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In the Long Run

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The runners take their places, all struggling to edge the other teams out for a few more centimeters of space. The gunner takes his place near the ATV, his voice clear and soft, but pounding in the heads of the runners, his tone is apprehensive yet calm, full of excitement yet cool and composed. He calls for the runners to get ready, to get set…the gun fires, the blast breaking past the runners’ ear drums and deafening them as they enter the scrum of bodies, each one competing for the position of a top spot in the mob, all the while sprinting their hearts out in the first five hundred meters – only the first tenth of the race. The adrenaline rushes, the elbows fly, while everyone’s muscles begin to cramp and their lungs pumping against their bones. I feel liberated.

My team begins to spread out into a line, with me somewhere in the middle trying to keep pace as our top seven runners begin to work their way up through the peloton, working to gain spots in the top third – these places will be crucial in deciding the winning team at the end of the race. As my legs churn beneath me, I retreat to a primordial state in which all I can focus on is the next runner. I am as dumb as a rock – the only thought running through my mind is “run faster” – and I love it.

As I approach the second leg of the race, the front runner, our head runner, leads the pack around a hairpin turn, I see him closely followed by our second, his afro furiously bouncing in the wind; I sense I am a part of a sprinting snake, each piece necessary, our coach bellowing at us to “Join or Die!” All I think is “Run faster”. This race changes me from my usual self, no longer am I the scholarship boy who keeps his grades up, but simply a runner part of a much larger process, I feel liberated, I sense fulfillment. This race not only lets me reach a level of entirety within myself, it lets me release the tension of the real world, a world that thrives on pressure and competition, competition that involves not feats of strength, but a commitment, an ideal of continuous learning. The tension release involves the discharge of endorphins from the exercise your body is doing, giving you a “runners high”, a mental state in which anything, even sprinting three miles straight, seems possible.

The projects in school and the test I take always seem like they’re possible, but as I’ve grown up, I have developed a reputation for always getting perfect scores or doing extremely well, so every day for school it seem like a new challenge is approaching, and every day is a new trial for me to surpass with flying colors – I knew no other way of life, until I found cross country. I went out to cross country thinking I would just come out in shape for soccer, but within the first week I made varsity, I began to think of it like just another project, until I began to run with the big boys. These guys made College running backs look slow, while still gracefully running miles at a time, like antelopes in Africa, loping across the grasslands with a serenity in which the observer seems to lose their sense of reality, drawn into the endless motion. Everyday I struggled to keep up with the top runners, who consistently pumped out sub six-minute mile after sub six-minute miles, going for hours at a time just rolling. Our coach made a deep impression on us to stay together, and it seemed like the front runner didn’t hear him, because they never slowed down, I had to just run faster.

This new experience struck me – I wasn’t the best, I didn’t have to be – I didn’t hear the phrase “Campbell Scholar” or “4.3 GPA” only “That kid has heart” and “18:12 5K”, I realizes I had finally found a novel me, I had unearthed something that took over me and offered me a new life, one where running could take me from society and make me part of a band of brothers whose common goal revolved around an ancient-now-obsolete practice – to run. At the second week I wasn’t these to lose weight or gain muscle; I was there to fill a space that only I could occupy in our fellowship, a necessary tie to all of us. I no longer felt alone in my position as top of the class, I was part of something I was scared I would never find again, a dedicated team. I knew I would be spoiled by this experience, knowing that for any other sport it just be back to the usual gut-busting time filled with sexual innuendoes and crude jokes (great team building (for guys that is (well maybe for some guys))). As much as I loved spending time with my immature teams, I felt a sense of accomplishment after a hard days practice. I had a hate-love relationship with running, on its face it was the hardest things I will ever do physically in my entire high school career, while as it moved deeper it became a love I had for something that changed me significantly, a thing that released me from the constraints of life.

Having no constraints was a new feeling, because at school I had a difficult two-faced life to live – hanging out with my friends, artificially dumbing myself down for ridiculous conversation and learning in class, elevating my mind to a level where I not only learned the facts and material, but interpreted it and truly loved to learn it. Out on the track though, there were no expectations, and it was something I began to look forward to everyday, until four-o-clock I was Mr. Campbell Scholar, but fifteen minutes later, sitting with my team sipping on my water while talking with coach before practice, my personality shred to pure me, a persona that struck my family and friends as pleasing, a character that cared more about being himself no matter what than his GPA or self image. With each step I took it seemed I left my fakeness behind me, struggling to catch up as I sprinted after the afro, now flowing gently as it quickly turned a corner.

Something that struck me as we would sprint around the track on interval days, afternoons spent running almost five miles of sprints around the track, sprints that would have us running four minute miles if they were run all at once, These days, running circles at break-neck pace, I feel like an Olympian. The images of the first Olympic Games held in Greece flash through my mind, I picture myself taking the turns with a tunic flying in the breeze, I feel patriotism for a culture that was destroyed over two thousand years ago – my heart filling with pride as I begin to imagine Pheidippides running to Athens to warn his city that the Persians were coming, an ancient Paul Revere (with only his feet to propel him through the city streets), who will always be honored for completing one of the most amazing tasks in human history, saving a nation, and then dying as he finished his duty. On the days where we run through the wooded glen behind my school and up hills and through streams, I can only imagine our team in Roman armor rushing through Gaulish forests, led by our great leader. I feel as if I can feel the air chill around me, the air filling with the clinking of steel plates and swords. As we arrive on race day, we line up to our rivals for the competition, the colors of today’s team red, I think of us about to face off against the British in a revolution – a private school trouncing a public school. These historic images are shocking to me, because I learned everyone in school, but now I am able to see them perfectly, with none of the adverse effects, I have truly been freed from my cage. I always knew that some people learn things different ways, either by writing it or seeing it, hearing the lecture or reading a book, but I had never truly realized that there are certain ways in which you can live it, and my new goal is to not necessarily just run faster, but to find the paths to not only victory, but to truly living.





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