Fiona Max is a graduate of Summit High School in Bend, Oregon. The Princeton University athlete was a two-time NXN All-American who helped lead the Storm to a national title in 2018. Over the course of her high school career, she won four Oregon state championships across cross country and track and field. In May, she reflected on the sport, her career, and finds meaning in what success has taught her. We have decided to republish her entry.
- - -
"Rather than being the runner gorl, be the gorl who runs. That way you can also be the gorl who makes a mean enchilada, the gorl who loves chess, the gorl who sings jazz and not just the watered down version of yourself."
By Fiona Max - Summit High School
You have obviously taught me a lot, man. You have taught me how to be uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. You have humbled me in ways my cocky celery-legged middle school self would probably wet her pants over. But I actually think the most important thing you've taught me--far better than any AP lit class could--is the idea of universality.
I unknowingly play the "rookie" card a lot. How do I put this? If shouting "18 years! 18 years!" on the wrong verse of Kanye's Gold Digger is a 10 on the newb scale, I am a solid 12. Intimidation is not my strong suit.
I started running cross country sophomore year. That fall, "rookie" still hung on me like some old spice deodorant. I was brand new to the world of mile repeats and compression socks and glorified oatmeal. Even after I started experiencing local success, everything about the running world felt like a novelty. Running and I were in the honeymoon phase.
My junior year took me a bit by surprise. It got off to a fast start. Suddenly the girls I followed on Instagram were the same ones I was running alongside with at races. Of course, there was an electrifying confidence to that. The work I had put in felt all the more tangible. But there was something to be learned in that moment as well.
As I spent more time and had more success with running, the easier it became to tie my identity to it. There is beauty in pouring everything you have into something you love. You gain a sense of purpose that stems from the sacrifices you make to be better. But the flaw? Too often people forget that sacrifice looks different for everyone. They fall prey to the generalizations on "how to be a fast runner gorl."
* Fiona with her sister, Isabel
- - -
The runner gorl persona often dictates how much mileage you're running, what you order at restaurants, or what you post on Instagram. Of course, if you want to get faster you will have to change some of your habits. Perhaps your mileage does indeed change; perhaps you aren't ordering the "heart attack" mac five times a week now.
But you have to ask yourself if your habits are changing because of your own personal aspirations and needs or if you are blindly giving into the runner gorl blueprint for success.
For a while, I could not answer this question for myself. But then I had the chance to spend more than a race's worth of time with some of the people I had been running against or ranked with all season. It was then that I learned the difference between making a healthy sacrifice and trying to mold my own identity to that of the runner gorl.
There is beauty in pouring everything you have into something you love. You gain a sense of purpose that stems from the sacrifices you make to be better. But the flaw? Too often people forget that sacrifice looks different for everyone. They fall prey to the generalizations on "how to be a fast runner gorl."
At Nike Elite Camp there was a 5K time trial on our itinerary. Some girls felt good and decided to use it as a training opportunity to test their limits. Others crossed the line holding hands. Some viewed it as a nice little tempo in the forest. Nothing about the results from that time trial--good or bad--predicted the fall season to come. Why? Healthy sacrifice that day had looked different for everyone. Regardless, we had all gotten something out of the time trial. I think the group was more in touch with the fact that we were a bunch of gals and not just legs running against a clock.
As I became closer with the people I raced against, I began to learn more about the shmo factor. The shmo factor is the direct antithesis of the runner gorl. It defies the idea that one of the girls you run against wakes upevery morning feeling like an 11/10, goes straight to her yoga mat and completes twenty sun salutations between sips of lemon water.
Everybody is a shmo (see dictionary definition: a hypothetical ordinary man) when they wake up in the morning and rub the crust out of their eyes. Some are fast shmos, some even faster, but at the end of the day everybody is a shmo trying to do their best. Once I recognized that, it made running even more rewarding and enjoyable. The intimidation games that people tried to play became laughable. We know you were just in the same post-race porta potty situation as me, Karen.
One of the reasons it's so fun to get all dressed up with your teammates at dinners or race ceremonies is that it serves as a reminder of the different compartments of our life that don't make it out to the track. Seeing your buddy Greg tripping over his new pair of loafers makes you realize there are so many more layers to a life than times and MileSplit interviews.
My junior year took me a bit by surprise. It got off to a fast start. Suddenly the girls I followed on Instagram were the same ones I was running alongside with at races.
Once you have that perspective, it becomes a lot easier to toe the line with your fellow shmos.
Rather than being the runner gorl, be the gorl who runs. That way you can also be the gorl who makes a mean enchilada, the gorl who loves chess, the gorl who sings jazz and not just the watered down version of yourself.
The best part? You teach the people who look up to you that being good at something does not mean being one dimensional.
Coming to terms with my own dimensions has brought richness to my running career-and my life. It's made it easier to forge friendships at the most stressful meets. Everyone forgets to floss. Everyone fears. Everyone is a shmo when they wake up in the morning. And there is some universality in that.
A BIG THANK YOU
This will be the last Dear Running essay of the 2020 spring track and field season. We'd like to thank everyone who sent submissions in and we are looking forward to more in ensuing seasons.