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Hel and Back Again

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I don't know if you know this, but in track, the 800 is one of the most hellish races you can go through. It's about a half mile in American terms, half a mile of flat-out sprinting. Yes, people are crazy enough to sprint twice around a track, and fit enough to keep it going and even speed it up when the en of the race draws near. And yes, I'm one of those crazy people. And proud to be one.

Let me run you through the dynamics of an 800; the first lap or so you're kinda on autopilot. It isn't you that's keeping you going, not the steely will or presence of mind that forces your feet onwards. It's more the fact that you're stuck in this race and the people around you are going this fast so to hell with everything and let's all go to die. The only thoughts you'll remember about this period after the race is the initial shock of oh my god they're sprinting this and then some blurred images of straight white lines and flashing feet. Then comes the drop off mark; up until now, you've all been running your own private races in your own private lanes. But after 300 meters, or ¾ of the way around the track, there's cones on either side and suddenly the only two lines that are holding you back are the ones separating the spectators from the runners. There's girls squished in front of you and girls squished behind you and no one wants to get too close to each other because track spikes can be really sharp when coming into contact with open flesh but you can't stay too far away because after all this is a race and you're trying to beat them. Another 200 meters passes without much happening except the good runners start to be separated from the mediocre ones. Everyone's starting to string out and give each other space and settle in for the ride-unless of course you're in the front pack. There's no mercy there.

Then there's another white slashing the track horizontally. By this time, if you're somewhat new to the 800, you're in full panic mode; what are these crazy girls doing? What are you doing? You can't possibly finish this fast! There's still almost half the race to go! What do you mean, faster? If you're seasoned, there's absolutely nothing going on right now thoughtwise. You're being smart and saving the mental drama for the real race.

When you reach the white line, you're supposed to change your pace from fast and relaxed (ha!) to loose and faster. You drop your arms to your hips and really drive through with every stride, trying to feel almost like every step is a leap. This is preparation for the sprint that's coming.

Then comes the last turn of the race and, with it, your own personal certificate to hell. This is where you are supposed to squeeze every last drop of juice from your sagging spirit, turn on the gas and motor is to the finish line. There's supposed to be no limitations, no second guessing, no hesitations of any kind. You are the best there and you can win and that trophy's yours and all you have to do is run yourself into oblivion. Except, that's whats going through every other girl's mind at the same time.

You see, for all that the run is call an 800, the real race is in those final 200 meters. Sure, maybe you've used a move to get into a good position, to take one girl out of the running, but everything you've done so far is in total preparation for this half a minute-no, not even that-of complete and utter hell. You're tired, thirsty, hurting, weak, unable, and a million other things-yet your team is waiting for you to hand over that shiny baton in first place at the finish line. So there's really nothing to it but banish all thoughts of protest and hang on as you round that last bend and come upon the home stretch. You're flagging but that doesn't matter. It's so close, that finish line, and the crowd's bearing you forward on a tidal wave of cheers and you're in first and your girl is standing there first in line, her hand outstretched, looking proud and a little bit wary as you draw nearer and you can already picture that trophy in your head.

And suddenly she has the baton. You're done. You blink in shock and then again as exhaustion slams down on you with all the force of a sledgehammer. You want to sit but that's impossible, that would take too much energy, so you just kinda stand there. It feels as if someone's scooped out all the muscles in your legs and arms. It feels as if you've never been energetic a day in your life. It feels as if you're going to- you stagger over to the nearest garbage can and retch up everything you've eaten in the past 24 hours. Then you wander around in a daze until you find water and a seat and you stay put until it occurs to you to watch the end of the race and when you see your teammate leading your rivals by a heady 25 yards somewhere inside of you there's a glimmer of pride.



You made it, you tell yourself. You've done it.
Eventually you have the energy to wander over to where your coach is standing with a stopwatch and a smile and you go stretch and cool down, because your next race is in a couple hours and you can't be stiff for that. In fact, you have to be as ready for it as if the 4x800 had never happened, and that's the truth.

So there's the dynamics of an 800. Well, really, the first leg of the 4x800, the race in which four people each run the 800 one after another. Yeah, it pretty much sucks-especially since its the very first race so not only are you there about two hours longer than the average runner but you probably have another race or two somewhere in the mix. But it's a race you wear with honor and not a little bit of pride. Because, you know, it's something to say that you've gone through hell and came out the victor.





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