When I was sitting on the grass, lacing up my spikes yesterday, the reality that I was about to run one of the last collegiate cross country races of my life finally hit me.
It was so cold as I stepped to the line with my teammates; we were all wearing our tiny little spandex uniforms. I wanted to jump around and do my stride outs just to get my mind off the fact that my blood felt like it was chilling in a refrigerator and I had lost feeling in my right big toe. I loved the beginning of every race though. We were all together, every team from all the colleges I never managed to keep track of. They were just as cold and jittery as we were, but we all tried to look intimidating, pretending to be oblivious to each other, and acting as runners do by shaking, bouncing, stretching, and swinging our arms and legs around.
Then, an anonymous man bundled in five layers of clothing holding a megaphone announced something, stepped in the middle of the course about one hundred meters ahead of us, raised both arms, and fired the gun.
The clock started. I didn't think about what I had for breakfast that morning, or the hours of homework I had done and had yet to do, or what the heck I was supposed to do with my life after I graduated in the spring.
The herd was set in motion and we were moving fast. I felt like an animal, like a deer maybe. The course took us down a dirt path through the woods, away from the spectators. As we stretched and thinned, space opened, ebbing and flowing like water, providing room to cut the tangents. Sounds of heavy breathing and pounding feet surrounded me.
I just ran; not away from anything or after anything either. I had no idea where I was going; we came to a fork and the leaders hesitated, pranced around for a second and made panicked, questioning eye contact with the runners coming up behind them. We wordlessly decided to take the left path, and the leaders took off again.
The first two miles were a blur. We looped around the course twice (or was it three times?), bounding over roots, leaves, and soft, black dirt. I suppose the trees were beautiful in all their glorious climactic grandeur of color, but I didn't really see them. By the third mile, I went numb; not from the cold, but just because that is what happens. It's difficult to think, and feel, and navigate, and run simultaneously. The finishing stretch was the longest and most painful. At that point, it didn't seem to matter how in shape I was, it came down to how uncomfortable I determined to make myself, and how conscious I still was to decide.
When I crossed the finish line, all I could do was slap both hands over my forehead and say, "Oh my GOD, oh my GOD..." My brain was buzzing on a high of endorphins and my legs were rubbery and wiggled unsteadily at the knees. Behind me, someone droned, "Stay in a line, stay in a line...just keep walking." We were led down a flagged corral like cattle. I concentrated on breathing and rationalizing and walking in a straight line. Somehow I couldn't stop repeating "Oh wow..." and "Oh my GOD..." (a phrase I never otherwise used).
I was smiling like an idiot. The park had suddenly become an incredibly warm and euphoric place. Colors were popping from the trees, the cars were clean and artistic in the orderly parking lots, the spectator's faces were glassed over with a shared, kindred happiness. Carissa was there, looking just great, saying something so nice I couldn't quite interpret it. My parents were there, too. My mom was even jumping, clapping her hands together. I could've hugged the man writing down our numbers. I could've walked around offering to shake everyone's hand, giving out high fives, slapping people merrily on the back, and repeating, "Oh wow..." with one or both hands slapped across my forehead.
Just when I thought the high was settling down, I looked up and saw Leah running down to the finish; the first finish of her collegiate carrier. Color fringed her face; she was determined, fixed on the line as her arms and legs propelled her forward. Giddy excitement stirred up tears in my eyes as our whole team ran to circle around her even before she could walk out of the corral. I felt the warm breath and bodies of my teammate all around. We forgot everyone else in the park. With tears brimming, she looked at me. I'll never forget her eyes in that moment. The clock stopped, and I can only remember feeling completely filled.
|October 25, 2013|
Can I even express how thankful I am for this team?
I'm so glad to know them; to grow, cry, laugh, and run with them.