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It Took Nineteen Years
Throughout my junior high years and majority of my high school years, I’ve had the same opinion about cross country the entire time. I absolutely hated running for fun, and if someone ran instead of playing football in the fall, I usually made fun of him for not being tough enough for a contact sport. However, all of this changed the summer before my junior year. On a whim, a friend and I decided to sign up for cross country. Why? We’re not so sure either. (I never played high school football though; I wasn’t tough enough—ironic, right?) Neither of us knew what we were getting into, but we didn’t care because YOLO. June and July passed, and out of those months, I ran three miles; however, our workouts said we should have done almost 120+. Our coach is one of the best; he coached multiple teams to state, and he even coached an elite Big Ten runner who went to the Olympic Trials.
When he started coaching us, reality hit me in the face. I should have laced up my shoes and run all those miles. I should have done more training, but I didn’t. Our first four-mile run killed me. Two different times, I had to stop to prevent myself from dying right there on the spot. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I thought to myself. Once we returned, our coach said, “That was an easy run.” I then realized it was going to be a long season.
August passed, and I have finally worked myself into “running shape” or whatever that is. Our first race took place at our local boy-scout camp, and I had high hopes going into the day. I didn’t know about good or bad times, so I just planned on running. Three hills are on that course, but in the middle of the race, they felt like I had to get up Everest. When I arrived at the base, these hills were so towering I thought I saw snow all the way up at the top. I finished that day seventy-seventh overall, seventh on the team, and about died for a time of over twenty-one minutes. I knew I was capable of better, and so did my coach.
Thus, the workouts increased: forty-four miles a week, seven mile runs, eight half-mile repeats. If this didn’t kill me, nothing would. Aside from gaining physical strength, I gained even more mental strength. Running is ninety percent mental, and the rest is physical. Slowly, I became faster, getting a personal record at every race I went to, while watching my time slowly diminish.
Finally, the season ended, and it was the week of our conference meet. Only one other school gave us any close competition in our conference, so technically, it was just between us two. I’ve been thinking of this race ever since I crossed the finish line of the last invitational. Thoughts raced through my head like ‘What if I fall?’ ‘What if I don’t run well?’ ‘What if I can’t even finish the race?’ My evil mind conjured up every terrible scenario that could happen to me on race day and made me think about it all week. After the longest week of my life, race day had arrived.
Hard, crisp, clean air surrounded us as we unloaded the bus into Welcome Park. This is the type of weather normal athletes loath but distance runners cherish and use to their advantage. On the outside, I looked fine, and I laughed. However, on the inside, I felt like I was about to puke. Here we go. It was race time. We went through the stretches and warm ups; I gave my pre-race pep talk, and to the start line, we went. The opposing team’s number one runner ran in the sixteens and would make it impossible to catch by our times, so I knew I had to stay with their number three runner. As we made the walk back to the starting line to what seemed like Narnia, I found their number three.
Bang. Our conference meet began. From the hundreds of fans there cheering, I heard absolutely nothing. The fans cheering me on to catch the next guy were silent. The fans hoping I fell and broke something so their son could catch me because I was better than he were silent. To me, it was a normal, cold Saturday morning in the park. I ran my first mile 5:32. I felt good, and I had their number three runner in my sights. Adrenaline started coursing through my veins like venom from a snakebite, and I started to gain a little more ground on him. I’m not sure how much pain I endured, and, frankly, I didn’t care as long as I was with who I needed to be.
The first two miles were in the books, and the third mile started. My body felt as if I went through a gauntlet, but I knew that was just my evil mind playing tricks on me. I had lost ground on the number three runner, and I knew I had to make a move fast. I started my move at the half-mile mark. I finally ran to about ten meters behind him. He was weak, and I knew he didn’t want it as much as I did. Because of that, I felt comfortable with my position. Three hundred meters separated a small white line and me, which is when I really made my move. I sprinted to at least catch up with him, and that’s where I stayed until the point one portion of the race. There I went. My inner Kenyan took over, and I separated from the man I had to beat. People’s faces flew by, taking enormous strides, and I finally caught a glimpse of the “Finish.”
With my legs pumping like pistons in a supercar, I started to gain a bigger lead. My chest almost exploded. Twenty meters. Ten meters. Finish. 18:00 flat. Personal victory has never felt so sweet. I collapsed when we were finished, and as all the adrenaline went away, I felt every bit of the searing pain in my legs. I beat the number three runner by two seconds after he stayed ahead of me almost the entire race. However, my team came in second place overall that fateful Saturday morning. Life goes on, though. One can’t live in the past forever. My eleventh place finish that day sufficed for a spot on the All-Conference 2nd Team. The scary man from Chicago, our coach, knows how to train runners.
We are Boys Varsity Cross Country:
We are GMC- Runners-up
We are regional qualifiers with a fourth place finish at districts.
We are the first team from our school to go to regionals in nineteen years.