How do you imagine summer? Is it waking up at 10am to the smell of your relative preparing a crisp meal bacon and eggs? Or maybe waking up at 9am and then going to 6 flags with your best friends? For me, it’s waking up at 6 in the morning to run 7 dreadful miles in 80 degree weather. Doesn’t matter if it was raining or if there was a heat wave coming, my team and I woke up at 6am to run at 6:30 everyday. 50 minute runs (6:50 minutes per mile), 25 minute tempos (5:40 pace), or 6 1200s (5:20 pace) were all things that brought us down to hell on those summer mornings. The breaks were no more than a minute long and if you were feeling weak, then that was too bad because you still had to run a couple miles back to school. You come back home at 10am, you’re tired, it’s too late to go to sleep, and for most of the runners, we had a summer job to go to. The life of a cross country runner is much different than the life of an average Joe, what we go through is something that only a small group of the entire population can do.
My running career started in freshman year (January of 2015). The first week or two were hell for me as my mile time was 6:55 and our workouts were much faster than that. I remember coming home and not being able to breathe normally for an hour and coughing for another. I wanted to quit because of all the pain I went through during practices and how I knew everyday that I would go through it again right after school. But I didn’t quit, I saw the other runners and obviously I knew that they were in some sort of pain, but I knew they got used to it and that is why they’re so good. That was my goal; I wanted to be just as good as they were. During freshman track meets, our coach put us in the 4x8 (a relay where four guys run 800 meters: half a mile) because we all had similar speeds and with practice those times improved and we weren’t half bad. To this day I have many 3rd place medals on my bulletin from all those races.
You might wonder why anyone would go through such misery. If you workout with the same people everyday, and go through the same pain with them that no one really experiences, you build some of the strongest relationships with those people. Even now in high school, my best friends at this school are my teammates. It isn’t that you just show up to practice and die; you do it with other people and you get that feeling of accomplishment and hope that you will do just as good as in a race. There is other benefits of running, such being healthy. Not only do runners mostly stay away from doing bad stuff, I haven’t been sick since in 4 years. That might just be true for me, however most runners stay away from smoking or anything illegal because it would mess with our body and affect our running. So we stay away from those types of people, not totally ignoring them, but staying away from their parties; whether thats a good or bad thing, our cross country team has the best grade average out of all the sports in my school, because we don’t skip out on school when we aren’t sick, so maybe that means it’s not a bad thing at all.
Those first 5 months of running were some of the hardest months of my life, ironically, I only weighed about 110 pounds freshman year and as the season progressed I gained 20 pounds from all the muscle that was being built (abs and every muscle that exists in the leg). My entire body was different, I was skinny, but I began to look more defined and I didn’t look like a skeleton. My whole diet changed as well, I used to eat a lot of sugar packed candy and 3 healthy meals a day which wasn’t much for a 14 year-old kid. As a runner however, I burned 2000 calories a day, and I needed to make up for those calories burned and for the calories I need to live, which is about 2000 calories. This meant that I had to eat 4000 calories a day. Mathematically, let’s say I start the day with 0 calories burned or gained, I burn 2000 calories running, then I eat 2000, that’s a net change of 0 calories which is unhealthy, so I have to eat another 2000 calories in order to have a positive, healthy, amount of calories gained. Most people know that runners eat a lot of pasta and that’s because pasta has a lot of carbs. Carbs are a great source of energy and runners need a lot of energy when racing or covering 13 miles on a long run. After becoming stronger and better at running, I decided I should keep running because there was so little of us on the team, everyone was important.
One of the oddest thing about this sport is that it isn’t always for the sport, it can be for fun. During off-season, our team would go off-trailing. We have a massive fort about half a mile away from school and it holds hundreds of memories. The fort is basically a cone shape, a 12 foot diameter circle and it’s 7 or 8 feet tall; although we are almost certain that others who explore the forest have found it, we still put leaves and sticks around it to disguise it as much as possible. We played capture the flag on cool summer evenings, “escort the president “where a bunch of guys surround the “president” and take him on a long hike from a random start position to the fort, while 2 or 3 guys brought paintball guns and shot at us. Or another time during our 2nd off-season of the year which takes place in the winter (2015’s winter was extreme), and the river was frozen: solid. We ran out into the forest, sliding on snow and ice, and we saw it, the frozen river. We took a couple uneasy step on the ice, fearful that it will crack. We used a stick to try poke a hole in the ice, however, with multiple powerful blows, we were about 2 inches deep and there was still no sign of water, which meant it was strong enough for us to run on, and that’s what we did. We ran on the ice river, it was something that I will never forget, the river has strong currents and when it froze the texture of the ice was rigid and it reminded me of microscopic picture of scales that make up a shark's skin. We got fairly far on this river and got to parts of the forests that I will not see again because the river won’t freeze like that again for years. Back in freshman year when I still acted like a kid, me and my friends still pulled pranks on random neighbors and friends. One of the times running was useful was when we clogged someone's mailbox with bananas and the guy actually came out of his house and we ran, and he got on his bike and I don’t think we’ve ever ran so fast in our lives. We jumped over multiple fences and got to a public park and hid in a thick pine tree and that was that. At time running was just becoming a factor of my life, but I was finding a lot of benefits and fun in doing so.
Back to the actual running sport, I’m not the best on the team, and to be completely honest I’m just there. For the past 2 years of doing cross country, I was always one place off of going to state (either as a runner or as an alternate). However, as I am writing this, I am going to sectionals to run in the 4x8 in about 2 hours so that’ll be a fun experience. For all the training I’ve done, I’ve thought multiple times of quitting. I mean why wouldn’t I? “Ive run several hundred miles in my career and to not go to state?” Was it worth it? But then I come home and start doing my homework and everytime I look up, I see that bulletin board with all the medals, ribbons, bib numbers that I have ever received and I remember all those hours, miles, energy I used to earn those medals. How much fun I had running that river, and all those games we played in the dense forest, learning simple skills such as using the sun as a compass to get back to school if we ever got lost, and all those memories of running away from ridiculous pranks come back every time I consider quitting. As I am writing on this essay again, I came back from my sectionals meet and I was the 1st guy in the relay and I got us to 1st place with a time of 2:07. Of course I’m happy about breaking my record and placing first, but guess what, that time is 10 seconds off the state requirement. Now think about how I’ve been training for this race for 5 months this year alone, and the 3,500 miles I have already ran in my life. Doesn’t matter, it’s just for fun. I get to see my best friends everyday on our daily workouts, we talk about some of the funniest things that make my day interesting, and even if we feel absolutely dead at the end of an workout, we know there's more to come so we shouldn’t even worry, because we finished today’s workout and we did good, we can do good tomorrow just as well.