on the line
it was the biggest race of my life. the kentucky high school athletic association (KHSAA) cross country state championships. known by high school runners all over the country as plainly 'state'. and i was running in it, representing south laurel along with my elder teammate josh messer. at region we had both qualified for this meet as one of the seven best individuals in region six, he was second, and i was fourth. and it was a cold and windy november day in lexington. i had on a long sleeve shirt on over my jersey, which sported the number 834 safety pinned below the south laurel logo on my chest, and josh was next to me in a black sweatshirt with the hood up and his face almost hidden from view. the officials came to inspect our jerseys and such, and the extra garments had to go. my two-year-old stinky running shirt was cast behind me to my coach, as was josh's hoodie. we were left there among the throngs of other runners and teams left with nothing on but short shorts and tanktop jerseys made from the lightest material on the planet with numbers safety-pinned onto our torsos. the official said we were okay and told us to relax, we still had ten minutes until the gun. we reached for our clothes again.
the voice came over the loudspeaker as we stood on the starting line at the KHSAA cross country state championships. i couldn't hear a word that was said, as i rarely do from the cheap megaphones used for these meets. i couldn't hear, but i knew that it was giving the runners the basic pre-race instructions to stay behind the yellow line until the 'on your mark', when you would step up to the red line and wait for the sound of the gun. the penalty for a false start was disqualification. but we still had three and a half minutes until the start of the race. josh and i once again had to leave our extra garments and throw them back at the coach. we waited for three minutes. the runner next to me (his school is unknown to me, for his jersey had the single word 'eagles' written on it) wished me good luck, and i did the same. josh turned around to me and said, 'let the best man win'. i did the same, and over the megaphone came the order 'on your mark'. two hundred plus runners stepped two and a half feet up to the red line and assumed the set position. then came the gun, and everyone was off in a mad sprint to be at the front of the pack at the beginning of the race. almost instantly i lost josh in the crowd, but i was off, in the dead center of the pack, stretching my legs out for all they were worth to get through the grueling first one hundred meters. i was running at state.
i was through the first one hundred meters, but next came three hundred more meters of grueling speed before the runners settled into their race pace. i stayed in the pack and made some passes, and was passed a few times, with much jostling and pushing and bumping to claw through the pack. after the first four hundred meters the runners began to spread out and the slower runners (who there were very few of) began to drop back and most kids moved up. i was still in the thick of it and couldn't seem to break out. these kids weren't the same as the runners i faced in the regional meet, they were almost exactly my pace. but as the race went on the runners thinned out more and at the mile marker i was running with only a few other guys.
coming down one of the rolling hills a greenwood runner began to make his move on me. i did as i had been taught countless times in practice and conditioning, i blocked him out. luckily for me the sun was behind us at this point and his shadow gave away his every move. we zigged and zagged across the wide trail, both of us too bullheaded to let the other one win. but then we made a turn and the sun was now in my face and i couldn't see where he was going, i relied on ears only. this kid was very smart. i tried to move in front of him again and he sped up, tying my legs up and almost tripping me. i gave a small skip and tried a different tactic, i sped up. i gained a lead but was caught once again by the greenwood runner. he came up beside me and we bumped pretty hard. we both left each other alone after that, but he did end up beating me.
aside from my escapade with the greenwood runner, i ran a pretty decent race. with close to eight hundred meters left to go, i caught up with josh. this was something he didn't like, and at the last two hundred, we both kicked for the finish. a pulaski county guy was right beside josh and i was three yards behind them. ten meters from the finish the pulaski runner stumbled for half a second, enough for me to get directly behind him right before the finish. josh finished first, and a second later i stuck out my arm and leaned forward as far as i could go to beat out the runner and my hand crossed the finish right before he did, but apparently they count by the torso. out of the three of us, josh was first with the pulaski runner, and then me right after him. he ended up tossing his cookies while we were in the chute. i gave the torn off piece of paper to the official who needed it and found that my time was a 19:32, though i am not yet aware of my place. i came out of the chute and stumbled toward the place where we had put our stuff and crashed on top of my bag. it was over for now.
i got up off my bag and walked with aching thighs over to where my coach was conversing with josh. i had already put my stinky two-year-old running shirt back on over my jersey, sporting the now windswept and torn number 834 with all four of the safety pins still intact. i began to unlace my running spikes so that i could put my shoes back on. i had to do this standing up because i was afraid that i wouldn't be able to get back up after sitting down. as i was doing this jenny bea passed me and i meekly cried out 'jenny bea' in the loudest voice i could muster. luckily she heard me because i doubt i could have squeaked out another yelp. she crossed over to me and we started to talk about the race as i slowly peeled off my covered-in-mud racing spikes and not-too-pretty socks in order to put on some sweat pants over my aching mud-splattered legs and some real shoes on my considerably white feet (compared with the rest of my body). jenny bea got jasper and v.j. to come over from across the field, though mom was still talking to our coach animatedly. i related bits and pieces of the race, with my story of almost getting in a fight with a greenwood runner and how my hand, but not me, had beat the pulaski county runner. we met up with coach carl, robin (carl's wife), and mom. there was much race and course anylization, most of it given by carl, due to my state of exhaustion. pictures were snapped and i used my last ounce of energy to smile in them, thought i don't believe they were pretty. afterwards the team went back on the bus and my family stayed in lexington for a while before heading back to london. the bus stopped at wendy's as usual and i ate to my heart's content and beyond, as usual. i later found myself at v.j.'s house and eventually back home and on my couch. the end
i now know that there were 205 runners in the race and i got 173 place, but i am young. i have four more years.