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It all started outside of my friend’s house on a dark winter’s night. My parents had let me out of the car on the opposite side I was supposed to be on, so I started walking across the street. Then I started running. A car came barreling down the road, sheer terror filled me as I felt the hot exhaust of the car on my ankles, the rush of air shortly afterwards. My step-father’s response his son being nearly reduced to a mere splotch on the asphalt “He has a long stride, bet he’d be good at cross-country”.

And so it was decided, that summer I trained thirty minutes a day, running a path through farms that often had me dodging combine harvesters the size of bungalows crossing my trail. I was never a sporty person, my parents had tried, but after soccer, karate, baseball and basketball hadn’t caught on, they had given up for a while. But now this, cross-country and I had to transform myself from a lethargic homebody into someone who could compete in one of the most physically grueling sports in existence.

After training alone for the entire summer, I started training with my teammates, and realized that I was at the back of the pack. I tried as I hard as I could, but the cramps, foot aches, tortured muscles and lungs that screamed for oxygen that I couldn’t find held me back. It got better, somewhat, and just in time because we started competing.

In the first meets my performance was somewhat similar to my training, I was at the back of pack, seeing the juniors and seniors from varsity accelerate past and finish long before I was even close. But after about three meets, I found myself neck and neck with a friend of mine, a sophomore, who I knew was a somewhat serious runner, usually at the middle of pack, I kept pace with him, even though it meant pushing myself farther than I had ever gone. Every breath was agony, my chest felt like I was lying down on a bed of nails, everything ached, but still I kept pace. I thought of all the other things I could be doing, playing videogames, watching TV, taking a nap. But instead I was out on a cold autumn morning, running in misery.

Sometimes I was in front of him, sometimes way behind, overall we were even, but the cost was enormous. Slowly, we started to approach the final few laps, getting closer and closer to the finish, like a man in the desert approaching a faraway oasis. All I could think about was keeping pace with the sophomore. It filled my mind kept me going. I felt my feet hit the pavement over and over, breathing, in and out, my lungs, ravaged and constantly under pressure. The finish, now in sight, got bigger and bigger in my vision, until, finally I was there. Cheering parents on each side of trail, I collapsed in a park bench, and even though the air was cold and I was in a tiny cross-country uniform, I felt like I was standing on surface of the sun, breathing, or rather sucking in air to recharge all my spent muscles. My coach congratulated us, and I felt fantastic, I had kept pace with a sophomore, I had really done it!

But when I turned to talk the sophomore, he said that he hadn’t been running hard this meet, that his actual time was several minutes faster than what he run, I knew he wasn’t lying, it all made sense. The victory was empty, against an opponent that didn’t even know it was a competition. At first I was crushed, I felt embarrassed, stupid. But then I realized, it didn’t matter, I had gone faster, farther than I had ever gone, I had set my best time, I could not have done any better, I had won against myself.





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