The Final Stretch

November 17, 2011
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“Hannah, Hannah, it’s time to get up,” I hear vaguely, trying to wake myself of sleep and warmth. It feels like I just went to sleep, and now I have to get back up out of my warm, cozy bed to go run. Sometimes I think to myself, ‘Why do I do this? Who gets up at 7 a.m. to go RUN!’ I force myself to get up and realize today is regionals! ‘I could let this be my last race and end the season today, or I could go on and make my dream a reality. Yes, the dream, that’s what I want; I want to go to state; I’m right there! I’m so close! There’s a part of me that says, ‘A little sophomore from a small town of Ayersville going to state? No, it’s not going to happen.’ I argue with myself the whole ride there as my stomach fills with butterflies.

“We’re here!” someone in the van says as we pull up to Hedges Boyer Park, and I step out into the cool, crisp, refreshing, fall atmosphere. I can feel the excitement as I look around at the runners and spectators. Parents and other onlookers stand around with their coffee mugs in hand, while some are buying their souvenir t-shirts. Others are standing in line at port-a-potties. Runners are stretching and warming up. I go over and over in my head the course where to pick up and where to look out. Before long we set up our camp, stretch a little, and go start our warm up. My thoughts are still racing through my head, yet every now and then I see a familiar face there to cheer me on with a comment to distract me for a couple minutes: “Good luck, Hannah. I’ll be cheering for you!” Time passes, and we return to camp to stretch some more, get spikes on, and numbers pinned.

I reach into my gym bag to pull out my muddy, worn spikes and nervously put them on. People around me ask “So, Hannah, this is it. Are you going to make it to state?” I wish I could give them a confident answer, but I just nervously reply, “I’m going to try.” Taking the time to stretch my tight muscles from the car ride here, the thrill of anticipation lingers in the air as I watch other runners in different divisions that race before me strive for the same goal. With support behind me, my excited coach and I make our way to the starting line to check in. She advises me: “Get out and get ahead of the pack, so you won’t get boxed in. Just run smart!” We soon approach the crowd of fans, runners, and coaches. The spectators are very interesting to watch with their wild attire and crazy attitudes. Some come in full out body suits like tigers and bears, while others hardly wear anything with just a cape on and their stomachs painted.

I soon find my box and the official to check me in. A box is really just a painted number on the grass for me to stand in and wait until the gun goes off. He tells me the normal requirements: “No earrings, jewelry, or bracelets.” “Got any under armor on?” he stammers for the concern of more than one logo showing.

“No,” I reply.

“All right, you’re set to go good luck.” I go back to my coach and stretch nervously as if it might bring more power. After receiving my final good lucks from friends and family around me, I hear the short blasts of the whistle, signaling for our meeting. I trot out there not caring what he has to say because I’ve heard it a thousand times before. Looking around, I see the runners down on one knee in front of me in a circle, looking intently at the official and all the fans lined up on the sides of the starting line ready to scream their heads off when the gun blows. He ends his speech with “All right, ladies, good luck today,” and with that I know it’s time to go back to the starting line for the start of the thrilling three point one mile race.

As we run back to the start, the runners are going crazy, yelling and screaming with excitement. I quickly strip my body with the warm sweats I had on to feel the cool breeze hit my bare skin and in seconds find my box for the start of the race. Three long blasts on the whistle and the crowd grows silent. I look down to notice the row of spikes that seems to last forever as all the runners step up to the starting line. I get in my stance, knees bent, right foot in front of the other. The final long blast of the whistle sounds, and I can hear a pin drop. BANG! The crowd roars with spirit, and I think to myself, ‘There’s no turning back. Go, Hannah, sprint! You have to get out in front of the pack or else you’re going to get boxed in.’ The pack of runners sprint in full force with all the adrenaline raging through their bodies. ‘All right who can I stick with?’ I question myself to push me to my potential. The crowd drains from my focus, and I’m in my own world. I start to think to myself random thoughts to pass the time and try not to think about the aching muscles or my pounding chest: ‘What I’m going to do after this? Look at those crazy fans.’ Each mile I count down to myself: three miles to go, two miles, one mile, an eight hundred left. Something I look forward to is my mile split being yelled out by some random people that tells me if I am on time. It’s hard not to think about my muscles burning with every step I take, while my heart thumps out of my chest, and my lungs scream for more oxygen. The race has been a long two miles so far switching position throughout: I’ll pass a girl; then she’ll pass me. Coming up on my last mile, I have to know my place. I frantically look to the fans and see my babysitter and her daughter; with the breath I have left, I yell to them, “What place?” They hesitantly yell back at me seventeenth! ‘I’m so close. One more person. Come on, Hannah. How bad would it be if you got seventeenth place, one away from state? All right, up the hill and around to the finish.’ With all my might, I plod up the last hill and pass the last needed girl.

After making up what seemed like the impossible hill, I look up with a face of pain and see my very spirited, former principal jumping and screaming at me. He shouts, “Go, Hannah. Go! You can’t let any more girls pass you. Pick it up every turn. Go!” I’m only an eight hundred away and try to pick it up as much as I can the final stretch, yet my body just wants to fall to the ground. Rounding the final turn with a one hundred to go, I look back to see how far away the seventeenth place girl is. ‘I’ve got some distance on her. Just finish the race!’ Finally, I cross the finish line in sixteenth place. ‘I made it! I can’t believe it! I’m going to state!’

My body thanks me although still tries to hold itself up. Some runners drop to the ground as if gravity dropped a five hundred pound weight on them, while others with the breath they have left congratulate each other. With excitement and surprise, I exit the chute where I’m lost in hugs and excitement from my friends and family. Though smiling ear to ear, I could see the slightest bit of happy tears in some of their eyes to which all I could do was smile back. I have never been so proud of myself, standing there knowing I’m going to state.

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