Abby Waddington is a junior at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. She was a New Jersey (NJSIAA) South Sectional runner-up in cross country, a top 20 finisher at the Group Championships and an outdoor Meet of Champions qualifier in the 3,200m, where she finished the year with a PR of 11:15.34. She also has run a best of 5:12.83 for 1,600m. Here, Abby writes about all the ways in which running has impacted her life, and all the things it has taught her through the years.
"And above all, running is my home, an undying passion, something that's brought me closer with those I love most."
Sometimes, running is pain, brutality, grit. It deals us pain in ways we can't imagine, punishes our shortcomings, grinds us into dust and reforms us into a suitable shape. It consumes us every now and then, the need to be great. It knocks us down, holds a steady foot on our chests as we try to persevere.
It isn't like other sports, running. Pain is in its nature and the only way to excel is to withstand it. It's the boiling heat of summer workouts, the smell of the burning track, pungent, as my legs threaten to give. Four a.m. treadmill runs, clumsy footfalls rocking the rubber belt as I wish desperately to be asleep instead. Running is the sting of second place, the absolute devastation of anything else, cold fear slithering through my chest as I step on the line, my brain disconnecting from my body as I prepare to push to my limit, legs set aflame as they churn toward the finish line ... two minutes rest and then it's off again, my body dragging the last 10 reps with me.
Sometimes, running is loss and sacrifice, deep sadness and mourning of what could have been. It's tears on page after page of race plans gone awry, goals that fell to the wayside, the smeared words written in a language of far-off dreams, something great on the horizon and a brutal cancellation of that one critical race, the feeling of going down on the infield, the clock marching on while you try to process that the girl who tripped you is hurtling toward a personal best and you are left bruised and angry and incapable of doing anything to fix it. It's the potent build-up of stress, the frustration of one bad workout, the pain of losing, of loss, of a cold disappointment when I don't run to my potential.
Running is going to the finish line in an ambulance, at my biggest meet yet, still lost as to how I ended up laying on the grass.
And yet, running is everything to me. It's the adrenaline of racing, the joy on my face as I crash into an exhausted hug with a teammate. It's a long quiet run, the sounds of the town at sunset muted by the blanket of orange spreading across the sky, my feet pounding, birds chirping overhead as my body becomes one with my soul. It's the green trees of summer against a vibrant blue sky, the crisp call of an icy winter, breath hanging on the air like a vow to continue.
It's a pre-race playlist, played through tangled earbuds as a big yellow bus bumps along a muddy back road. It's my team's first sectional win, my biggest PRs, the feeling of qualifying for Meet of Champions, my first varsity win. It's the collection of bibs pinned above my desk, that dream of one day running at the highest level, my lucky race day shorts.
Running is the sport that saved me from myself. It's what pulled me out of the depths of grief and depression, kept me sane through monotony, excited me when I felt I had nothing else. It gave me a reason to bring my body back from the brink, gain weight, it's a happiness I hadn't known in half a decade. It's a space where my brain clears, empties of all but the joy of doing what I love, what I'm good at.
And above all, running is my home, an undying passion, something that's brought me closer with those I love most.
Dear running...Thank you.
Clearview Regional High School, '23
CONTRIBUTE TO THIS SERIES
If you are a track and field athlete or coach interested in contributing to this series at the state or national level, please send your essay to MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at email@example.com, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.