There Are Running Shoes in Hell This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

     When the gun goes off, it’s surreal. Just the thought of it torments me and threatens my sanity. I have been dreading, pondering, even haunted by this moment. When I thought about it before, it was light years away. But then ... BAM ... the gun goes off. I run from the starting line, still skeptical that this is actually happening. Sometimes I imagine that it might be a real gun and I will fall over and die. Instead, I run, not because I want to, not because I like self-inflicted torture, but simply because I said I would. I am a woman of my word and I will run this race.

I pass the orange line. It’s one of those oranges I hate because it’s almost red, almost brown, but it’s orange, a terrifying sight to pass. This line divides the you before you start this race - a happy and fun-loving child - from the you after you’ve started the race - a malicious and angry homo sapiens.

Once you’ve crossed the line, there is no turning back. It is the gate to hell and this race - this 20-minute period of complete physical exertion - is hell. The first hill, here it is, I saw it from the starting line. I knew it was there. Now that I am on it I feel like I am going up a down escalator. There’s Mom. I wish I could stop for one of her hugs. She would tell me that I am going to be okay, but I can’t and she can’t. She’s still supportive but way too positive.

“Go, Amanda. You’re doing great!” Doing great, I wonder what the 25 girls in front of me would think of that.

“Come on, Jenny. You can get this girl!” “This girl” would be me. Jenny, I would just like to say I hate you. I hate you and I hate that man with the whiny voice who referred to me as “this girl.” Don’t even think about it, Jenny, because I will throw my elbow and knock you right down this hill if you try to pass me. Don’t enter my personal space. Oh gosh, here she comes. I can’t let her pass. Cut her off at this corner. Mission accomplished.

“Go, Jenny!” Jenny sure does have a lot of people out here today.

“Alright, Amanda, you’re looking great!” Mr. Dave, God bless him. I could have a tree growing from my forehead and he’d still tell me that I am looking great. I don’t believe him anymore. I go on, knowing that I look horrible. I’ve lost my strong form that usually prevails. I just need to get to the finish line so I can stop. Here comes the one-mile mark. I am 33.333% finished.

I’m at 7:08, a slow first mile, and there’s Coach to save the day and tell me that I need to pick up the pace. As if that isn’t obvious, considering all those ahead of me.

“Come on, Girl, you can run with these people!” he yells. I’d like to see him try. He got hurt 20 years ago and hasn’t run since. Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little ... No! Not that, it just makes me run slower. If John Kerry raced George Bush, I wonder who would win. That would be a true presidential race.

No, no, focus! I feel someone behind me approaching. Jenny? I surge to deny her. Denied. Can I stop now? Do I have to finish? Let’s consider the consequences if I just sit down: Coach hates me, my team hates me, my mom disowns me. I pass a girl sitting by the side sobbing ... now that’s encouraging ... really.

My sweat is flowing; it feels like someone turned on my faucet and I have no way of turning it off. Just 10 more minutes and I won’t have to think about it anymore. A lot can happen in 10 minutes. The world could end. One and a half more miles to run, one and a half more miles to sweat, to wince in pain, to wish that I were Mom or Coach or Mr. Dave or even Jenny, who just passed me during my inner monologue.

I wish I could go back to being five years old when the only worry I had on a Saturday was whether I could wake up early enough to watch cartoons. I can’t do that, I hate cartoons, and I am 16, so I am here, running, deciding what would be worse ... to keep going or to disappoint everyone.

I am only 5'1" and my legs must be a foot shorter than most of the other girls. I slow down. I am short but I am strong; I go back up to a good pace as I chase down Jenny, who is only a few yards ahead of me.

“Go, Jenny! You’re almost there!” They shouldn’t have said that so that I could hear because now I know that I am also almost there. One of Jenny’s 874 fans just let out a positive statement to all who are chasing or being chased by the infamous Jenny. I feel my angel give me a little push, and I leave Jenny behind. Silly girl, she shouldn’t have gone out so fast. I notice a leaf stuck to my leg by the mud that’s also on my leg. How long has that been here? Could it be slowing me down? I reach down to brush it off. I feel remorse because maybe it was just there for the ride. Oh well, I’m not giving free rides today. Breathing usually comes naturally and I do it without thinking, but right now most of my mental energy is devoted to breathing.

The girl in front of me is wearing cross trainers. I can get her. I know I can. I am wearing real racing shoes. These things could make me fly. She’s mine. One last hill, there’s just one more sad distortion of earth that causes pain and sweat and tears. I don’t know if I can make it to the top. There’s Coach, here to make me feel guilty about not charging up this hill.

“Come on, you gotta start your kick!”

Kick ... on this hill? Mary had a little lamb ... No! I will not under any circumstances allow Mary and her stupid lamb to slow me down on my last stretch. Where is my angel? I need another push, Gus. I call my angel Gus. Apparently he can cross the gates of hell to help.

“Come on, Amanda! You look great!” There’s Mr. Dave, he loves to watch us finish. I sprint with everything that’s in me. I forget about the gun, about Jenny, about my short legs, about my sweat faucet, about Gus, about cross trainers and big hills ... it’s just the ground and me. This is my last push to get out of hell. I cross the finish line and pass the clock that shows my time. I made it out. I ran my race. I have triumphed.

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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HateKnuckle said...
Sept. 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I love it. It made me smile and laugh because of how real the thoughts are. I would think some of the same things. I would probably think about Mary had a Little Lamb and the time left I had to finish. 5 stars.


Pumpkinscout said...
Sept. 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm
I hate it when I'm running a race and someone I pass is cheering for a competitor that is actually way behind me, when they're a long way off. Then I have to look around to make sure they're not catching up, and then I see that they're 200 yards away yet...It is so annoying. They should just cheer when the person actually passes them. Great article, by the way, very discriptive.
Alisha, NC said...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 8:50 am
I know exactly what you mean. I've run two seasons of cross-country. When you begin the race, it's hard to believe that it really started. I have to tell myself, "This is a race." And I also use encouragement meant for other people to make myself go faster.
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