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Sweat. That’s the smell that fills the air as I stretch before the race. Pain. The feeling as I grind out the knots in my muscles from lying around. I force myself to stand and jog over to the start line. As I pull off my sweats, a rush of cold, April air washes over my shivering legs. This is what I have been striving for. All those push-ups, the practice sprints, the endurance races, it all comes down to this. “Runner, alley 2.” The bored starter directs us into lanes like a rancher herding his cattle. We listen tentatively for the start, the start that means the beginning of many pounding feet on a track. “Set,” Says the starter. Go! The whistle blows and all the runners begin the grueling pace around the track. Gasp! My lungs ache from lack of air and my legs feel like wet clay. One lap down. Perspiration trails down my face and stings my parched lips. Hope dies as I realize I still have another lap. I can’t do this. But, I have trained for this. This is why I forced myself to work harder and exercise like mad. I force my legs to maintain a steady jog and my arms move tiredly like slow pistons. I glance around and I realize I am almost alone. I am passing the 200 meter mark and I am in dead last. Come on! I think. I push forward, propelling myself on weary legs. I manage a tired sprint and pass the second to last runner. Finish. I come in almost dead last. I look up to my coach with the word “time?” on my lips. 3 minutes, 15 seconds. I feel a rush of happiness as I realize I cut off 20 seconds from my last time. I take deep breaths, trying to get even a measly portion of oxygen into my lungs. “Hey,” my coach comes over. “Good practice. Next time, it will be the real thing.”





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