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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

So Exposed, Yet So Comfortable

There's a retirement letter that I've revisited a number of times. It's from an athlete who was one of the best in her sport.


Here's a few excerpts:


1. "My edge, though, was never about feeling superior to other players. It was about

feeling like I was on the verge of falling off a cliff—which is why I constantly returned to

the court to figure out how to keep climbing."


2. "These courts revealed my true essence. Behind the photo shoots and the pretty

tennis dresses, they exposed my imperfections—every wrinkle, every drop of sweat.

They tested my character, my will, my ability to channel my raw emotions into a place

where they worked for me instead of against me. Between their lines, my vulnerabilities

felt safe. How lucky am I to have found a kind of ground on which I felt so exposed and

yet so comfortable?"


3. "One of the keys to my success was that I never looked back and I never looked

forward. I believed that if I kept grinding and grinding, I could push myself to an

incredible place. But there is no mastering tennis—you must simply keep heeding the

demands of the court while trying to quiet those incessant thoughts in the back of your

mind:


Did you do enough—and more—to prepare for your next opponent?

You’ve taken a few days off—your body’s losing that edge."


4. "Throughout my career, Is it worth it? was never even a question—in the end, it

always was. My mental fortitude has always been my strongest weapon. Even if my

opponent was physically stronger, more confident—even just plain better—I could, and

did, persevere.


I’ve never really felt compelled to speak about work, or effort, or grit—every athlete

understands the unspoken sacrifices they must make to succeed. But as I embark on my

next chapter, I want anyone who dreams of excelling in anything to know that doubt and

judgment are inevitable: You will fail hundreds of times, and the world will watch you.

Accept it. Trust yourself. I promise that you will prevail."


For the tennis fans in the room, you may have recognized this as Maria Sharapova's farewell to tennis, published in Vanity Fair almost a year ago.


But what draws me to it is that, outside of a few sport-specific word choices, this could've been written by a distance runner.


The feeling that you're "on the verge of falling off a cliff" and need to "figure out how to keep climbing"? I think every successful distance runner has felt that about their fitness.


A place where vulnerabilities "felt so exposed and yet so comfortable"? Almost any cross country race has delivered on that.


Trying to stay focused on the task at hand while quieting "those incessant thoughts in the back of your mind"? Our sport offers more time to think than almost any other. All the hours training bring truth to the notion that "if you're not talking to yourself, you're listening to yourself."


And the last piece about doubt, judgment, and failure, but somehow, it all still being worth it?


Yet again, I think runners know that all too well.

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