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Why I Run
The day before my first cross-country meet passed so quickly that it felt as if someone had been messing around with the time. To say that I was nervous about the meet would be the understatement of the century. That entire day the only thing on my mind was the fact that at 5 o’ clock that afternoon I would be forced to run a 5k at a speed that would most likely leave me, to say the least, dead.
But at 3:30 p.m. I gathered up my bags and headed towards my doom—I mean the bus. Once I got to Franklin Park, the setting of this gruesome tale, my nerves really started to take a toll on me. My hands had begun to tremble and my mouth was dryer than it had ever been. Other freshmen had crowded around some of the seniors and juniors (who I call “race veterans”) practically begging for advice. I inched my way forward in time to hear bits and pieces.
“Don’t drink too much water right before the race,”
“Make sure you don’t start out too fast!”
“Try and keep a steady pace the entire time,”
My mind was awhirl with facts and I tried to take in as much of it as I could before we were rushed to the starting line. I looked at my watch and gasped; we were set to start in less than five minutes.
I clenched and unclenched my fists in a futile attempt to calm my erratic breathing. My heart was beating at an unimaginable speed and my eyes darted to and fro seeking a comforting face. Teammates and opponents alike surrounded me, doing their own pre-race routines and warm-ups. My stomach was performing back flips within me and I felt that at any moment I might see the pizza from lunch again, only in a much less appetizing form.
Somehow I managed to line up along with the others minutes before we were to embark on a dangerous journey that some (“some” meaning me) might not return from. Race veterans continued to shout out last minute bits of advice that I tried with all my might to force into my brain, which was at that point in time so full to bursting with countless details that I couldn’t even remember what I had eaten for breakfast that morning.
In a desperate attempt to calm my nerves, I tried to distract myself by concentrating on the scenery surrounding me. The sky was a pristine azure blue without a cloud in sight. A slight breeze ruffled my hair and I felt goose bumps erupt on my arms even though it had to be at least 80 degrees. The starting line was located at the peak of a hill giving us a view of the entire park. Woods and tall grasses were to our right but the area towards our left and directly in front of us was a blank stretch of land that looked so peaceful and serene I found it hard to believe that I would soon be running as hard as I could across it.
A man in a white t-shirt (who looked like he had never ran a 5k) walked in front of the teams to explain the course. My anxious twitching reached an entire new level at this point. My feet each appeared to be doing some sort of dance (tango on the right, salsa on the left) and my hands looked as if they were performing a piano symphony, or perhaps conducting one.
Suddenly I heard it; the dreaded sound that would forever remind me of that day. The gunshot rang and I bolted; my nervous energy finally put to good use. The crowd of girls was jumbled together and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t pass anyone. The chaotic mass surged forward and the sounds of footsteps seemed to echo all around us.
Control your breathing. Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow. Keep a steady pace. Push it up the hills.
Facts and advice rushed through my head and before I knew it, I was at the base of what other runners had dubbed “Hell Hill”. The steep incline was not only long and uneven, but it was set at such a slant that one had to concentrate not only on running your hardest, but keeping your balance as well. My breathing began to waver halfway up the hill and I hunched down, trying my best to just get the wretched hill done with.
As I reached the very top of the hill, I briefly glanced behind me and saw more than a dozen other girls struggling along. Even though its more than a little cruel, the very fact that I was in front of them gave me a small burst of energy and I was able to pick up my pace just enough to pass a few girls.
After what didn’t seem like very long, I reached the one-mile point, silently thanking whatever gods that be that I had made it at least this far. The second mile was one of the more enjoyable portions of the course. The majority of it was downhill giving me as much of a break as one can hope to have while running a 5k.
Even though I was already incredibly (we’re talking that feeling you get after pulling an all-nighter) tired, I forced myself to keep the same pace. When I entered the woods and felt the temperature drop in the shade I’m pretty sure I must have smiled because those five minutes in the woods were the best of entire race.
Once I exited the woods though and passed the two-mile point, my small rush of adrenaline unexpectedly stopped. My feet began to drag and my breathing grew heavier. This was also unfortunately, the point of the race that every runner hates the most: the spectators. Spectators themselves are not bad. They’re simply parents or friends who have come out to watch us race (though why anyone wants to watch a cross-country meet is beyond me). But when you’re running a race, that very last thing that you want, is to be only partially conscious with sweat pouring down your face and going at about the speed of a power walker and then to have people ogling at you while cheering, taking pictures, and being all around distracting. But at last, I made it past the dreaded spectators and on towards the last half-mile.
One would believe that last half-mile of a course to be a breeze; but than again, what most people think rarely ends up being true. As I was running the last stretch I felt that at any minute my legs would collapse from beneath me leaving me sprawled along the path. Surprisingly enough though, I finally made it to the point where I could just see the finish line.
A burst of adrenaline and energy rapidly filled me and I actually sprinted all the way to the finish line where I practically crumbled beside the water table before someone (I wish I knew who they were so I could give them the credit they deserved) thrust a cup of water into my hands which I greedily chugged down. Even though I looked dirty and disgusting and my head felt like it might very well crack in two, I smiled, happy that I had completed my very first meet.
When someone asks me why anyone in their right mind would want to run cross-country, I usually reply with a shrug or “I wish I knew”. But the truth is, the reason people run cross-country isn’t that easy to explain. We run for that great feeling after accomplishing something one has never done before and for the euphoria after finishing a particularly difficult challenge. That is why I run.