Dear Running: Every Race Has Been Perfectly Imperfect

Odessa Zentz is a junior at Helena High School in Montana. As a freshman, she won two MHSA Class AA state titles in the 400m and 800m, respectively, and owns career PRs of 57.29 seconds and 2:14.25 at both distances. In this Dear Running essay, which was published in 2020, she explores all the ways this sport is driving her toward success. 

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"Every race has been perfectly imperfect and I learn something from every single one of them, no matter where I finish."

By Odessa Zentz - Helena High School

Dear Running,

It doesn't make sense to a lot of people when I say, "I love to run," or "I can't wait for this workout" -- efforts that leave my body deprived of oxygen, my throat gasping for air and feeling like it's on fire. But I know one truth they do not.

Those who have not have experienced this cannot understand the beauty of it.

Sometimes, I really dread practice, but as we endure this awful pandemic, I am never again taking that for granted. I am never again taking for granted that satisfying feeling of finishing continuous reps of 400s. I am never again taking for granted all the sweaty hugs after a hot day of practice. I am never again taking for granted the year-round preparation to race in a state meet. I am never again taking for granted that amazing feeling of being the first person to throw their aching body across a finish line.

I can't begin to explain the feeling of racing. It feels like I was made to race, and I believe I am. I am my most confident self when I am first to round the final corner of the most painful, but most amazing races on the track. My body feels like it can't be stopped, like I'm the strongest person alive. I love my two races and how they inspire me. I thank the 800 for giving me a reason to never stop when in pain, to hold on just a bit longer. And I thank the 400 for showing me confidence, for giving me the feeling that I own the track and that I own the race. I thank them both for giving me the strength to tell myself, "faster, faster, faster, you can do this."

I hope the culture of running is inspiring to other sports. Teammates or rivals, friends or foes, we are one big family and we thrive on competition and celebrate each other's successes. As my team often says, "Suffer together, family forever." That bond is the reason we all compete. The feeling of racing would be nowhere near the same if I were all alone.

And I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to have competition like I do in Montana. This state brings out the fiercest and toughest part of me. My teammates and competitors are the reason I race. When I'm at the starting line, I'm inspired knowing I'm next to girls who train their hearts out just like me. Montana has a reputation of producing outstanding girls distance runners, and I am honored to be part of that legacy.

You make me appreciate the feeling of pain, and I believe that is how you produce the most motivated and determined people. The feeling of adrenaline pumping, lungs frantically providing oxygen to fatigued muscles, and my mind fighting the negative thoughts just to get to that finish line. You also teach me how to deal with stress -- not just the kind I experience on the track -- but mental stress in other parts of my life. School, friends, family, and even the current situation we're experiencing can all be so draining and you have always been my greatest outlet.

Injuries happen, too. You've hurt me because I've even loved you too much. Those experiences have helped me learn that rest and recovery is important and that I must have patience. Our bodies need time to heal, so putting in consistent work and trusting the process is important. I love this sport even more when I can run injury-free.

I hope the culture of running is inspiring to other sports. Teammates or rivals, friends or foes, we are one big family and we thrive on competition and celebrate each other's successes.

- Odessa Zentz, Helena High

You've taught me how to deal with failure, on and off the track. And I wouldn't be the person I am today without knowing that failure fuels success. Throughout these many years of running, I have definitely had my ups and downs. Every race has been perfectly imperfect and I learn something from every single one of them, no matter where I finish. You've taught me to believe that it's not all about winning. You've shown me that every failure is another lesson that will inspire me to better myself as an athlete, a student, a family member, and as a community member.

You have given me the most amazing friends I have ever had. We've endured pain together while doing a workout as the scorching sun reflects off the track and on to our working bodies. That's a bond unlike any other. It's like every strong friendship. If you suffer together, your bond with them only grows stronger. That happens with my teammates every day, so you can imagine how special they are to me. I get just as nervous for them as I do for myself.

And all I want for them is happiness, for them to never doubt themselves. They give me a reason to show the best, truest version of myself. I feel complete with my teammates. Without them, there would be something that always felt was missing. But I am grateful for the feeling of having them scream my name at the top of their lungs because they love me and believe in me.

Running, you are my life, and I can't express this enough. Thank you for making me who I am. Thank you for structuring how I live my life, for giving me determination and grit and helping me believe nothing is impossible. You helped me believe in trusting the process, because when you do, the best possible things will happen. I love you for all the precious memories you've already given me at age 16, from meeting my best friends to crossing the finish line to winning two state titles. I love you for bringing out the best version of myself.

Thank you, and love,

- OdessaHelena High Bengals, Class of 2022



For whatever your passion, be it running, jumping, throwing, hurdling, et cet., if you are a track and field and/or cross country athlete or coach interested in contributing to this series, please send your essay to



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