The 5/6 Girls 400 Meter Dash of 2008 This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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“5/6 Girls 400 meter dash runners, please report to the staging area. 5/6 Girls 400 meter.”

That was it. The call. I slowly rose from my spot in the bleachers at the IUPUI Track and Field stadium. Each runner on the track team sitting around me glanced over at my anxious self and gave cheering words. I made my way up through the bleachers and onto the concrete steps that led around the stadium to the track. Suddenly my dad appeared beside me. “This is it, kiddo. Leave it all on the track.” I smiled at him, me a complete nervous wreck and him confident and serene. He believed I would do well. Why didn’t I?

After about ten minutes of pushing, shoving, and “excuse me’s”, I finally arrived to check into the staging area. As expected, the area was already crowded with jumping, stretching, and apprehensive girls. I twisted around to look for my dad, but he had gone, leaving to probably go have a discussion with the other coaches. I took a deep breath. This was my deal now.

The 400 is, most definitely, the hardest race track has to offer. It isn’t the longest, but it is the one that takes the most determination and strategy. The 400 meter is only one lap around the track, but a demanding one at that. It requires an all-out sprint the whole time, and the last 100 meters calls for everything that’s left in your body. There’s only one word I know of that describes the 400 perfectly: brutal.

To add on to my set of qualms was the fact that this was only my second time in my life running this event. I had always been a short-sprints kind of runner. So there I was, Miss Newbie, making her way to the staging area of a race she knew almost nothing about. A minute-long race that would change my athletic reputation completely.

I pulled off my sweats, laced up my spikes, and started to stretch. It seemed it had been only five minutes since I had arrived that the CYO officials called out, “400 Meter 5/6 Girls, please move to the middle of the field and line up in the staging blocks!” My heart leapt into my throat as I listened to the official’s voice. I jogged over to the specified area with other 5/6 girls, some breaking down with anxiety, many of them calm and collected. Many people I knew from other schools flashed a smile at me here or there, but I knew that other things were on their minds.

The staging blocks are little pieces of wood laid into minute squares in the middle of the field. The staging block you end up in also marks the lane you’ll run in. This is a big deal, as some of the lanes aren’t exactly ideal. I was hoping that I would end up in an inside lane, preferably lane four.

I approached the staging blocks with a shaky stride; trying to appear tranquil, but probably looking the opposite. I joined the throng of girls organizing themselves in the blocks. I quickly hopped into the middle block of heat four. I gave a sigh of relief. Now that that issue was taken care of, I had the real deal coming on.

Soon after I had jumped into the blocks, I found myself surrounded by almost hundreds of girls, also selecting their spots in the blocks. My breath caught right in my throat as I glimpsed my competitors: tall, powerfully built, and secure. It was the same story for every single one of them, it seemed. “Now I’m really gonna get it,” I thought. I bent over to stretch, trying to show off the muscles I had.

For awhile I socialized, met new people, and of course asked what everyone’s best time was. From the information I gathered, I concluded that my best time was fast by anyone’s standards, but making it into the finals may be out of the question. I tried as best I could to work my mind into a “you-can” state. As I was doing this, I heard a voice booming over the intercom: “5/6 Girls, please prepare yourselves for the first 400 meter dash race! Would heat one please step forward to the starting area!” Everyone around me gave their friends and me thumbs-up and loads of “good lucks!”. It was time to get this done.

Heat one had already been sorted out at the starting line and was being placed in their lanes, making a stagger start. The girls in that race shook out their legs and hands, and some of them even appeared to be praying. An elderly man with ghost-white hair seemed to step out of nowhere and into the scene. “On your mark………get set………” BANG!

I kept my eyes locked on the electronic board that towered over the stadium and demanded my attention. It was displaying each runner’s last name and current time. At that moment, the girls were rounding the corner of the track and starting on the last 100. That is where many runners will start to shriek or just plain fall over from exhaustion. “Oh geez,” I thought. “Slow down! Ugh!” The board was showing baffling times. Times that I would have to conquer with only one weapon: speed.

One by one, each heat sped through their race. Minute by minute, I was steadily growing into a state of panic. Before I knew it, heat four was called upon to approach the starting line! I laced up my spikes again and slowly got back up. This was it.

The rest of heat four and I shakily made our way to the starting line. I felt like dying. Just right there and then, collapsing and dying. “It’ll all be over in a minute,” a new friend of mine whispered before we were positioned for the stagger start. “Literally.” I nodded once, and then stepped up to the bold white line in my beloved lane four. I lowered myself down into my tweaked version of the sprint starting position. Left foot on the line, right leg back, tensed, ready. Hands on the line. Head down, ears alert.
“On your mark…..”
“Get set……..”
BANG!

And at that second, the sound of the gun, my brain is separated from my body. It is only floating along my physical essence for the next minute. With each stride I push, harder, harder, pumping my arms, eyes straight ahead. First 100 done. Eyes now fixed on the back of a uniform in lane three, not to my liking. I am barely aware of the breathing of the girls behind me. Last 200. Picking up the pace, spikes slapping the track with even more intensity than before. The uniform draws closer.

By now, I believe I can go no further. I open my mouth to moan, but snap it shut before a sound can escape. Stride, push. Stride, push. I feel the strain on my legs as the curve of the track approaches, angling them ever so slightly. The curve is past. The Final 100 has begun. My stride is lengthened, my pace is sped up. A roar weaves its way through the crowd as I pass the girl in the uniform I had been trailing behind the whole race. One by one, I pass the other girls who were leading the race. The finish line is advancing ever so slowly. “Now it’s time to just leave it all on the track.” The crowd’s cheers are blocked out by the sheer force of exhaustion. I stumble. My vision is suddenly tainted with sparkling dots. The outer corners of my sight start to fade, the way an old cartoon does at the end. And then, I let go. It is done. The race is over. I lean down with my hands on my knees. My head is practically spinning, my conscious self is begging it to stop. I force myself to stand up. I correct my stance so that I am standing tall, and then I look up at the electronic board. I see my last name and a time beside it: 1:08.78. And right next to my time, I see the number one.





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