“Are you nervous?”
Maybe the worst question anyone can ask you as you stand on the starting line, ready for the race. Parents ask it. Coaches ask it. Even teammates ask it. They tend to ask it right at that time when you are focusing on the task at hand, playing through your mind the start, the turns, the hills, the finish. The questioning does nothing to alleviate those nerves, and on occasion, will make them worse. But you don’t say much, because, frankly, the answer is, “Of course I’m nervous.”
You’ve got every reason to be nervous. Because for the next few minutes you will be on display to everyone and you will measure your worth by a time on the clock and place in a line. Even worse, after all is said and done, that measure of your worth will be printed on paper, tacked to a board, and posted on the internet. So why shouldn’t you be nervous? The mass of humanity isn’t judged like this. They go about their lives in quiet anonymity. Thoreau told us that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. Never challenged, never nervous.
But what sets us, the athletes, apart from most others is that we choose this nervousness. We seek it out, we want to be nervous. It’s part of the bargain we make. In order to have a chance at victory, we have to be willing to find out who we are. And for us humans, that’s the most anxiety provoking: the fear that we will be revealed as something we are not. And those nerves – that unconscious fear of the unknown manifested through a rumbling stomach and cold sweat on a freezing morning – are what drive us to greatness.
Those nerves serve as a motivator. During the drudgery of summer training, the endless intervals, the never-ending tempo runs, we run with that fear. It challenges us, urges us, inspires us to be better runners than we were the day before. We wake up with the fear and go to sleep with it, we train with it every day. It’s that fear that helps us to train hard, day in, day out, to make ourselves better.
So when it appears on the line before a race, it isn’t something new, or scary. It is part of us. And, if we’re being honest with ourselves, there’s a part of us that likes the nervousness, thrives on it. That love of fear is what makes us athletes; what makes us runners. The question, then, is not “Are you nervous?”, but rather “Why isn’t everyone else?”
Welcome the newest member of the NJRuners team, George Kochman III
George grew up in a track family, tagging along to meets since before he could remember. He ran for and graduated from Christian Brothers Academy and Georgetown University. He is still a Track junkie at heart and a proud Jerser. He is currently an Emergency Medicine doctor in Pittsburgh, PA and on that special weekend in April can be reached on the backstrech during Penn Relays.