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Racing a Sub-Six This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I have been waiting for this moment all day. My spikes are light on my feet. I wiggle my toes, ­enjoying the cool breeze, and bend to retie my laces. Satisfied, I stand, bouncing on my toes. I stretch one last time as the official drones into his megaphone:

“All 1600 runners, please step out on the track.”

I take my place in lane seven. The other girl ­assigned to the lane is right behind me. We walk out to the starting line and she turns to me. I see my own fear and ­excitement reflected in her face.

“Good luck,” she whispers.

“Yeah. You too,” I reply.

The official cuts in again, his megaphone blaring right in my ear.

“Everyone, please take two steps back from the line. There will be two commands: ‘On your mark,' and then the gun. When you get to the orange cone at the end of the curve, you may cut in. If anyone falls in the first hundred meters, you will hear two gunshots. Please stop running and return to the start.”

I have heard this speech so many times that I have stopped paying attention. Instead, I focus on my race. I need to run four 400s at one minute and 29 seconds each in order to break six minutes. I focus all my ­energy on running, pouring everything I have into this race. Then the megaphone crackles.

“Runners, take your marks.”

I step up to the line, right leg forward, arms loose at my sides. A shiver runs down my back, but I relax, ignoring it.

Pow! The gun goes off, and I spring forward. I know I am pushing too hard; I need to slow down a little. I round the first curve in 21 seconds – too fast for my pace. Luckily, this buys me some time to cut in. I move in front of a girl in yellow, ignoring her muttered curse, and settle into my pace. I round the curve on the far side and a gust of wind hits me head on. I put my head down and try to power through it, but I can feel myself slowing. I reach the end of the curve and am out of the wind. I pick up the pace to make up some time. There is a man standing at the start yelling times.

“1:25, 1:26, 1:27, 1:28, 1:29, 1:30!”

I am one second behind. I pick it up even more, hoping I can hold the pace. The second lap passes without any trouble, but on the third, I start to feel it. Rounding the curve, my lungs feel like they are about to burst. I wonder why I subject myself to this time and time again. I just want to stop, but I know I can't. I have to be stronger than that. I clench my jaw and head down the home stretch for lap three, still right on pace.

My legs are numb, and I can't feel them hit the ground. As the wind gusts, the illusion of flying is almost complete. If I weren't so tired, I would be laughing my head off. I turn off the straightaway and into the last curve. I hear everyone screaming, but I can no longer understand the words. The only thing that matters now is finishing. Then my coach's sharp yell cuts through:

“5:31, E.R.! You need to run! Kick it in!”

I bring my head down and put everything I have into my legs. Now I am intensely aware of every movement. I keep my gaze locked on the finish, and quicken my stride. I can feel the energy leaving my body. Just a few more meters … I cross the finish line and run through. I can barely breathe, and all I care about is my time.

I glance down at my watch, and watch the numbers tick to six. I did it. I can feel my body relaxing and I lean my head back and laugh, tears of exhaustion streaming down my face. I feel an arm around my shoulders as a friend comes to see how I did.

“Sub-six!” I gasp.

I see the surprise and excitement on her face and burst out laughing as she hugs me. I go to cool down. I take my spikes off, put on my warm-ups, and jog away, satisfied.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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