Runner's Life
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Runner's Life

A Letter to My Cross Country Coach

Dear Mr. H,

I’ve never been good at saying thank you — at least not for the big things in my life, but that’s something I’ve been trying to change. This past week, I registered for next year’s Boston Marathon, so this felt like an appropriate time to write this.

I never thought I would be able to register for the Boston marathon — at least not unless I ran for a charity. I ran my first marathon in 2011 and going into it, I honestly wasn’t sure I could finish. I finished that race in 4:51:22 — an hour and sixteen minutes slower than the officially required qualifying time and even further off from the time needed to actually register. A few marathons later, I had shaved off 15–20 minutes — not even close to what I needed. If Boston were my only goal, I never would have made it. However, over the time you were my coach, you taught me that outside goals like qualifying for Boston aren’t the point. The real successes are running personal bests and beating my own expectations. The victories are pushing myself as hard as I can and even when I fail, knowing that I have tried my best. If my only goal was Boston, I would have quickly given up — I was impossibly far. However, because my goals were more inward facing, I eventually got there.

You’ve never met most of my friends, but through me, you’re a part of the reason that a lot of them run. I’ve convinced a large number of my friends to run a large variety of races (not to mention all of the random training runs throughout the weeks). I think one of the crazier things was that some of us signed up for the Berlin marathon lottery — including two of my friends who had never run more than a few miles before. All but one of us got in through the lottery. Those two friends said they had just signed up for the lottery because they didn’t really think they’d get in, but you know, if some of the rest of us did then it would be a fun trip to Germany. They ran that race and have continued running — they’re currently training for another marathon.

You weren’t actually the one that introduced me to running, but you were the one that taught me to love it. I remember the first year I signed up for cross country — I did so because it was a challenge. At the same time, though, I was a little terrified. It had this reputation of being really hard — you had to be slightly crazy to even try. People got in shape for other sports, but that shape never really compared to what the cross country kids did (or at least that was the general opinion). I had a great time on that team, but more importantly, I learned to love running. I lost track of running a bit in college, but because of cross country, I’ve always come back to it. In the last six or so years, I’ve really rediscovered running, which I never would have done without my positive experiences in high school. I now struggle to actually take off rest days and I start to get super antsy if I take off two days in a row. Running has become a part of who I am.

You may have never mentioned the phrase “ultra running” to me, but you did teach me to try to achieve things beyond where I thought my limits were. Over the time I’ve been running, I’ve been unsure if I would be able to finish a half marathon, then a marathon, then two marathons in one year, then a trail marathon, then a 50k, then a 50-mile race. I’ve successfully finished all of those and I recently signed up for a 100k. I have pushed myself so far beyond where I was completely convinced that my limits were. I’m still not sure where my actual limits lie, but you were correct that they are much further out than I ever imagined. Because of what you taught us, I also never let that nagging feeling that maybe I couldn’t actually do something stop me from trying. Maybe I really can’t complete a 100k (I’m certainly worried), but that’s no reason not to try — I’ll never know unless I do.

Although the main focus of this letter is running, a lot of those lessons from cross-country extend far beyond running. You taught me about perseverance and resilience. You taught me to question any limits imposed on me by others (or myself). You taught me that throughout all of life, it’s not about winning or surpassing others, but about doing my best and cheering on my team to do the same. Thank you.

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Runner's Life is a publication for advice and stories from the intersection of running and life. By runners, for runners.

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Joy Ebertz

Joy Ebertz

Principal Software Engineer & ultra runner @SplitSoftware

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