Even thinking about Illinois State Meet brings the butterflies back to my stomach. I can picture the warm-ups so perfectly; bundling in as many layers as possible ready to face the brisk fall air. Waiting for what felt like hours in the Porta-Potty line. And I remember laughing with my team as we ran the course, trying to subdue the nerves even just a little.
I go to school at Bradley University so I'm very lucky to be able to come out and watch the meet. Detweiller is also one of our home courses so it's a strange duality, mixing the past and present. It's hard for me to remember state for everything it was because I am further removed from actually racing it. But every time I come back the atmosphere manages to continually pull me back into the magic.
When I was in high school I was fortunate enough to race this meet all four years with my teammates. Even still, I'd be hard-pressed to recite every place I got those four years let alone the times I ran. I remember I was all-state twice. I still have my medals hung up at my house in Geneva. But that's really all I can say with confirmation and conviction. These things are just not something I keep track of anymore. And that's interesting to me! It's not something I ever thought I'd write, especially when I was in high school.
That's not to say this moment isn't important to me, because it is. I still hold the state meet in such esteem. The atmosphere is like nothing else I've experienced. The air is charged with hope. It's energy in its purest form waiting to bring goals to life. It's addicting to be around. That's why I'm still drawn to go watch, even if I hardly know anyone personally now. And I do remember the races as a whole; it's just the details that are fading.
I still look back at a few of my old races at Detweiller with regret. My senior year specifically, that was the race where the record was broken. It was amazing to be a part of, but now I look back and see that I was complacent. I was too scared to trust in my ability to race. I was still all-state, top 10 even, but I do wonder what I could have done if I had a bit more confidence in myself. But I was terrified! In my mind, state was the epitome of my career, and it definitely was at the time. But this mindset made me believe that it was something I couldn't dare to mess up.
Seeing it from an older perspective, as someone who has had a lot of races since my final state cross country meet, I can have a clearer view. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that everything is and would be okay. I wish I could explain that it wouldn't be the end of the world if I had just gone for it and failed. That's so much better than looking back years down the line and wondering "what if." Yet none of this negates how much the state meet matters, because it does (a lot), but I find it to be a very freeing viewpoint in knowing that no matter how important this moment is- it cannot define you. This race does not make or break your career or you as a person. There will be other spectacular, and sadly heartbreaking moments beyond this one.
The state meet is still the epitome of high school distance running in Illinois. In my opinion, it's even unrivaled by other states. There's something beautiful and also intimidating about the speed that is produced from this course. Detweiller sets people up to fly. So while for me, being pretty removed from high school competition, the faces are all different, but the atmosphere is the same. It's electric. Everyone, from the fans to the teammates watching and those competing, can feel the uninhibited hope that toes the line with the athletes. State will always be a place where goals are accomplished and discovered. And I think that's really powerful.
So if you're lost in the dizzying post-state emotional aftermath, please be gentle to yourself. I know how important this meet is. I know how much it means. But the time you ran will never show who you are as a person. If you're proud of how you ran embrace that; it's an amazing feeling. State is the culmination of so much work and effort. But if you're disappointed, feel that. Let it fuel you because while state marks the end of a season, it's also a place to make goals. It's a place of reevaluation. This race lays the foundation for years (and races) to come. Take a break if you need one, then get back into training and be ready to fearlessly go after your "crazy" dreams.