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Saying ‘YES’ to my First 5K Run in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The starting line of a road race

By John G., YES Abroad 2022-2023, Bosnia and Herzegovina 

It was a no-brainer for me to sign-up when my school announced the launching of an adventure club for kids to participate in outdoor sports activities and encourage a healthy lifestyle. After all, who doesn't want to be healthier?  We were asked to fill out a questionnaire on the kinds of activities we would enjoy engaging in such as hiking, biking, running races, etc. Knowing that I'm not much of a runner and have never loved running, my finger lingered over the "run racing" option. It fueled the fire to know I might embarrass myself in front of a new school. But I didn't press the button because I was too anxious to enter the race.  

A week later, the group announced that anyone may join up for their first adventure, which would be to form a team for the annual 5K Advent Run in Sarajevo. Considering many were athletes at my school and the event was the day after I was due to return from a class trip, I was frightened once again to sign-up. Then, a few of my friends asked if I would be competing. They would not accept “no” for an answer, no matter how hard I tried. They assured me that no one would notice if I ran as slowly as I needed to. Finally, I signed up.  

The adventure club group photo in front of a Christmas tree

I made the decision that rather than make a fool of myself, I would actually be seizing the chance to get over my fear of running. I've never enjoyed running, and I certainly wouldn't identify as a runner. However, starting to run and being more active has always helped me with my mental health.  Like other exchange students, I had experienced ups and downs in my mental health while away. I considered whether running may be beneficial. Two weeks before the 5K, I started going to a nearby gym every morning before school, and it felt great to work out while I was on exchange. I felt less anxious about life overall, and it was great to use that morning time that I would otherwise mismanage.  

Then, on race day, it seemed as though everything was going wrong. I had left my running shoes at school, forgotten my stopwatch to keep track of my speed, and it had already begun to rain. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to complete the race in 30 minutes, which was my goal while conditioning. But I made up my mind to give it everything I had and to finish the race, whatever the time was, though I was still rather anxious as the adventure team from my school (which consisted of approximately 10 of us) queued up to race. Professional runners were all around me, and I immediately wanted to quit. Then, the countdown started… “DESET, DEVET, OSAM,”  (TEN,NINE,EIGHT)... “JEDAN!!” (ONE!). BEEPPPP went the alarm as all the runners started.   

Student smiling in front of the race banner

Running across Sarajevo's famous Miljacka River, I began to breathe in the chilly, damp night air. I had no clue what my speed was, but I didn't care; all that was on my mind was getting to the finish line. Jingle bells and cheers were rung by volunteers as they supported the runners. When I finally started to approach the finish line, I glanced at my phone. I saw that 26 minutes had passed! It was so thrilling to cross the finish line and get my medal, although I could scarcely believe it!  

I didn't perform well in comparison to people my age or my class, but I was still proud of myself for attempting something new. This race taught me that having a good exchange is an attitude and that if you want something, you must actively put energy into getting it. Even though I have this fantastic scholarship, it has made me realize that I must make use of the opportunities that have been presented. If they have the physical capacity, I invite everyone to complete a 5K, (or any distance!) run, regardless of that is the most significant lesson I have learned.

3 students holding their race medals, 2 biting them in celebration