Washington, DC
Adrian Stuphan runs the open mile at the DC Road Runners Track Championships. Photo: Dustin Whitlow/DWhit Photography

Back in middle school I played soccer like I wanted to be the next Ronaldo or Messi.

I thought I had found a sport that I would stick with for a long time. But before official fall sports season started, my school wanted to try out a couple of new sports. Cross country sounded like fun. I asked a friend of mine if he wanted to join the team with me, and we both agreed that we would do it.

We started so late in the season that we didn’t have any training or practices, and we had a race on one of our first days of being a formal team. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from it, and our school didn’t even have a bus yet, so our parents drove us to the meet.

When we got there I got really nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. I was completely new to the sport. I take a lot of things in athletics seriously, so I just thought of it as another challenge and was just afraid to fail because it was something unknown to me.

My team and I team did a course run-through, and as we did it, I saw the other teams all kitted out in their matching uniforms. They looked like they had their shit together. Meanwhile, we raced in oversized T-shirts. On the starting line, I looked around and all I could remember was thinking about how fast all of the other people around me looked. I had thought there was no way I could stand up to the competition around me.

Then the starter shouted a couple commands — I was way too anxious to listen to — and then he shot a gun in the air. I just ran. All of the preconceived notions I had about everyone else just went away as I ran. I had no idea how far I was running (I know now it was 3,000 meters) so I just kept going as fast as I could. I had no idea what was happening until I saw the homestretch and got really, really happy because I knew I was doing well.

I ended up in fourth overall and the best in my grade, which was way beyond what I had ever hoped for or imagined. I just remember being so happy that day that it is all I talked about and all I thought about. I just couldn’t believe that I could do that with no training and I was so excited to start this journey and see what was possible. I couldn’t wait for our first official team training and all I knew was that I wanted to get much better, and much faster. 

After this race, the whole team saw my potential and was very happy with my performance. As was I. I ran for that school for a little bit longer before I transferred to The Field School. I remember talking about running during my interview, and I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, but the person who interviewed me ended up being one of my coaches. Naturally, I talked to her about running and the team they had there and she got me really excited about it. When I was accepted, I was ecstatic and spent the whole summer thinking about it and I was so ready to run a real cross country preseason.

In late August, I went and ran with the team and it just affirmed that I never wanted to stop running. The run we did on the first day felt amazing, I still remember it exactly and even still do it now. I was just so happy to be running with a big team of really experienced runners. I remember one of them, Wells, took me under his wing and showed me the path to success. He was the best runner on the team at that point and we quickly became friends. We discussed training a lot, and I would ask him for advice. I aspired to be like him. I wanted to be the best on the team. I wanted to give other people advice about running. I thought it was amazing how dedicated he was to the sport and I knew I wanted to be in his position one day. 

My first year attending my new school, I was still in eighth grade, but I really wanted to train with the high schoolers, so the head coach allowed it and I ran with them most of the time. Then came the end of my middle school season, and with it came conference championships. I was really excited to go and I knew I had a reputation to live up to. With Wells and all the runners who came before him, I knew I had to represent the team and its history.

When I got there, I went to run the course and familiarize myself with it. Other teams showed up, and as usual, I got nervous. My coaches always told me that it meant that I cared a lot about the sport. They were all right. I just wanted to do my very best and achieve a great result. All these other teams showed up and they looked really fast and that intimidated me a little bit. What I forgot to think about however was the flip side — how intimidating I was to them. I didn’t realize until much later, but I was right there with the top pack in the conference.

After warm ups, we lined up at the starting line of the two-mile course. I knew a little bit about the ins and outs, and the strategies to use when it came to cross country running now. The starter told us to get on our marks, and then again just as always fired the gun in the air, and at that point I remembered everything I had promised myself about the reputation of the school and knowing that I come from a long line of very successful distance runners there.

I went out with the top group of guys and we stuck together. Through mile one, we were even. Right around mile 1.5 there was a big hill. It looked like a huge challenge, so everyone started to slow down. We were all tired, but in my pack, I was the one that wanted it more. I had the mindset of going out there and competing with myself. Not caring about what the people around me did. So, I left them. I took off and ran as fast as my legs could go. They never caught back up to me and I finished second overall. 

I was so proud of the medal I got that day that I’m pretty sure I wanted to shower with it and wear it to bed. It is still on my wall and I see it every day. 

While I’m training, feel so happy to be running. It gives me a sense of freedom and make me the best version of myself that I could be. I just know I wanted to run for a very long time. I never want to stop, and I just wish I could keep running and never stop for anyone or anything. Just go and explore and see new places, and knowing that the training that I have built up has led me to be able to do this. It is the best feeling in the world to be running effortlessly, and only in the last year have I really felt that.

When I got to the point that I could do that, I really understood why I had stuck with the sport for so long. I really understood why it is that I run. Even though it helps, I don’t have to win medals to understand why I run, and why I never want to stop. I just simply need to run, and I understand now that no day is complete without it. It’s all I think about all day, and even though people outside of running may call me crazy and question me a lot about why it is I run and why it is that I like to run, I do it and I love it, that’s that. There is no better feeling than finding one’s true happiness. I have found that in the sport of running. 


Adrian Stuphan is a rising senior at The Field School.

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