Through the Eyes of A Cross Country Runner

December 18, 2011
The sky is a murky gray, you push your hands farther into your pockets, hoping and praying it doesn’t rain. The wind whips around you as you gaze out at the course, trying to ignore the obnoxious comments you hear from the football players as they trudge back into the locker room. Your legs have been stretched and shaken loose, your spikes tied tight, the laces tucked into the side the way you like them. You’re ready.

Other teams are arriving as you stand silently in your chute, rocking back on your heels and up onto your toes. The girls around you are pulling off warm ups and tucking in uniforms. Some of their expressions match yours: looks of fierce determination. Others are shrouded with fear. Nervous energy flows through you, it’s almost impossible to stand still. You jog for a few steps, then stride, feeling your muscles relax and contract. When you turn around, the rainbow of brightly colored uniforms changes the nervous feeling to an excited flutter. Your coach is waiting for you when you get back to your team. Begrudgingly you hand over your warm jacket and brace the cold wind.

You see the official walking up, and you know it’s finally time for the race to start. Unfortunately, she is carrying an air horn in her hand. You groan quietly to yourself, you have always preferred the gun and the satisfying crack it makes as the blank is shot into the air. As you are thinking this, a gust of wind roars against you, as if telling you to focus. You turn your attention to the official and scoot up into the left corner of the chute. You and your teammates exchange quiet words of encouragement until you see the official’s right arm raised in the air. “Ladies, take your marks!” She yells. Her voice echoes off the dark trees as large raindrops begin falling to the ground. Everything falls silent as each girl leans forward. Anticipation sweeps through you and a million thoughts begin to race through your head as you watch for the official to raise her other arm. The silence is shattered with the piercing shriek of the air horn, and you take off. Your head is clear except for one word: go.

The silent crowd has been awakened by the horn, and as you draw nearer your own thoughts are drowned out with screams and cheers from every angle. A large group of runners begins to close in around you, and you dive through an opening on your left, making a surge and leaving the pack behind. You make your way up to the smaller pack of five or six girls who are leading the race. Icy water smacks against your legs as you turn the corner, but you splash through the puddles without a care. You can feel your feet starting to slip when you run over the trampled muddy ground. One by one the pack slowly falls apart. You surge ahead, ignoring the pain that is slowly building in your legs. You set your focus on the girl in third place, deciding to try as hard as you can to catch her.

The course leads you to the back of the school, through more muddy water, and behind the bleachers. The rain is falling harder now. From there you run the fence line to the one-mile mark where your coach and many others are standing with stopwatches and clipboards. You hear the times of the girls in front as they are shouted out and realize that you are at least ten seconds fast on your usual pace as you turn into the woods. Immediately you worry that you won’t be able to last, but you ignore it. You want to win. You stare at the girl in front of you. 308, you think, just catch 308.

It is nearing the middle of the race. You’ve already passed the two-mile mark, and you are not very far behind the girl in second. You run the course back up to the front of the school where you once again have to slosh through the mud and ice cold puddles. The wind is gusting relentlessly in your face, bringing tears to your eyes. Your legs are starting to burn and fatigue is eating away at your strength, but you work to pass second place anyway.

The girl who is winning is now clearly in sight, and you can tell by her form that she’s dying. You make your way into the woods for the last time, where you have to tackle a giant hill. The girl is halfway up when you reach the bottom. You feel your spikes digging into the soggy dirt as you fight to the top. All the muscles in your legs are on fire, and just when you think you can’t take it anymore, you fly over the crest of the hill.

First place is now only an arms length away. Your coach is yelling that you only have an eight hundred left and you have to pick it up. Adrenaline rushes through you, and all the pain is forgotten. You rip around the last turn, now neck and neck with first place. The finish line is in sight, its rainbow of flags flapping in the wind. The rain and wind slap against your face, making it hard to see. The girl next to you is speeding up. There is no way that you are going to let her win. You sprint faster, your form nearly out of control. You’re one step in front of her, then two, then three. Every step brings you closer to the medal you want so badly. You shut your eyes as you cross the finish line, relief, pride, and exhaustion filling you up. You open them and you break into a wide smile as someone at the end of the finish line chute presses a shiny gold medal into your hand. The pain floats away, covered up with an exhilerated feeling. You did it.





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