Like most people, I own a watch.

It tells the time.

It tells my time.

The summer before my freshman year was when running took root in me. I decided to join the fall cross-country team. My parents bought me the watch.

As the season came into my periphery, I watched the time tick away on my new watch.

Tick Tock Tick Tock.

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During my freshman year, I broke the 20-minute mark in a 5-kilometer race and had a strong showing in the mile, with a blazing 5:08.

But time soon became my ultimate adversary.

The following summer, my watch started to show its battle scars; scratches on the screen and dents on the frame revealed the damage it had sustained—damage that was reflected in me, too. Injury had claimed my right leg.

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The physical therapist diagnosed me with IT Band Syndrome. The tendon running down my right leg was tight and inflamed from overuse.

I watched the time tick away on my watch. It seemed to pass more slowly than before.

Tick     Tock    Tick     Tock

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Three endlessly slow months later, indoor track tryouts came, accompanied by pinching stomach pains and stress-fueled lightheadedness.

After what felt like an eon, the results came in…

I didn’t make the cut.

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In the following months, I went to school with a vacant mind. My grades began to slip. I wasn’t running as much as I used to.

I lost track of my watch. I lost track of time. I lost track of myself.

The next outdoor track season came and went.

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Tick.

Summer came and went.

Tock.

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Cross country came and went.

Tick.

Indoor track came and went.

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Tock.

The Montgomery County championship meet was my last chance to make a strong showing.

The day of the meet, I waited for my race to come. Rain soaked into my clothes. Cold soaked into my bones. My muscles became stiff and my mind distant. I watched the time on my mangled watch tick away.

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Then, BANG! I was off.

I ran in the chaos; the sounds of clattering feet and helplessly loud breathing filled the air. Some kids passed me. Others fell behind. The grimaces on their faces reminded me of my own pain, but I looked forward and pushed on.

Even in the chaos, my coach’s words hit me: “You’re running out of time!”

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The moment I started my fourth lap, I slammed on the accelerator.

I checked my place:

Seventh…

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Sixth…

Fifth…

Fourth…

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Third…

Tock.

I crossed the finish line and peered through the battered screen of my watch: 4:58!

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Time ticked on.

Now I’m a senior and I have a new outlook on life. I’m focusing less on the finishing line and more on my journey through life. I hear my watch ticking, but I rarely look down. I’d rather look up and forward than focus too much on my struggles in the past.

Yes, I’m a runner.

But, ironically, it feels like I’m just starting to pace myself.