Dear Younger Me: Alison Betler

Recent Centennial High School graduate Alison Betler pens a letter to her younger self as she looks back on her high school running career as one of the top distance runners in Howard County. Betler was an All-State finisher in 3A numerous times, a member of state champion relays, and won the Howard County 1600 meter indoors title this past winter during her time at Centennial High School. She clocked high school personal bests of 5:12 for 1600 meters, 11:24 for 3200 meters, and 19:24 for 5K. 

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To my younger self, 

Not a day goes by where I don't think of you. Each time I step on the line for a race, or lace up my shoes for a morning run, or go to the weight room for conditioning, I remember you. I remember that determined fourteen year old girl who fell in love with running and never looked back. I've tried to write this a few times but it's proven to be difficult. How do you reflect on four years of running? How do you choose which moments and which lessons were most valuable? Which ones changed you? Here is my advice. 

Over the next four years you will face the highest of highs and lowest of lows. There will be so many moments that will test your perseverance, resilience, and patience. Your sophomore year of high school you'll compete two back to back events at indoor regions with bronchitis. Your junior year you'll face an injury right before the state championship. Senior year, you'll fall ill days before the county championship. It is these moments that will test you as an athlete. It is in these moments that you must keep moving forward. So when you have bronchitis but you also have the opportunity to be the first girl from your school to qualify in both the 1600m and 3200m in indoor, run with your heart and do it anyway. When you have the option of competing at states junior year with an injury, go out there and give everything you have to it. When you're recovering from being sick senior year before the county championship, hold your head high and finish what you started. Running is about integrity and grit. It's about accepting that life won't always be perfect, but not letting that stop you. It's about learning how to face adversity and accept that things will not always go right. 
I'll tell you now, things in running will never go as planned. You'll be predicted to win an individual regional title your freshman year, and you'll lose it. You'll try so hard to break the mile record your sophomore year and you'll fail. Senior year, you want to win the county title in cross country more than anything, and you won't come close. But just because you cannot do something the first time, doesn't mean you won't be able to do it eventually. Delays are not denials. That regional title you lost freshman year? You win sophomore year. And that mile record you can't seem to break sophomore year? You break it junior year. The cross country county title? You'll never win that. But three months later you'll win your first individual county title in indoor track. Everything happens for a reason. Not winning when you were supposed to, motivated you to win when the odds were against you. Not running the times you wanted to, motivated you to push even harder. Ultimately, you became a better athlete because you didn't achieve what you wanted when you wanted.

One of the hardest parts of running for you is dwelling on the past, dwelling on your mistakes. There will be bad races, bad workouts, bad runs, bad days, but always remember that there are 365 days in a year- they can't all be good. You can't control bad days but you can control how you react to them. So when you fail, take a deep breath, brush it off, and move on. Give yourself five minutes to be upset over a bad race, and then leave it in the past. Your past does not define you as an athlete so don't let it affect your future. It will always be better to take a chance and fail, because at the very least you can walk away with no regrets, knowing you gave everything you had to it. Learn from your mistakes and do better next time.The comeback is always stronger than the setback.

Sometimes the moments you remember most aren't the ones where you're holding a trophy or gold medal. They're singing 'Party in the USA' with your teammates on the warm up, reciting the entire Harry Potter series on your 10 mile run, trying not to laugh as your coach falls down on a trail, dancing on the bus on your way to the NYC Armory, grabbing Einstein Bagels and Starbucks on Saturday mornings, and even talking in British accents at practice. Cherish these moments the most. You can win medals and smash PRs the rest of your life, but you only get 4 years with your coaches and teammates. It's high school running, enjoy it. Make every single day worth it. Make every single moment fun. 

On the day of the 3200m race at the 2017 Maryland State Championship, a race official will ask you why you run. There are so many reasons. You run because it's your passion, a home to you, the one place where you feel like you belong, the one place you feel big. But above all, you run because you love it. So love every piece of it, and never take any opportunities for granted. When life gets crazy, always return to running. Let it be the place where you're truly at your best. Dance before races, dance after races. When people ask you why you smile during races, remind them, it's because you love it. 

Be kind to everyone. Demonstrate sportsmanship. No one will remember your times, records, or places. But they will remember your character, so spread positivity. If a runner falls during a race, help them up. If your teammate is struggling during a workout, encourage them. Don't think twice before helping someone else out. You're here to build others, not break them. Be selfless. Always put the team first. Make sure everyone has their chance to shine. Be a leader and a role model for everyone. Be the person the younger you would look up to.

As you move forth in life, attack everything you do. Wake up and strive to be the hardest worker in the room. Every day do one thing that will make you better. No matter how tough things are stay positive and resilient, knowing you can handle anything. Lead by example in every aspect of your life, because if you inspire and encourage others, you will receive guidance and support in return, and that will fuel a culture of achievement and camaraderie. Do not carry the weight, expectations, and pressure of the world on your shoulders, remember you have a village of people that will stand beside you and help carry the burden. If you just believe in the person you're working to become, you will achieve some very, very, big things. Everything you need is already inside of you.

Your final high school race, you toe the line in that familiar red and blue uniform, just like you have for the past four years. And just like you have for the past four years, you take a deep breath and stand on the line with a smile. There's that same burning desire to compete, the same feeling you felt four years ago at the start of your first race. You never thought this journey would end. You always thought there would be another practice, race, workout. At times, it felt like you would never make it. At times, it felt like the light was too far away.  But now, it's the end. When you cross the finish line of your final high school race, you do not cross with a new school record, or a new state title. Instead you finish with something bigger. Pride. Because for the past four years you have given everything to running, and running has given you everything. 

Enjoy every moment of the next 4 years.

The Older Alison