The runner raced up the slight hill and made the turn to the left. He led a pack of five other runners by a good 15 yards. He looked like a machine, his long legs chewing up ground, his arms moving forward and backward like pistons. His face was all business, no stress, no strain, just focused on the goal ahead. You could see droplets of sweat on his face and back in the stifling heat, but nothing seemed to slow him.
The runner clipped off half mile chunks like they were quick sprints down the block. He took an early lead over the large pack of other runners in the first 500 yards, stretched it even further at the mile mark and never let go. He kept the pressure on and cruised to an easy win.
A continuous stream of other runners followed. They all came to the cross country invitational wanting what the lead runner had: they wanted the top spot. There were runners of all types, short, tall, and everything in between. They ran in packs and then others ran all alone. The course looked like a battleground, with mini chess matches taking place around every bend, hill or curve.
For example, one young runner struggled to stay with a group of six runners who overtook him in a wooded area where few spectators had ventured to cheer on the runners. The runner with the name of his high school, Hempfield, plastered across the front of his red singlet looked like he might drop back at any moment, lost in the heat of the battle. The wear and tear of the run was catching up to him. He lacked the same smooth form of many of the other runners and the pain seemed to seep out from every pore in his body. While many runners had an emotionless expression, he looked like he was in the worst pain possible. The heat was catching up to him. But at the same time, he refused to be passed without a fight. He kept up with the other runners and when they came to three short hills, he attacked. He pushed the pace up the hills by several notches, losing three of the other runners in is wake and when he reached the crest of the last hill, he used a short straight stretch to catch the final three right before the finish line.
The young runner crossed the line and immediately fell to the ground barely out of the way of the mass of runners finishing after him. Bent over on all fours, he took huge gulps of air. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath. His coach ran up to him, picked him up off the ground, said something into his ear, and gave him a long hug.
The two runners reminded me of everything I love about Cross Country: the pain, the hard work and disciple, the constant battle against other runners and against yourself, the camaraderie of the team. It all came flooding back to me.
“I should be out there with them,” I thought to myself. “I should be running down other runners. I should be clocking speedy mile times and catching slower runners. I should be feeling the wind rushing through my hair.”
And then the truth came rushing back. I’m not 16-17 years old anymore. I’m thirty-some years and 80 pounds removed from my years as a cross country runner.
Oh, where have the years gone? For a few glorious moments, however, it was neat to reminisce and dream.