The hardest part is always starting.
I ran cross country and track in college. My running career started in high school, with early morning weekend meets fueled by lukewarm oatmeal with all the brown sugar I could stomach before racing a 5k. Practices in high school were, admittedly, nothing compared to those in college; we ate cherry tomatoes, meandered on whispers of trails to a lookout point called Pride Rock, and spent most of our warm-up time before races huddled together beneath blankets. College training roared to life right from the beginning, and I became more mindful about getting sleep, eating right, and mentally preparing for races. Our team had its fair share of fun too, like pre-race pasta parties, early morning runs into dusty sunrises, and trekking to meets through snow and ice so bad that every single other team except one had dropped out.
Through high school and cross country, my favorite part of racing remained the same: the start. There’s something about the combination of nervous energy, excitement, anticipation, and even a little bit of dread that makes the starting line a memorable place. You’ve done all that you can, trained hard during the week, slept as much as you could, tried to eat healthy, and are rocking your lucky socks. The starting line is the equalizer of the running world, everyone packed together, uniforms clean, eyes alert, spikes tied tight. The watching crowd grows quiet as the starter takes their place and lifts a starting gun toward the sky. Everyone is released at once.
You never know how a race will go. I, personally, was a very suspicious athlete. I only ate oatmeal on race days, always four hours before my first race. I did the same stretches on the line. I tried (usually unsuccessfully) to joke with my competitors. I literally wore the same black racing socks ONLY for racing all through high school and into my junior year of college, when my attempts to repair the holes that kept opening kept failing. (If you’re curious, I switched to avogato socks - they had half avocados with cat faces drawn on the pits and they absolutely 100% are the reason I got faster :-) ) However, this preparation only gets you so far. Once you’re out there, it’s you and the race; no matter how you’re feeling, you want to make it to the finish line. Sure, you have a goal pace, a time you’re hoping to beat, a competitor on your shoulder who you want to outkick, but the finish line is the real end game.
I’m not even going to talk about how the race goes, because at the end of it all, when you cross the line, you know you’re going to have to do it again. There’s something enticing about the pain, about the dedication and commitment and teamwork…and the free snacks. No matter what, you’ll be back at the starting line, back at square one. It’s comforting and frustrating, this process of continually having to prove yourself, but it’s also immensely rewarding. How often in life do we truly get to start again?
If you haven’t guessed it by now, this mega metaphor is how I’ve chosen to conceptualize starting my PhD. There’s something about the combination of nervous energy, excitement, anticipation, and even a little bit of dread that makes the starting line a memorable place. I’ve hopefully done all I can to prepare, and even if I haven’t, I am who I am, and I’ve got what I’ve got. The starting line is as exciting as ever, and I know it’s the first of many I’ll approach during my time at A&M. Thankfully, the hardest part is over: the first day and week of classes have passed, and while the nervous jitters have yet to settle I’ve got my lucky socks on and am content to embrace the uncertainty and challenges that are ahead.
Abby is a PhD student in the Education Psychology department.