600 meters. Time to go. Breathe in. Out. Breathe in. Out. Stride. Stride. Stride. Arms bent at ninety degrees, pulling an invisible rope. The cheers fade. I guess I’m on my own now. Tennis courts empty on my left. Field hockey game on my right that’s too preoccupied to notice that I’m in desperate need of some cheering on. Turn the corner, giving a slight glance to my two pursuers. Stride. Stride. Stride. It’s all downhill from here. Breathe in. Out. 400 meters. Into the woods. It’s downhill here. You know it. They don’t. Hips forward. Go, go, go. Out in front. You can win. You got this. This is your only chance to win a race. You know every root and rock. 200 meters. Dart out of the woods. I heard my coach yelling, “Let’s go. Honor Roll! You’re so tough!”
I wanted to shout back, “No I’m not, Ms. Talbot! Make it stop!” But I didn’t.
I saw the crowd. I didn’t care how they thought I ran this race. They don’t understand. It happened one day when I was riding my bike in sixth grade. I wanted to do another lap around the block. In the coming days, weeks, months, and years, I started riding farther and farther. I bought a road bike. I rode every day after school. I got up at six in the morning in the summer to ride. I started racing. I was obsessed. My friend told me I should try cross-country when I got to high school. I did. I ran as hard as I rode my bike. Somehow, society placed more worth on how fast I ran than rode my bike. But that wasn’t my motivation to go faster.
I never got that hooked on running. Nobody does. Quite frankly, it sucks. It hurts. Everywhere. Toes, feet, shins, knees, hips, back, you get it and we haven’t even gotten to all the muscles yet. My first year I got lucky—no problems. Second year I got mono two weeks into the season. Junior year gave me a new school, a new team, new coaches. There was a plan every day. I was put into the machine. That’s when I started pushing myself even harder. Everyone wanted to get faster. Everybody was having a good time.
Then it was summer again. Alone. Working. Anywhere from forty-four hours a week when they were desperate for labor to twenty-five when work was slow. I again got up at 6 am. Drove to my local park. Ran it alone. Did distance workouts. Alone. Hill repeats. Alone. Speed. Alone. Abs. Alone. No one would have cared if I slept in. No one would have cared if I let myself finish a workout early. Everyone would have still cheered for me that fall. That’s why the crowd doesn’t keep me motivated. They don’t understand.
When Ms. Talbot yelled to me and said the words “Honor Roll” that’s when I knew it was go time. 100 meters left. Two Avon kids nipping at my heels for first place. Downhill. Flat. Neck and neck. 10 meters. Half a stride back. Full stride back. 0 meters. 17:34 3.1 mile course. I had done it, but none of the spectators knew—they saw me get passed. But I was running a race they didn’t see. We were getting cake. Because of me.
Cake is why we run cross-country. Cake is what every runner at Williston strives for. Ms. Talbot makes great cake. I’m all about her yellow cake with vanilla frosting. To be able to get the team cake at practice the following week, one must be ranked one of the top fifteen runners by personal record or PR since 2003. It’s an elite club. It’s full of the people who understand what running is. What it means. Who it makes you.
Sure everyone who gets a normal PR gets a lollipop at the practice after the race. And I guess that’s why they run. They run for lollipops. I run for cake.