How I went from dead last to the front of the pack
I couldn't even run half a mile around a field... two years later I was placing at the very top trail races and signing to go run at the NCAA Division ll level in college.
BY BRISTON RAINS APRIL 28, 2021
It was my freshman year and I joined the high school cross country team to just "keep in shape." Our very first practice was in the early damp morning of late August. Our warmup was a half-mile jog around a field. I thought to myself "this will be easy." As we started the run, the further I went the harder it got. My entire body started hurting, I was sucking in air and my lungs were on fire. I made it to the end but it took everything I got. I looked around and I was way out of shape compared to everyone else. Little did I know this was the start of a lifelong journey.
As we got into the season doing 5k cross country races, my first few races we ran I couldn't even fully run without walking. I was embarrassed being in the back walking with guys triple my size hurting just as much as they were.
This trend progressed going all the way through my sophomore year, although I got faster, I was in the back and was way slower. I was untalented and not made for running at all, I was already accepting my genetics weren't the best. As the end of my sophomore year approached... I had enough. I was tired of being the weakest kid in athletics, I was tired of kids making fun of how slow I was and I was tired of just being below average. I hit a breaking point. I set some insane goals, I was going to run in college for a university, I was going to run for the USA Mountain Running Team and become a professional runner, I was just going to go for it all and give it everything I got.
I made these goals known to people I was close to and they just laughed right in front of me. This just set a fire deep inside me even more. At that time I had stumbled across trail and ultra running documentaries on YouTube by guys like The Ginger Runner and Billy Yang Films. I watched these documentaries for hours every day for a few weeks and I was in awe. I wanted to be just like those guys in the videos running a crazy amount of miles in the beautiful mountains through the woods. After learning about Western States 100, the super bowl of ultras, I set even more insane goals with the Western States at the top of the list.
The summer going into my junior year I trained every single day regardless of weather, work schedule, and even sleep. I changed my diet completely, only water, all healthy food and it was safe to say I literally ate, slept, and breathed running. I wanted to come back a monster and prove everyone wrong so bad. I remember about a month in I got so burnt out. I would work 12-hour shifts being in the hot sun all day, go to bed past midnight, wake up before work at 6 AM to go get some miles in then repeat the process every day. I remember clearly the moment I got burnt out. I woke up at 6 AM so tired, my body was exhausted. I laid in my bed wondering if all this was even worth it. But I would force myself against everything to get up, put my shoes on, walk outside and start running. I was so exhausted and tired but I wanted it so bad. This burnout went on for the rest of the summer every. single. day. I had to prove everyone wrong.
Forcing myself to wake up and go do something I did not feel like doing every day built something in me that I will treasure for the rest of my life... discipline.
With a solid summer of miles built up going into Junior year, I was ready for the season. I was so ready to prove everyone wrong. The season starts and I... I was running the same times I was the year before. "All that hard work for nothing?" I thought to myself. "I thought hard work beats talent," I told myself. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I should even keep going. Another voice in my head said, "what if..." what if I did keep going and I did get faster. You would think three months of eating, sleeping, and breathing running would get you faster, but I knew that eventually, something would have to break. The season ended with slow times, slightly faster, but nothing worthy of getting into college with.
I had one shot to make my goals come true in one summer after Junior year. I had to run some quick times senior year cross country if I wanted to run in college and prove everyone wrong. At the time, all that discipline built something more than just proving everyone wrong. Forcing myself to go run every day when I didn't want to helped me find the true beauty in running. I developed a passion for it and started to actually love it. "Love running?" Yeah... love running. I fell in love with it and enjoyed the process and I was patient. I worked just as hard as the summer before but from a different perspective.
With another solid summer of training and a full year of running, I was ready and confident. "This was my year," I told myself. We had a three-mile time trial at the start of the season. I took off and about two miles into it I was way faster than my goal pace and it felt easy. That last mile I couldn't control my emotions because I was about to run a time minutes faster than I had ever done before that was a very respectable time in high school cross country.
With two laps left to go, I still felt good and I was flying down the track and I started to tear up shouting with excitement just full of joy. My hard work had paid off. I finished with a time of just near 17 minutes and it felt so easy, 3 minutes faster than the season before. This was a huge improvement, all my teammates and even my coaches were surprised.
I was on fire on the inside. I quickly learned for me, to get faster I have to run more miles. We would have 6 AM practices every morning but it just wasn't enough miles. So every single evening after I got out of school before work I would go run six to eight miles on my own, doing around ten to twelve miles a day. Every single meet I had that season was just getting faster and faster, cutting my time every weekend. I was a top runner on my team and placing at the top of all my races and I managed to run very respectable 5k times. I would go sign up for some local trail runs and blow everyone out of the water placing at least in the top three.
At the end of my cross country season, I was talking to some really big running programs. Although I wasn't the fastest, I shared my story with them and all the coaches saw my potential and loved the passion. After talking with a few schools I decided to run at Southern Arkansas University at the NCAA Division ll level. I had my signing day and I had done it. I proved them wrong. Just two years ago they laughed at me for thinking I would run in college and there we were. It was a true underdog story.
I wasn't going to let my belly get full. I had reached one of my goals, but I was still hungry for more. I still had some really big plans. Now I'm in college living the dream I had as a sophomore in high school through hard work and discipline alone.
Coming into college I worked even harder to earn my respect on the team. The summer going into college I would go run eight to ten miles at midnight in the hot humid summer night on tired legs after waiting tables for an entire day and already running in the morning. I averaged twelve to fourteen miles a day while working three jobs. I worked a little too hard and just didn't give my body enough rest. I had insane discipline though.
The first two months of college training I kept the same work ethic but my body eventually broke down and I got the first running injury that put me out for the rest of the season. It took me out for a few months but I came back and ran an entire cross country and track season out of shape but with some respectable times.
Through different injuries, I still have something to prove in college. I'm in the back of the pack just like I was in high school. But I'm patient and thinking long-term. Although these injuries are a huge setback, I know that with enough time I can work my way to the top just like I did before.
If you're untalented, your genetics suck, you're in the back of the pack. Work hard, run when you don't feel like it, fall in love with the sport and you will achieve your goals. As the bible verse I have tattooed on me says "As for you be strong and do not give up... for you hard work will be rewarded." Never give up even when it seems like things aren't working... because as I learned, eventually your hard work will be rewarded.
Go get it.
- Briston Rains