The startman--standing tall in his orange vest--shouts through his megaphone, “Runners last call!” By the time I hear him, the message is muffled and distorted, but at this point I knew there is no backing out now. Every cross country race brings with it unique challenges; however, when it is all said and done, I simply run as fast as I can until my legs carry me across the finish line. As time dwindles my stomach churns like the inside of a washing machine. Before the gun even sounds my mind runs a million miles per hour: “Did I stretch enough? Am I hydrated? If only I would have laid off the ice cream last night.” My thoughts plant a seed of doubt in my mind., but it is time to race. The vast sea of hundreds of runner quiets down as the startman raises his starting gun and flag. Eventually it gets so quiet that you can hear a pin drop; I hate that. I wish everyone would just keep running their mouths because when it gets quiet, my heart feels like it is about to explode from the nerves building up like lava builds up in a volcano. As I stand ready at the startline I wonder if I am ready for everything this race is about to entail. The emotions and challenges that a runner goes through during a cross country race reflect the different stages of life as a whole.
The start of a race is absolute mayhem. The gun thunders over the field of hopeful runners and the hounds are released. Elbows fly as runners fight for position. Everybody merges into one giant pack like sheep being herded by dogs. The crowd cheers so loud that I cannot even hear myself think. At the beginning of a race my goal is to get out quick and make my way to the front of the pack. The stakes are all or nothing because if I fall behind it could ruin my race from the start. Some races I wish I would have just relaxed a little bit and conserve energy for the end because. This stage of the race is characterized by adrenaline rushing through my veins like a crowd storms into Walmart on Black Friday. I work to my absolute limit; All in order to put myself in a good position for the rest of the race. The same can be said about high school and its competitive nature nowadays. Students push themselves to their absolute limits so that they might stand out among their peers to a college admissions counselor. It seems as if everyone has tunnel vision. High school has become less about learning, and it is viewed more as a platform to prove your worthiness to top colleges. Everybody wants to get out to a fast start in order to be at the front of the pack. I would even go as far to say that high school is just as hypercompetitive as a cross country race. To take just one more AP class kids sacrifice all that it means to be a teenager: their social lives, sleep, freetime, etc. There is a premonition that if we do not take those classes somebody else will and they will end up on top; Just like a runner believes that if they do not sprint ahead at the start somebody else will and will win the race in the end. After the hectic start that is a cross country race and life, eventually everyone settles into a groove.
At around the one thousand meter mark, the pack starts to settle in. Runners put their head down and truck forward. I scout around to see who is around me and make a conscious effort to stay with this group all the way to the finish. The start of a race is a shock. It is fast paced and exciting--the complete opposite the grind called the middle of the race. My legs feel as strong as an ox, but the monotony of just running starts to bother me. It is really easy to lay off the gas and slow down because running consumes all my attention. If I am not completely focused, I find myself losing ground to my peers. And then it hits me--the infamous wall. Everything seems to be going well and then it is like my legs turned into jelly. Each meter hurts more and more. My lungs scream out in agony begging me to stop. I begin to ask myself, “Is this even worth it?” I open my mouth to suck in air like a vacuum; however, the inside of my mouth is as dry as the desert. The worst part is hearing my own heavy breathing. It psyches me out and I get in my head for the rest of the race. At some point life hits everyone just like the wall in a cross country race. Life could be going well. After college you might have established a career, bought a house, maybe even started a family. Everything seems to be falling into place. A routine is established: make breakfast for the kids, take them to school, go to work, come home, read a bedtime story, and fall asleep only to do it all again tomorrow. Some people live for this routine, but others find it monotonous leading to a midlife crisis--an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age. This midlife crisis can drive adults to buy that lipstick red set of wheels they cannot afford. Motivation is hard to come by during this phase of life. Ultimately everyone encounters pain whether it be the death of a family member or the loss of friends. Just like in a cross country race, what really matters is how people overcome the overwhelming pain and push forward even stronger.
The homestretch and mad dash to the finish line is challenging, yet I find it to be exhilarating. The competitive juices in me flow as fans line the edge of the course packed as close as sardines. The roar of the crowd ignites a fire inside me and inspires me to run faster than ever. Runners mob towards with a look of agony across their faces. Despite the excruciating pain that takes over my whole lower body I manage to find Herculean strength to finish the race. Crossing that finish line is the greatest feeling in the world; I feel as if I just struck it big by winning the lottery. The sweat glistens from my body and drips to the ground like raindrops. I look as dead as a zombie, but the feeling of setting my sights on the finish and accomplishing that goal is blissful. While there is no set finish line in life, I believe that everyone sets goals. Some goals are short term, but true dreamers set goals so high that others laugh. Finally accomplishing these life goals fills a person with joy and makes the struggle to get to that point worth it. Both the runner and dreamer encounter pain on their journey to the finish, but they also experience the embrace of happiness that comes with being able to see the fruits of their hard work. Throughout life everyone will set many goals, just as runners will run many races, and they each test us to become the best version of ourselves.
As the engine of our school bus hums the bus drives away into the sun-kissed sky. All of my teammates--drenched in sweat and aching--take their place as we trek back to our second home--NASH. We share stories from the course and compare race times with each other. We pick each other up after bad races and celebrate outstanding performances by shouting and cheering like hyenas. This journey also gives me time to reflect on my own race and how I am grateful for the struggle we call cross country. Life is a struggle; It has its ups and downs, but what truly matters is how people stay humble during the good times and bounce back during the bad times. Cross country has afforded me friends that will last a lifetime and allowed me to forge memories that will highlight my life as a highschool student. Seeing that I am at a paradigm shift in my life right now, I hope to embrace the lessons I learned during cross country and apply them in my life to come.