Its 3.2 miles, that’s 5,000 kilometers, 16404 feet, that’s on average 6562 steps at race pace. This is cross country, running is in our blood. It’s our passion, our purpose. A cross country season starts in June and ends in November. That is 153 days of hard core training all leading up to this day. The day that could end our season or get us to Wisconsin Rapids, Cross Country state! Its 6562 steps, that’s all.
October 21, 2016, Rice Lake Wisconsin, Division 2 High School Cross Country Sectionals. This is the day we have been training for. All the hill runs, the back to back workouts, the hard lifts, all the blood, sweat and tears was for today. This 3.2 mile run. For most, today will be their last run of the season, but for the top five young men and women this will only be the beginning for what is to come. The clock strikes 1:45, two hours and forty-five minutes until race, and I begin walking to the locker room. I get on my old worn down jersey, my nice new black shorts, and my comfy slides. I double check my bag for my knee brace, my running shoes, my watch, and my water bottle before I head to the bus. I look at the clock that read, 2:00, two hours and thirty minutes until race.
My stomach is full of butterflies as I walk through the empty gym, and through the busy hallway. People wishing me good luck as I walk by, but due to nerves I am unable to comprehend who is exactly speaking to me. I make it to the bus, walk up the 4 steps, turn the corner and find seat 17, my seat. I put my duffle bag under my feet and descend onto the hot, gray chair. I grab my granola bar, my banana, and my water bottle, and then put my headphones in and hunker down for the 55 minute ride to Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I close my eyes and visualize every second of the race, from getting off the bus to crossing the finish line. Before I know it, the bus comes to a halt and we have reached the school. We unload and begin walking to our campsite. When we arrive we put up our tent and unpack. Then we wish the boys good luck as they start their warm-up’s for they race first. The time is 3:10, one hour and twenty minutes until race.
As the rest of my team assembles their running spikes, I walk over to the bathroom. The lines are always long so it took me about 15 minutes until I start walking to the tent. On the way back I think my prayer, as I do before every race. I pray for protection for myself, my team and my competitors. I pray for God to give us the strength to do our absolute best, and to help keep us calm and to melt our nerves away. I thank him for blessing me with the amazing team I have. I arrive to the tent and grab my pink Asics and put them on. First my right shoe, and then my left, double knotting both. Coach hands each of us our number and four silver pins. I put the smooth white paper on my jersey using the four sharp pins to hold it in place. The paper read 1010 in a black, bold font. I join my team over at the fence to begin our leg drills. Swinging my leg back and forth and back and then BANG, the boy’s race has started. We cheer them on as they head out. The time is now 4:00, 30 minutes until race.
After finishing our leg drills, we start our ten minute warm-up. While we’re running, I look at the course, memorizing as much as I can. When we return to the tent we walk to the finish line as the boys start down the final stretch. The screams are deafening, everyone saying different names, and when we see our boys start to come around the corner we start cheering as loud as we can. One by one they all pass and when our last boy comes through, we head over to the starting line. We do our skips, our sprints, and our dynamic stretches back and forth. The time is now 4:25 p.m.
“Five Minutes until the starts of the girl’s race” says the announcer through the megaphone. My stomach hurts more now than it did earlier and I feel as if I may be sick but I continue with the warm-up. We run to the other side and circle up. Coach comes and begins his speech to motivate us.
“You have been training for this day for months and now is when you need to put everything we’ve done in training together. You are all ready for this, prove it.”
Then our captain takes over, “You are all outstanding runners, get out there and push yourselves. Go and beat me. Don’t do this for Coach, do it for yourselves. LET’S GO! WARRIORS ON THREE!”
“ONE, TWO, THREE, WARRIORS!” We shout in unison. We sprint back to the starting line and lineup. We do what we all do before a race, jump high in the air, give high fives, whack our legs to keep them lose, run in place, “One minute! One minute to the start of the girl’s race!” says the announcer.
