When I was a sophomore at Brockton High, I ran track year round. The track meet I remember the most was our last cross-country race. The team looked forward to it with a mixture of relief and joy. At the time, so did I.
The meet came at the end of fall. The weather was cold and rainy and the ground was hard and slippery. We walked over the beginning of the course with a guide so during the race we would not find ourselves lost. Looking over the green expanse I noticed all the hills (and that was just at the beginning of the course). The place was swarming with other teams, coaches, and parents. The boys' race had started off earlier. They ran past us and we cheered and clapped for them. All too soon their race was ending and ours was about to begin.
We stripped off our sweats and stood shivering in thin white shirts and ugly tight red shorts that more or less, in my opinion, resembled diapers. My stomach started to tighten with dread and anxiety and I began to feel queasy. I glanced nervously around at the different teams. I tried to guess which ones I could beat and which ones could grind me into the dirt. I smiled nervously at anyone who caught my eye, shrugged sympathetically, and continued to stretch. I heard a man yell into a speaker to catch our attention. Each team was placed into a specific spot, in a single line, at the starting line. I tried to fall to the back of our line but I was placed in the middle. I had a habit of starting in the back and going out slow. My coach knew this and so this was why I was placed in the middle.
It is the beginning of the race that I loathe. I'm nervous, worried about my performance, and to place well, a runner must start the race sprinting. I abhor sprinting. I do not sprint well, but I can keep up a pace. I heard the man give the final directions for the race and then the shooting of the gun. I started sprinting.
We sounded like a stampede of elephants. In the beginning, we shoved and pushed, trying to keep up with each other. The ground was slippery beneath our feet as we went around a curve and up a hill. From the corner of my eye, I saw a girl slip and fall. I started grinning and began to have fun as I saw another girl fall. We rounded the curve again and started back where we came from except this time we went onto a path into the woods.
Suddenly a girl fell directly in front of me in the mud. I didn't think but hurtled over her instead. It was by no means graceful or a move that was practiced. It was borne out of desperation. If I had tripped over her or stopped, I would have been run over by the stampede. A teammate beside me saw what had happened and started to laugh. This race was proving to be fun after all.
Coming out of the woods was a muddy hill we had to run down. I had already seen two people fall and slide the rest of the way. They were covered with mud from head to toe. I ran down, unable to stop, and started to skid. With my heart still pounding, I ran on faster, happy I hadn't fallen. The rest of the course was paved and easier to run on. As I went up a mound I saw the bright orange cones marking the end of the course. With happiness and pleasure I started running faster.
The wind was whipping against my face, turning it a glowing red. My legs and uniform were splattered with mud and my socks were wet and making my feet itch. I rounded the first and second cones, passing some people as I hurried toward my goal. I passed the third cone and started to sprint. My heart was pounding with excitement. Yes! I had finished! I could finally stop. I cherished this feeling.
After the race I was filled with feelings of relief, pride, and happiness. I cherished this feeling above all else. This year I did not join track. I regret not doing cross-country. Of all seasonal sports, cross country was my favorite. I miss not running and the feelings of pride and accomplishment I experienced after a race. Perhaps next fall I will join again. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.