Everyone has shoes; they carry us, support us, and protect us. Not all shoes are made the same, but every single pair serves a purpose. Some are made for hiking, others for swimming, some show class and rank, some are just meant to loaf around in. The shoes I carry, carry me. I wear them on my runs and they carry me through the woods the streets. I run all over, and that is all thanks to my shoes. I carry my shoes, but my shoes carry me.
I always remember races; they are what make me into the runner I am, but I especially remember that day. The pounding was shuddering throughout my entire body. My feet on the ground and my heart beat in my head, beating as if to the swing of a song. I started to feel my throat tighten up as my lungs burned and clawed for air out of my scorched throat, but it seemed that only the tiniest inkling of oxygen ever made it into their raspy grasps. The crowd on either side pressed in on me; jostling until I escaped to the outside only to find a curve in the stream of people forcing me back to the masses. My sweat stung my eyes like bees and created pools of tears; blinding and stinging all the same. I needed to stop, I needed a break.
Unfortunately, there are no breaks in cross country, especially not on race-day. Nike Raffin Holly’s “festival of races” was chock full of hills: mild bumps to towering mountains. Rocks strewn the path, turning the course into a wild obstacle field. What grass there was had gotten trampled by the thousands of shoes that had spurted across the patchwork of trails criss crossing the park like viens. People say that the optimal temperature for running is 60 degrees; today it was 90. 30 degrees of pure hell. Even the air seemed heavy and stuck to everything, sweat drooled from everyone's skin and pooled in discolored puddles on their uniforms. Nike Raffin Holly was a place no-one liked, it had a certain taboo to it. The past two years it poured, causing the course to become a literal mudbath. This year it hadn’t rained in weeks, but the sun decided it was time for a UV attack and beat down on everyone. Deep in every runner's soul, they know Nike Raffin Holly as a terrible race. Nevertheless, the team still ran that day, I remember during the warm-up as we bolted from tiny patches of shade to the next smallest blot of darkness across our path. My legs already started screaming at me, lactic acid rebelling against my every move. I imagine this is what swimmers feel like, having water all around you, fighting to stay afloat. That’s what I imagined as the team slowly left me behind. Snapping out of my imagination, I picked up the pace to catch back up to the heels of the other varsity runners. Eventually, we hit our fifteen minute time limit and headed for the line. After running through a few drills, we were nearly ready for the race to begin.
The archaic starter stood like a dualist in the old west, I guess that means he was dueling 600 runners. He took his 10 steps in that classy, flashy, red, and yellow windbreaker. We all watched like hyenas as he crept into the middle of the start. If this really was a duel, he would win because he’s the only one with a gun. Instead, he just raised it to the sky likeRafikii raised Simba in The Lion King. At the top of his voice, he thundered “set!” Then the smoke shot up milliseconds before the sound pierced our ears. And we were off.
As we catapulted into the chute after the race was done, I felt like my legs were going to fall off. I staggered like a drunk man from the flagged isles into the masses of coaches, parents, and general spectators. Everyone swam in front of my vision as I searched for a hole of freedom, just a space in the crowd. I vaguely remember Coach Earl saying that was the best race of my life. All I cared about though, was that I was done. All the racing, all the pain, all the fighting for places was over. Now it was all pats on the back and good jobs for me and the hundreds of other Division one Runners that came rolling out of the chute.
Running is all about place. Times get you certain ranks in the race and that is how the teams are scored. Bedford took 11th that day out of almost 35 teams. Thats pretty exciting given that we weren’t all at our peak that day. It all happened because of how we raced and where we went, and we couldn’t have gone anywhere without our shoes.