My heart is racing and my stomach is stirring. My palms are all sweaty, and my hands won’t stop shaking. I can’t seem to stay calm, but I take a deep breath and focus on the course ahead of me, the light green grass, and the bright red flag marking the first left turn. I focus on getting out strong and then finding my pace.
I look to my left and then my right and “15 seconds to the start of the girl’s race! 15 seconds!” Here we go! I tap the ground and feel the soft, green grass below my fingertips and then wiggle them as the announcer begins to count down.
“10, 9, 8,” my heart starts to beat faster and faster, “7, 6, 5,” complete silence. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart beat and the wind whooshing across the empty course. Then, BANG, the sound of the shot courses through my body and shatters all of my nerves to ash, and all that’s left is to run. You have nine seconds of adrenaline that won’t affect your body in the race, sprint! After turning the first corner I find my pace. Right, left, right, left! This runs through my head so I don’t focus on everyone else going way too fast. We run around the baseball field and I see that my teammate is not too far ahead of me. I keep my pace and inch closer and closer to her. By the time I reach her I see that we have reached the end on Mile 1.
I go a little faster to compensate for the fact that I am actually running at the same pace, but only feel as if I’m going faster. Mile two is where we need to push ourselves the hardest. In the second mile everyone else slows down and we can make our move. I find a girl that will help me keep a good pace and I stick with her. Stay with her, you can do it. She’s slowing down, get her on the hill, surge the crest, surge the crest! Alright on to the next girl. Got her! Stay with her. We go back to the swarm of fans and run through them. People cheering my name all around, but I have to stick with her. I can do this, come on stay with her. We run around the second baseball field and I look ahead to see the next mile marker, the end of Mile 2.
Come on one more mile. You can do this! Last mile of the year, right here right now. Come on push yourself you can do this; it’s one more mile!
“Only 1,000 meters to go! Push it, push it this is it, come on you can beat these girls!” screams coach on the right side of the course. I push myself to go a little faster! I make a left turn and head down a long stretch with small rolling hills. Focus on what’s ahead of you! Turn right. Now another right! I head down another stretch of small rolling hills, pushing myself to go faster and faster, leaving everything I have on the course. Passing girls, and girls passing me, but I’ll catch them. Left, right, left, right, longer strides! I take the final right turn and start the final stretch. My heart is racing, I feel the sweat dripping down my face, come on do this for your team, I run a little faster, do this for yourself; I run a little faster, do this for the people who can’t run! I skip high in the air and sprint faster than ever before, people screaming my name. My family, my team all screaming at me to push all the way through the line. I go faster and faster passing girls on my left. I am now 20 feet from the finish. I dig in deep and use every last ounce of energy and strength I have to push across that line. My right foot strikes the platform and my body melts. This is the feeling. The feeling of accomplishment, and of exhaustion. The feeling of having no stress and anxiety in your body. Feeling as if you’re the only person in the world, complete silence for a moment.
I make a fast stop and slowly walk through the shoot. Adults ensuring I’m okay and telling me to keep my hands behind my head. I search for my teammates, doing my best not to pass out. It’s hard to find them in the swarm of girls collapsed on the ground; girls puking on the side or crying due to pain. I find my teammates and I give them all a huge hug! I feel their heat against my body. But it doesn’t matter in this moment. I tell them that they left everything on the course and that I’m so proud of them.
We all mosey back to the tent to regroup. Some of us are happy with our performance, others are not. But, we are all more motivated than ever for next season! We later find out that none of us made it to state and that two of our runners were one spot away from making it.
Cross Country is one of the most physically demanding sports. It takes a strong, determined athlete to make it through 153 days of pain. 153 days of wanting to quit but, not. Cross Country is a hard but, rewarding sport. You learn to never give up, and to use your losses as motivation. You create a family that will always be there for you. A family that will push you in every aspect of life. A family that trains together, races together and wins together. The next year our new boys captain, the one that had placed one spot away from making state the previous year, placed fifth at sectionals. We turn to him with excitement and say, “You made it.” But he looked back at us with a look I’ll never forget and said with pride, “No. We made it!”