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Run Like Clara This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I am a runner, and have been for a while now. I've been through seasons and seasons of brutal training, and I've raced through mud and snow and blood and tears. I've run on a fractured knee and in lightening storms. I've raced up hills that can't be called hills and cliffs that, for some odd reason, insist on being called hills. I've collapsed, I've fainted, I've won a few and lost quite a few more but there is one race that will always, always stand out in my mind, and that was my first race ever.
What I consider my first real race wasn’t until the beginning of my freshman year. The first Cross Country meet our team goes to is the Big Red Invitational. Our coach showed us newbies the course beforehand, and right at the end where there’s a big loop around the field leading to the finish, he said, ” right here there will be everyone screaming, and not everyone’s gonna be screaming for you. But I don’t care. If they’re screaming for Clara, today you will run like Clara, and today you will beat Clara. Got it?”
We all nodded and trooped of to prepare ourselves, if that's even possible.
The start of that race was almost in slow motion. With my sweatpants off, shivering in the cool, fall air, I toed the line and shifted my balance slightly, trying not to look at the thirty or fourty other freshman girls who were all here to do better than me. I felt the person next to me slowly exhale, and I saw the cloud of vapor flow out of her mouth.
“On your mark!”
The sun glinted off of every dew-soaked leaf and blade in the silent field. My heart leapt and I felt all my weight slowly shift forward, as I leant a little deeper into the spray-painted grass. A ragged inhale I’m sure even the girls in box one heard and
“GO!”
The crack of the pistol jolted me and if someone had suddenly turned up the volume, I could hear people yelling, screaming, and I fell into the middle of the pack as we scrambled up the first incline, feeling almost as if I was flying. Up the first, then the second hill, I slid around a hairpin turn, literally coming down a mini cliff with my hand skidding across the dirt like I was snowboarding. We all stampeded back into the twists and turns of the woods where I was playing hopscotch with roots and rocks and patches of mud. Everything was silent except the sound of our feet pounding and our ragged breathing when we hit the final hill.
It was a short race, only one and a half miles. The first mile or so was a zig zag of ups and downs too quick to even notice with the adrenalin of the start still racing through your blood.
But, just as you thought it was over, then there it was. The hill. Half a mile long and too steep to even be comfortable at a jogging pace, that’s where the race is decided. We started going up, and our pack split. There was one set of girls up in the front who rounded a curve as if they hadn’t even noticed the ground rising up under them, and I can’t say I saw them again. Then there was a second group, girls with hair flying and arms pounding, girls who I was with, then just behind, then lagging, lagging. In the half mile, they must have opened a gap of fifty meters. They topped out the hill just as I realized that I had no idea were the third group was and if they were gaining behind me.
Then, with my legs burning, almost crying, I began to run. Sure, I had run like this at the beginning too, but now I was doing it without the aid of anything besides sheer will to catch that group up ahead.
Suddenly I was out of the woods. I crossed the road and saw the finish just a loop away. Stretched out in front of me was a line of struggling girls. My resolve was sinking, and I was beginning to think vile thoughts, quitting thoughts when I heard it. I don’t know if it was fate or just dumb luck, but one of the girls in front of me had everyone and his wife cheering for her, and only a few strides back now, I heard them: “COME ON CLARA! RUN, CLARA, RUN”
What else do I have to say? Discovering something that I would later come to learn was called a “kick,” I poured it all into that race, that last 300 meters. Legs flying across the no longer pristine field, the searing knives in my calves and thighs didn’t mean as much as I approaching that swinging brown ponytail, and then inching past her, and kept going, going until the flags of the makeshift finish finally gave permission to stop.
I didn’t get a medal that day, or any day my freshman year. I got three things I value much more: a memory, a mindset and a mantra. I’ll never forget that first real race, even when I’m one hundred and one, that’ll be the day I learnt to run, and never looked back. As for the mindset, I learnt something I never understood before, that sometimes it’s okay to give up everything you have. Sometimes you need to because you may not be the fastest, or the strongest, but if you don’t try you may as well just stay at home and not bother with the racing at all.
Then, finally, the mantra. I still race to it to this day, be it on the track or the trails, indoors or outdoors, I always have it there in case I need something louder than the voice in my head telling me to quit. It keeps me running through pain that only another runner could understand as it plays, looped like my itunes is stuck on repeat.
“You are Clara, run like Clara. You can give more, run like Clara. Come on, run, you know you've got it in you. Keep going, and now go beat Clara.”



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