Dear Running: How I Found Peace Through The Process

Roisin Willis was recently named as MileSplit's Athlete of the Year over the indoor season. She was also Gatorade's National Player of the Year over the previous outdoor season. In February, she broke the high school national indoor record in the 800m, clocking a time of 2:00.06. She also ran historic marks in the 500m (1:10.90) and 1,000m (2:43.34). Previously, she signed with Stanford University in November. Writing our latest Dear Running letter, Willis recounts one of her earliest memories in the sport, and then comes to a realization about its impact on her. 

    "Thank you for showing me the true joy of this sport, apart from the recognition and glory, and allowing me to find peace in the process of becoming a better athlete and person."

    By Roisin Willis - Stevens Point High School (WI) '22

    Dear Running,

    This may sound strange, but I would like to thank you for teaching me how to lose.

    While I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to win races, my experiences in the sport have taught me that disappointing results are common. Season after season, you have reminded me that learning from defeat creates the foundation for long-term success.

    From the beginning of my competitive experiences, you have also taught me that this can be an unforgiving sport. Almost a decade ago, I found out for the first time. I have vivid memories of the 2013 USATF Junior Olympics. I can still feel the heat rising off the blue oval in Greensboro, North Carolina, when I was one of 24 girls awaiting their fate in the semi- final of the 9-10 age group of the 400 meters.

    I bounced around nervously, replaying the experiences of this same meet the previous year, when I failed to make the final of the 200m. I remembered walking off the track devastated and crying into my dad's arms. A year later, my focus was on the 400m. After running a minute and seven seconds to qualify the previous weeks, and then running one minute and six seconds in the first round at nationals, I realized I had the ability to make the final. That would grant me the glorious status of All-American. 

    The year before, I competed in my first major track meet. Even though I was in the sub-bantam age group -- which is currently known as the '8 and under category' -- I was one of the only girls who didn't own spikes. My parents, who were runners themselves, were not prepared for the organization and commitment of USATF and the clubs competing in these track meets.

    The summer USATF Junior Olympic series still stands as the most intense and nerve wracking events in which I have ever competed. And I say that even after competing in multiple high school state and national championships, and the U.S. Olympic Trials. I have never witnessed more nerves, more heartbreak and more grit than what these meets contained. They were often held in sweltering locations such as Houston and Sacramento, in the late months of July. My blue cooling towel was an essential item at every meet. 

    Back to 2013. My hands and knees burned on the track as I listened for the "set" announcement by the starter. When the gun sounded, all of my nerves escaped my body and I sprinted around the bend. Knowing I would have to give everything to make the final, I locked into my final gear from the gun. Of course, any experienced 400m runner knows that despite being near a full-on sprint, the event requires immense precision and patience, holding back just enough gas for a battle in the last 50 meters.

    However, my lack of experience led me to pound the track until the white lines blurred and my vision went hazy. In the final stretch, my dreams of All-American were still a possibility, even as one girl inched away, leaving a battle between lane 7 and me for the last spot in the final. With a second left in the race, lactic acid took complete control of my body, freezing my muscles as intense pains shot through my limbs. While it felt like I was stuck in slow motion, battling my inevitable fate which was sealed by my gutsy race plan, lane 7 snuck past me, snatching the last time qualifier. She advanced to the final. I did not. 

    After giving every last ounce of energy for 395 meters, my body had nothing left and I staggered across the finish line, exhausted and disappointed.

    The moments that followed were not my finest. Tears filled my eyes, and then they rushed down my face, for what seemed like hours on end. Even though my gutsy performance granted me a shiny new personal best time of one minute and five seconds, it had no importance to me.

    "First, thank you for teaching me how to lose. Thank you for allowing me to experience the pain of crossing the line without a medal, a time standard or a record despite giving 110-percent of myself on the track."

    As we left the stadium, I looked over at the glorious white podium, which was surrounded by bouquets of flowers where finalists would stand and celebrate the following day. Pangs of disappointment shot through me. Many of my junior Olympic experiences played out in a similar fashion.

    While I did end up achieving "All-American" the following year, the majority of my national Junior Olympic and club track experiences involved losing.

    Nevertheless, though, my love for you grew year after year. 

    Even though victory was not a taste I would discover until high school, the years of consistently crossing the line in second, third, fourth and sometimes last, shaped me into the person and athlete I am today. 

    New challenges arrived in the 2021 track season as the U.S. Olympic Trials Qualifier transformed from a personal goal to an ominous storm cloud taunting me each time I competed.

    The frustration of crossing the line countless times while not seeing a number that reflected my work in practice was agonizing. Looking back on this time, I understand that these disappointments taught me resilience and forced me to redefine what losing really was to me.

    Competitive and driven athletes let times and medals impede their true love for the sport, which results in an endless cycle of dissatisfaction and heartbreak.

    As I am writing these words, I acknowledge that I am that competitive and driven athlete, and losing is quite possibly one of my least favorite things, but running, you have forced me to deal with it, time and time again, and now I think I've started to learn a few things. 

    First, thank you for teaching me how to lose. Thank you for allowing me to experience the pain of crossing the line without a medal, a time standard or a record despite giving 110-percent of myself on the track.

    Without these experiences, I would have never learned about my shortcomings or areas in need of improvement. As many coaches say, "you win or you learn." I agree with that. Developing runners need to learn more than they need to win. So thank you for showing me the true joy of this sport, apart from the recognition and glory, and allowing me to find peace in the process of becoming a better athlete and person.  

    Often times, losing is associated with defeat and utter loss.

    However, I'd like to think of it as a gift that provides more than winning ever could.

    Roisin Willis

    Stevens Point High School '22






    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, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.