The Mile This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

November 30, 2009
A pudgy man in a gaudy, mustard-yellow jacket and red cap stands in the infield and shoots the starter gun straight up into oblivion. Fifteen meters to the left, 20 lean, muscular boys dressed in tank tops and short shorts begin elbowing and shoving, commencing a grueling journey that will either validate or destroy the past four years of their athletic endeavors. And all of this occurs in less than four minutes and 40 seconds.

Scholarships will be won or lost, girlfriends will be proud or embarrassed, and mothers will brag or be silenced. The only nonvariable in all of this is the high school male circling the oval quarter-mile track four times. When it's over, he won't be able to breathe, never mind stand or say “Hi, Mom” or meet a college recruiter. He'll crumple to the ground, never satisfied, bloody from a shoe spike inadvertently sliced into his calf, with a hammering heart and aching shins. But he will have finally given that 110 percent he has been trying for since the first day he stepped on the track as a middle-schooler.

A race isn't that unlike a physics or trigonometry exam: either you're prepared or you're not. You've either dedicated yourself in training, running hard mile after mile in miserable weather conditions – passing busloads of girls who see your short shorts and laugh – or you haven't. And Dad always told me that preparation prevents a poor performance.

Today, Brian Erhardt is prepared.

From the gun, early positioning takes precedent. Being in an outside lane only makes you work harder, so this is where the pushing, shoving, and elbowing come in. You need to get to the inside lane and find yourself an auspicious rank so you will still be a contender at the end, in this freight-train-like line of kids running around the track, single file.

The biggest advantage of competing as a senior is experience. By now I have turned race management and energy conservation into an exact science. I know when to go on the attack and when to take it easy. I frequently capitalize on the mistakes of underclassmen when they take the lead on the first lap or try to keep up with me. After all, you can't win a race in the first 200 meters, but you sure can lose it.

In the third and fourth minutes of the mile race, there is no denying the exhaustion. You want to give in. The muscle pain and the heart-through-the-chest labor set in, and you look for any excuse to quit. Sometimes you even see things, I swear. This is when I start depending on the spectators. Hearing “Pick it up, Brian. You can do it!” gives me the adrenaline I need to make the last pass and earn the medal my team needs.

Before the gun goes off, I'm so nervous it's comical. But after the race, when I know I left everything I had on the track, I have no greater satisfaction. I conquered my fear. I did something that you couldn't pay most people to do. I ran a mile in four minutes and 40 seconds, and though it hurt like hell, no one can take that away from me.

But I don't have time now to truly enjoy it; the two-mile race is in less than a half hour.

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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Benjamin W. said...
Dec. 22, 2009 at 10:29 am
My friend is an 8th grader running sub five minute miles. He trains daily it makes me mad but i know he has to commit to it because he's on track for the olympics
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