath after finishing third at Nike Cross Nationals on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Or. Brown finished in third, running a time of 15:08.

 Shaw Powell rests at the finish on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2019, at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Or. Powell finished 88th overall, running the course in 16:10. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2019 was the last year Nike Cross Nationals took place in person.

A high school runner clings to a fence to hold himself up after finishing his race on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. Runners clung around the fence at the end of the race, whether they were simply trying to stay standing or smiling ear-to-ear at proud relatives.

"Find a pace you can't maintain, then maintain it" –Unknown

A tent city is pictured through the finish area at the Missouri Cross Country High School State Championships on Friday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia, Mo. Tightly-packed multicolored tents are a staple of cross country meets, acting as a safe-haven for relaxation with teammates, coaches and friends.

But through this sport, I also learned it is okay to feel. It is okay to cry, and scream, and cheer, or anything else, and it is okay to reach out, whether for support or for someone to celebrate with. Results will not come in a day, in a week, or sometimes even in a month or a year. Sometimes results won't come for longer.
I know it is okay to step back from and reevaluate goals. I know it is important not to forget goals, even while stepping back. If anything, knowing the buildup and years of unseen effort paid off can be the most rewarding thing one could ask for.

Two Sandburg High School (Il.) girls cross country runners hug after racing in the Freshman-Sophomore race on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. The team fell short of competing at their state meet, so Nike Midwest  Regionals provided a last chance to compete in the 2021 season.

"The body achieves what the mind believes" –Napoleon Hill

Rock Bridge (Mo.) sophomore Andrew Hauser comes through the finish on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. Hauser, who is just a sophomore, won the Class 5 Missouri title the week prior with a course record.

Rock Bridge (Mo.) cross country coach Neal Blackburn, right, pumps his fist and cheers in celebration after cross country runner Andrew Hauser won the Nike Cross Regionals Midwest championship race on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. Three weeks later, Hauser set the Missouri state record with a time of 14:38 at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships in Huntsville, Al.

The Carmel High School (In.) girls’ cross country team cheers and holds up their sixth place award on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. They were the second best team from Indiana to Columbus North High School, who placed third at the Nike Midwest Regionals.

In concept, running is just a simple forward motion. The ultimate goal is to put one foot in front of the other, and do it quickly. But it is not always about moving ahead.
Going on a run forces me to be inside my thoughts for however many miles I'm running. It gives me a chance for reflection. It allows me time to think without distraction, which is an invaluable benefit I sometimes take for granted. It gives me time to think about how far I've come since days long past. Sometimes this is just as important as planning for the future.

Neil Staley, left, and Jarrett Embry prepare to throw running shoes into the spike tree on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, In. Staley graduated high school in 2018, and Embry in 2019. Despite being years past high school cross country races at the course, being able to throw their old shoes into the tree still holds a sentimental and nostalgic value.

The sport also gives me a chance to share these moments with friends who I have been running and building tradition with for year after year. There is nothing quite like the understanding that comes with that bond, runner to runner.
I cannot thank cross country and track enough for all it has given me over the years. Regardless, I know that, just like anything else in life, it would have given me nothing had I not given it everything.

Hundreds of shoes weigh down the branches of the spike tree at Laverne Gibson Cross Country Course on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in Terre Haute, In. Since 2004, high school and college athletes who compete at the course have thrown shoes into the tree after their races or at the end of the season.

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence"         –Vince Lombardi
(For the quotes – Thank you to the senior who wrote them on the spike box she gifted me as a freshman. It followed me to every meet I've competed in since that day.)

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