Not Just a Race

December 1, 2011
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I am shaken awake by my teammate, and friend, to decide if we should start warming up soon. I was not actually sleeping on my fuzzy, red blanket, but resting, listening to music, staying calm. I look around my surroundings under the cramped, dark green tent that simply shades us runners from the sun. The bright yellow sky light has moved over in the blue abyss, creating more shadows since I last saw it. Scattered around me are training shoes and spikes, white school T-shirts and black Nike warm-ups, plastic water bottles and various granola bars, grass covered blankets and an assortment of electronics. How anyone will find their belongings and clean up when this track meet ends, I do not know. I lace up my pink Saucony running shoes and munch on my favorite pre-race snack, a peppermint Luna Bar. I repeat the lyrics of one of my catchy and motivational songs in my head, trying to keep nervousness from creeping up my spine and swirling in my stomach.

I stand up and meet two other girls from my team that will be racing with me. We are all essentially wearing the same things with mix-match white track shirts and black school warm-ups over thin yellow and blue uniforms. I mention the setting sun on the horizon and hope it will not be blinding our eyes when our race starts in about an hour. They agree and we start our easy-going jog around the baseball fields and over to the practice grounds where built throwers are chucking heavy metal balls and discs behind the stadium. It is the middle of April and the grass is still a mixture of yellow and brown dead straw and random, bright green patches that recently started to grow back. Out here, the quietness saturates the calm atmosphere, but I can hear the cheering from the track on the other side trying to break the serenity of these semi-empty plots of land.

Ten to fifteen minutes later we have almost finished a loop around the circumference and stop in the bathrooms which because of their simple square shape and gray walls would be unrecognizable without the signs of a male and female on either side. By now, they have mostly run out of paper products, but still, there is a line. We finish and head back to camp to get a few things before the race, passing some others from our school and mumbling good job’s and good luck’s on our way. I take out a white sheet of computer paper, with the schedule printed on it, from the bottom of my cluttered duffel bag. I have folded and unfolded it so many times that I have difficulty reading some parts as I check to see if we are some-what on time and let the others know that we are a little early, but better than being late. After retrieving my lightweight Adidas spikes, reusable water bottle, and a piece of mint gum, I wait in the sun for the others. Then together, we walk over to the field and into mild chaos.

Passing through a circle of short fencing, we enter the action. On the red, hard track there is a race going on. Like the Nintendo game Frogger, where a frog attempts to cross a busy street, we pass with caution, dodging the tired, but speedy runners. Then we maneuver through the pole vaulting area, where bodies are waiting to through themselves into the air, higher than the person before. The field in the middle looks like our team’s camp spread out. Runners and jumpers have little piles of resources lying around while they stretch and warm up.
We find a spot and start doing the same. On the other end, I can see the high, long and triple jumpers, who are also throwing themselves onto thick blue mats or into a dusty pit of loose sand. We sit down and I switch my running shoes to my racing ones. Looking around, the silver stands are full of eager parents, bored siblings, and other supporters on both sides of the track. I can hear thier many inaudible conversations buzzing in the background. To the left of the seating, there is a little vender set up, selling souvenir shirts. Close to that, it is busy by the start and finish line as a set of runners come to the end their race; some happy, some not so much. Watching them finish makes my stomach turn as they brace themselves on their knees in exhaustion. I take a swig of water and start skipping, backwards running, and lunging back and forth down half the field, going through my dynamic, or moving, stretches. I start feeling jumpy excitement that seems to be spreading in the air, awakening my senses and telling my body to prepare to be pushed to its limit. Around me I can see others who feel the same. All of sudden, this usual track feels like the Olympics and very intimidating.
After our muscles feel loose, and ready to race, we cross the track and go to check in. This area has an oversized umbrella and a plastic table, silver benches that match the stands and an impatient man with a clip board, but mostly, it is overflowing with pre race feelings of jitters, excitement, determination… Arriving there, we wait until he finds our names. There is one more race until our heats start; as we prepare, our competitors join us. By the time the worker starts calling names and organizing our event, this little corner next to the track is crowded with people.
My name is called and I join my opponents in a forming, single file line. The sun has fallen behind the stands and luminescent stadium lights high above take over the job of letting us see, making everything under them look bright and busy in comparison to the night. As the list of names end, we all walk single file one hundred meters down the red, bumpy track. Eight lanes separated by perfectly drawn, white lines. Ahead of us, the spot where we start are some more plastic tables, an electric timer on a stand, and tired volunteers working on results from previous races. There are so many people making up the crowd circling the track, that it feels like every pair of eyes are focused on what is about to start. As we all arrive at the end of the straight away and lineup in our appropriate lanes, it is obvious to even an outsider, that the race is about to start.
The official comes and starts speaking. He is older and has the common neon orange sleeve on his right arm, a white collared AIA (Arizona Interscholastic Association) shirt, and a gun in his hand. He goes through the starting procedures with authority, but it is the same speech any of them walk us through.
The official finishes and to our group of eager runners, the race has already begun. “Set…!” the gun is held in the air by the hideous orange covered arm. Like babies taking their first steps we all move and lean slightly forward, arms and legs staggered. A deep breath and then a loud popping sound pierces the air and a fraction of a second later, we are all racing.





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