Excerpt: Track and Trail, My Welcome-to-the-Big-Leagues Race

This excerpt is taken from my memoir about my freshman cross country season and is about my first invitational meet, the Track’n’Trail Invitational. Though it was technically the  second race I ran in, this was the one that gave me the welcome-to-the-big -leagues moment. 

Being in the top ten for Wootton opened another door later in the week. It was an invitational meet, Track’n’Trail, in Elkton, Maryland, which was two hours away. I’d heard plenty about the meet because the conditions the previous year were bad and the trail part was a mud pit. The forecast called for more to the same for the upcoming meet.

Personally, I wanted to skip the invitational. For one, I didn’t enjoy running in miserable conditions, especially the soaking rain and cold. Two, there was a four team meet the following Tuesday and I wasn’t sure if I could handle three meets in eight days. Third, I had a nagging pain in my right calf that wouldn’t go away. None of those three reasons ultimately swayed me from attending the meet.

That invitational turned out to be my finest cross country race, or any race ever, to date. The conditions were perfect: a cool temperature, nice breeze, and no sun, only clouds threatening to rain. The course was the nicest I’d ever see. The first mile was around a wide, grassy horse track and the second mile traced part of the straightaway and then veered off into a big field. The course then snaked through woods and spit us out onto the horse track again. There were 800 meters on the track until the finish, with a long straightaway at the end. The whole course, with the exception of the trail, could be seen from the wooden bleachers because there were no hills, making tracking runners easy. I was excited to run on the course and prayed that the rain would hold off just long enough for my race.

Just before the race started, we packed into our designated box with the other 11 schools aside us, each with 10 runners. Still, I didn’t feel nervous and reminded myself that whatever happened was His plan. An hour-long nap on the trip up also chilled my nerves.

The gun went off and we all bolted forward. I had plenty of space to work with and didn’t need to sprint. When we ran the run, I shifted to the outside lane and passed a bunch of runners. I couldn’t find Sam and Ben until that turn. I saw them far ahead and caught them by the end of the loop, just before the mile mark. When we passed the mile marker, the scoreboard read 5:10. That was a fast first mile, but I felt confident that I was in position.

The rest of the race was amazing. I instinctually knew exactly when to surge past runners, which made me feel like a superhero. There was no doubt in my mind that the gift was from above and it was proving very handy. Every minute I’d pass another panting runner while I was gaining traction. When I passed the two mile, an official yelled that my time was 10:40, a new two mile PR.

When the grass converged to the trail, I was battling another runner for 6th place. My priority was to stay upright on the trail, which caused me to slow down a bit. When I re-entered the track, I was still in 6th and had enough stamina to finish strong. When I passed the scoreboard before the final straightaway, it read 15:30. That meant that I had a good shot at breaking 17 minutes, which was much lower than I was expecting. I pushed hard for the last 400 meters, holding on through the pain. Another runner pushed past me with 200 meters to go and I picked it up more. I flew past the finish line and pointed up, spent but still upright. And the result was mind-blowing- 17 minutes and 1 second.

I was in disbelief, but given how great it felt, it sounded about right. Several minutes later, Coach Redmond approached me and asked how I felt. She said that it was a great result but wanted to make sure that we weren’t pushing too hard as a freshman to keep the improvement coming over the later seasons. I agreed with everything they said, including the idea of holding back mileage.

Similar to when I broke five minutes in the mile, I couldn’t take the smile off my face as we ran the cool down and stretched. After finishing both, Coach Redmond told us that the girls placed fourth and the boys first. We placed three runners in the top seven, five in the top 13, and seven in the top 25 in a field of over 100 runners. And that was without senior captain Jacob Rushkoff, our number three. Coach Redmond made sure to tell us not to get too excited. The Wootton boys finished 1st the previous year and then didn’t perform well at states.

Ultimately, the Wootton boys demolished the competition all year long, winning the county and regional titles for the first time in school history. 

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