400 meters was my race. For a few years in my teens, I did not lose at that distance.
Every race went the same. I’d come out of the second turn and hit the final straight having just pulled into the lead. As I’d pull away, I’d hear cheers. This, to me, meant that whoever was right behind me was catching up. I’d turn up the speed. As I got closer to the finish line, the cheers got louder. To me, this meant the guy behind me was closing the gap, maybe even was right on my heels. I’d dig as deep as I could, summon up a final burst and make sure the guy didn’t beat me.
I’d always be surprised after I crossed the finish line how far ahead I was of the guy in second place.
It never occurred to me those cheers were for me.
My teammates always told me after the heats that I should save a little for the finals, but I couldn’t. I was terrified of losing. I was just going to have to win them all, and that, unfortunately, was that.
My coach knew better than to suggest I hold back. I think he’d figured out I was always running in fear. I was never running to the finish line. I was running from the guy behind me. Being a natural runner made me good. Being so afraid is what made me, for a few short years, almost great.
I don’t know that I enjoyed running in those days. I never thought about it. I ran because I was good at it, and with that came an obligation. The way I had it figured, we were all born to do certain things. In my case, it seemed like one of those was being an artist and the other was running. Whether or not I liked that stuff was not important. My life wasn’t necessarily going to be easier for doing these things. It’s simply that those were the things the universe had assigned to me. The universe said “you are going to run”, and so I did.