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Going the Distance
When I was fourteen I discovered my dream. It was to go to the Olympics. It’s finally here. I’m twenty seven, and it is the Olympic trials. My coach tells me not to stress, but it’s a week from now. “Michaela, you need to calm down.”
“I’m trying to coach but it is so close! I have worked half my life for this!”
“I know you have, and you are ranked third for the half marathon and you are only twenty seven!”
“Everyone is expecting me to win though! It’s like ever since I was a teenager people have been asking for my autograph because they knew one day it would be worth something, and my dad is the same. I’m so afraid I’m going to let everyone down.”
“How long have I been coaching you?”
“Exactly! You are ready! Now quit complaining and get your butt on the starting line! Ready, set, go!”
I have to do eight miles, each mile with a three minute recovery. Each mile I have to make in 5:10:00. This is relatively easy. I’m listening to “Untouched” by the Veronicas. It’s my favorite running song. Most likely my number one song listened to on my Ipod. I love just running and jamming out. It’s somewhat peaceful, like I’m the only one on the earth. It is just me and the track. Nothing else matters. My day consists of waking up at 5:00 AM, going on a minimum six mile run, working until 2:00, then class from 3:00-4:00. After class I have practice. I lift and do more running. Eventually, I get home around 8:00. I share my apartment with my best friend from grade school who is studying to be a doctor.
“Hey, track star!!! You excited for Saturday?”
“Kayse, I’m excited, but extremely nervous. Let’s just talk about something else.”
“Yeah, sure. Are you still talking to that one guy? Umm Ben?”
I tried to hide a sigh with a giggle. “No I don’t have time to worry about men. Too much going on right now. I need to focus.”
“ Oh I see. Well, Cory is taking me out for a late movie. So I will see you tonight.” “I’ll probably be asleep before you get home. Have fun tonight.”
“Thanks. I will.”
Kayse grabbed her jacket and walked out the door. Cory is her boyfriend. He’s a doctor at the local hospital. They are perfect for each other. It’s hard not having a boyfriend when I see all my friends have boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancés, husbands, and wives. I just don’t have time. No one wants to be with someone who all she does is run. But I don’t care. I’m better off alone. Always have been. I walk into my room and undress, start a hot bubble bath and just relax with a good book. I know it is stupid to read in a tub. I’ve destroyed at least a dozen books by dropping them. After I dry my hair and freshen up, I throw on my big t-shirt and PJ pants. I walk into the kitchen and fix my hot tea. I can’t seem to fall asleep without my hot tea. As I crawl into bed all I can think about is next weekend. I finally fall into a deep sleep and dream of crossing the finish line.
I am awakened by a loud sound. “Ugh.” I press the snooze button on my alarm clock. Five minutes later I press it again, and five minutes after that I finally get up. 7:10. Time for work. As I put on my work out clothes and fix my coffee and my protein shakes, I think of how nice it is to sleep in an extra two hours. I just wish I could sleep in until noon. It is a Saturday after all. As I get in my new black mustang, I drive through hectic morning traffic to the gym.
Time for class! I’m a fitness instructor at the YMCA. I love this job. Even though I am just instructing and helping old people stay in shape, it is fun. I enjoy showing people how to work out and stay healthy. Of course my clients ask me how I am doing, and they talk about my running. I always try and change the subject.
Four o’ clock, time to go home! I walk in the door. Since Kayse doesn’t usually get home till 6:00, I take a shower, put on some sweats, and turn on the TV in the living room. “Little house on the Prairie.” I always loved watching this show. I haven’t seen it in forever! I hear my phone ring and rush to answer it.
“Hey honey! You ready for Saturday? We’ll be up there Thursday night. When does your flight leave?”
“Hey Dad. Yeah, I’m ready and coach and I are leaving Wednesday afternoon so I can run the course. Just nice and slow of course.”
“Okay good.” He starts babbling on like he always has about running. Without my running, I can honestly say I wouldn’t even talk to my dad. He has always been there for me, getting me the best sports doctors and trainers since I was fifteen. He’s never missed one single race. Never. After half an hour of talking, Kayse walks through the door. I tell him I have to go and tell him I’ll see him Thursday.
“I love you Dad.”
“I love you too. Bye.”
I ask how her day was while reading all my fan mail on Facebook. This gets pretty annoying, all these notifications. I usually ignore them but thought I would read a few. Most of them are nice, some are not. She gives me a short answer.
“It was good.” Which usually means it was bad.
The weekend went by too fast. It’s my last week of training. I need to rest most of this week, but Monday and Tuesday I still need to get a good workout in. Wednesday morning I decide it is finally time to pack. I always wait until the last minute for everything. Shoes? Check. Sweats? Check. Socks? Check. I go through my list, double check everything and head to the airport.
I meet my coach at the gate. The flight is short to Washington D.C. which is good. I don’t like long flights. When we get there it’s 2:00. We decide to have a late lunch then go check into my room.
“Have you got everything?”
“Yeah coach. No worries. I’m going to go run the course in a little bit and just relax.”
“Okay, make sure you just relax. Take your time. Don’t sprint! At all!” I couldn’t help but show a little grin.
“I know. I’m not going to.”
“Okay well I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Make sure you get lots of sleep and stretch as much as you can.”
“I will. Have a nice night. See you tomorrow.”
As I start around the area where the course starts, I do an extremely slow pace, around a 7:45 mile. I listen to calm good music and just think. I try and memorize bumps in the road where I could trip if I’m not careful. The next two days fly by. I mostly just sleep, stretch, and eat pasta. I lay in bed, Not able to sleep. It’s only 8:00 but my event is at 9:00 AM. I can’t help but think: What if I let everyone down? What if I don’t make it? Everyone expects me to get first. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone: friends, family, even complete strangers. It is so hard living like this, always getting asked questions about what I do, getting compliments and harsh comments. I just want to say, “There’s more to me than running!” There are other things I like to do besides running. “I love to swim, ski, skate, watch movies, and even dance! I love being lazy and just watching TV all day, even though I cannot most of the time.” It doesn’t matter I guess.
This is what I have trained for. Tomorrow, it will come down to who trained the hardest, who runs the fastest, and who wants it the most. And that’s me. I wake up at 5:59, one minute before my alarm sounds. I throw off the cover’s, I hop in the shower, shave my legs and underarms, wash my face and entire body, wash my hair and repeat, then condition. I don’t know why I take a shower before a race. I’m just going to get all sweaty anyways. I leave my hair down to dry and throw on my sweats, grab my bag, and walk over to the arena. My coach meets me in the locker room and helps me stretch.
That seemed like a stupid question to ask but I answer anyway. “Of course” I don’t think I have ever been this scared in my entire life. I look at my nails. They’re chewed down to the skin.
Coach replies, “Good; you need to be nervous, keeps you on your heels.”
I didn’t really know what he meant by that but just went with it. I can hear people start to pile into the arena. Thousands of people will be watching me, and millions more on TV. As 8:30 approaches, I check my gear, double knot my shoe laces, check my tag on my top, and pick my wedgie. These little spandex shorts are so uncomfortable, but I have to run in them. As the announcers call for the women’s half marathon runners, I see all twenty of us gather and all start to get nervous. We jog onto the field and begin warming up. Thousands of people are cheering for the 400 meter dash that’s competing. I think to myself how glad I am I’m not a sprinter. I hate sprinting, and I am horrible at it. Ten minutes until were off. I stretch some more. I spot my coach and my parents who wave and have signs. I see my friends and extended family. Who also have signs. I get a warm feeling inside and can’t help but forget about the pressure and just smile.
“Women’s half marathon, to the starting line!”
Oh gosh, this is it. I set my Ipod to my running playlist; we all line up and look at each other. This is it. Don’t have any regrets.
“Runners to your mark, set, BOOM!” the gun blows and we’re off!
We do one lap on the track then go through the tunnel following a police car onto the route. I’m in last place. I always start out last. But everyone else starts off too fast then dies around the eight mile mark. That’s when I’m still strong. I look at my watch at the two mile mark. I’m ahead by twenty seconds. I need to slow down. I can’t be too fast, and I can’t be too slow. I have to hit each mark exactly. We come up to the first water stop. I grab a Gatorade and water drinking both. As we start to get on main street hundreds of people, no thousands of people are on the streets cheering. I need to focus. Don’t look at the people.
At the six mile mark I’m in seventh place. Not bad. Especially since I’m right on pace. The next water stop comes along, hardly anyone in front of me slows down for water. I think, “how stupid, it’s just going to cost them the race.” But I shouldn’t underestimate my competition. There are still four miles left. I keep running and I can feel myself still feeling strong, while others start to die.
This is how I win. It doesn’t matter how you start the race; it’s how you finish. Two miles left. I’m in fifth now. Right on track. As I see the arena in sight, I know this is when I have to give it all I have. I change the song to “Untouched,” making it repeat. We run through the arena’s tunnels. It’s dark, but the light at the end is where we go. We finish the last mile on the track. As I go through the tunnel, I have 100 meters until its one mile left.
I slowly fall into third, once again right on pace. But this last mile isn’t about pace. It’s about running like a bat from hell. No looking back, no regrets, don’t leave a single thing on the track. I have been ranked third all season, and I refuse to stay third. Two laps left. I slowly creep into second, going around her on the outside lane. This is it! I run! I feel like I’m flying! My legs move as if I can run forever! I can’t feel them which is probably a good thing.
One lap left. I see my coach shouting and screaming. I look at the stands; everyone is shouting and screaming. I spot my dad who is doing just the same.
Last 200 meters. I run! I don’t look back. I just run, pushing my legs faster and faster. The finish line creeps closer and closer. I push my opponent to the outside lane. I pass her not looking back. All my training, all my pain, and all my sacrifices. This is what I have worked for and I’m not going back.
I cross the finish line. I have won! The crowd screams with excitement! I can’t even stand. I see my dad start to cry, then I start to cry. My coach runs over to me. That’s the first time I have ever seen him run anywhere. I laugh a little. I can’t help but have the largest smile on my face. This is what I worked for, this is what I have trained for, this is why I love this sport. The staff honor me with my medal, and I take my victory lap, nice and slow. This is one of the best days of my life.
My dream was to go to the Olympics, and I’m going. 2024 I will be there, and I will win it. This really did come down to heart of the sport. Being a runner is really all about going the distance to get to where you want to go, and I am exactly where I want to be.