DCXC: 15 minutes, 37 seconds of fame

Note: The following is an excerpt from my sophomore cross country memoir, Making My Move, and is about the DCXC Invitational Meet. With DCXC coming up in two days, I wanted to revisit last year’s unforgettable race.

DCXC was a unique meet in that there were eight different races, one for each grade and gender. While each race gave prizes to the top three teams, all the boys’ results and girls’ results would be added up to determine a boys’ champion and girls’ champion.

During my freshman year, I led for a portion of the last mile before falling off and finishing fourth in 17:17. This year, two of the runners who beat me wouldn’t be running, but the best sophomore boys from my county, Aaron Bratt from Whitman and Obsaa Feda from Northwood (both were in their first year of cross country), would be running. My plan was to dictate the pace if it was slower than I wanted, similarly to the B-CC/Landon scrimmage, and then kick it up a gear at the 600 mark, 400 mark, and 200 mark. I was focused on winning first place and what would be my first high school victory. The prizes, which included an interview and Beats headphones, were enticing incentives.

Unlike the previous races, the weather at DCXC was picturesque. When we were running warm-up, all of us sophomore guys seemed pretty confident. One of the freshman, Benjamin Fritz, ran an astounding 17:26 after running over 20 minutes in the first meet, so we were all determined to get personal records of our own. Due to some spike issues, I did warm-up stretches a little bit later than some of the other guys, but when we stepped to the line, we were all confident.

From the start of the race, I wasted no time getting to the front. I settled into a pack of about six runners at the front, and the pace was fast enough that I decided not to take the lead. I identified the runner who’d beaten me the previous year and Aaron from Whitman and knew they were the real competition, so I never let them get further than a couple strides ahead. At the half-mile mark, the first-place runner for most of the race had fallen back and the front pack of five runners, including myself, started to pull away from everybody else.

We hit the one-mile marker around the same time, which I later found out to be a 4:59 split. I was so focused and nervous that the thought came into my head to stop, even though I felt great and was in prime position. I couldn’t shake the temptation until about a half-mile later, when I decided to focus not on the competition but on keeping with the pace and getting through the 5K. That mindset change made me less nervous, but I was still within striking distance in case anybody made a move.

At the two-mile mark, someone yelled out 10:12 for the two mile split. That was eleven seconds faster than my best two mile, which was on a track, so I knew it was a fast day. The pace was right where I wanted it to be, with Aaron and another runner dictating the pace in the front and Obsaa and I hanging behind.

With 600 meters to go, the other runners started to fall back, but I was still feeling strong. I I knew before the race that I wanted to take the lead at a tree about 500 meters from the finish and I committed to making a move there, even through the fatigue. I moved up all the way to Aaron’s shoulder and then booked turn a sharp turn around the tree, shooting me into the lead. With 500 meters left, I was right where I wanted to be.

Aaron responded instantly by surging and retaking the lead, but at the left turn towards the track I pulled ahead. Aaron retook the lead a couple seconds later, but I took advantage of the small downhill leading into the track and hit the track first.

Immediately, Aaron took the lead and I thought that he’d pulled ahead for good. It felt like a game of tug of war- as if I was inches from elimination and not sure whether to let go of the rope. I debated whether I should just settle for second and stop trying to stay on his shoulder, but I decided to give it one more pull. I wanted it that badly. Halfway around the bend in the track, I was back in the lead. But leading into the straightaway, Aaron showed he wanted it just as badly and regained his lead.

As I rushed in from the boundary between lane one and lane two, I thought Aaron had the race won. But I gave it one final, all-out push from the outside line and powered past him toward the finish line. Victory was just ten meters away.

Aaron was surging and I knew it would be neck-and-neck. We were both kicking as hard as we could, arms pumping, legs flying, heads bobbing, and faces making the most distorted, desperate expressions. In a split second, I decided to try to put my foot over the line and get it down as fast as I could to secure victory. On my right, Aaron leaned forward over the line and we both crossed at the same time.

For about 20 minutes, we didn’t know who won or what the times were. I was almost falling over, but compared to my freshman year, I was relatively stable. Everybody was congratulating me and Aaron, but I thought the time was somewhere around 16:30.

“School record!” someone told me. It blew my mind. The record was 15:43, and my best race time had been 16:44, a minute and a second more. Entering the race I was aiming for 16:20 to 16:30 based on my time freshman year, but even that seemed like a bit of a reach.

I was barely upright when Charlie Ban, the Editor-in-Chief at the RunWashington magazine, asked me for an interview while I was waiting for my place. I didn’t know about my place or time, so I talked about my pre-race strategy and how I wanted a hard pace. With regards to Aaron, I said that it would be a fun couple of years ahead. Finally, I learned that I place second by a margin that was too small to be recognized by the automated timing- hundredths of a second. I also found out that our time was in the 15:30s, and possibly a new school record. To top it off, our sophomore boys team won our race and we all hit new personal records.

I talked to Aaron for a while as we posed for pictures. In reference to the Landon meet, I asked if this was a tempo run for him and he said it wasn’t, with a grin. He seemed happy with his result and equally surprised with his time. I’d met him during outdoor track in the spring during one of our meets. He’d missed all of freshman cross country due to injury, but he ran a 4:42 1600 and 10:06 3200, so I knew he’d be someone to keep an eye on during cross country season. Now we finished a race stride for stride.

After all the pictures with the top finishers were over, I was whisked over to be in more with the other Wootton sophomore boys. I told Joe Pohoryles (affectionately known as Poho) that he needed to pinch me to make sure it wasn’t a warped dream. I definitely knew that I’d be at the front of the pack, but 15:37.2, my time, was totally incomprehensible. I had no idea what was happening.

At last, all the pictures were taken and I was met by a barrage of hugs. In all the races I’d run before, the only people I’d hugged were my mom and dad. That day, I’d hugged nearly half the people on the Wootton team, all sweaty and exhausted. Seeing the joy of everyone else on the team at my accomplishment felt so special and was my favorite part of the day.

The race was beyond a best-case scenario, but I was still kicking myself over the finish. Officially, Aaron and I tied with 15:37.2, and I knew that if I’d leaned, I would’ve come away with the victory. Winning the race was my main goal and I’d come inches away, so that was disappointing. I told myself that I’d use the race as motivation and that I’d practice leaning over the line.

When all the races had completed, we lined up for even more pictures. Then, we walked over for the awards assembly and both the boys and girls won first place trophies for the overall standings (the boys actually finished second). The atmosphere around the team was incredibly joyous. You would’ve thought we’d won states! Per my teammate Anna Sohn, 50 of the 54 runners set new personal records, showing our all-around success. The bus ride home was a loud, happy ride.

By the time I arrived at home, around 8:30 PM, I still couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened. I had so much energy that I decided to hit the road for a night run so I could think the race over without distractions. I ran as fast as I wanted to and even though I cramped up on the last mile, I enjoyed the freedom and solitude of the run. 3.11 miles later, I was back at my house, now really ready to take a shower.

The whole DCXC performance set off a firestorm. Between Facebook and the morning announcements and word of mouth, it seemed like half the school knew about the record. In every single class people offered congratulatory remarks and were talking about the race. RunWashington posted an article containing a writeup of the sophomore race, and pictures of the finish were all over the internet. I posted a picture of me with the coaches post-race on Facebook and thanked them and everyone else who’d supported me and helped me reach the record and was also in countless other pictures of DCXC. That post later reached 100 “likes”, meaning about half my “friends” liked the post. In biology class, the girl sitting next to me told me that everyone was talking about me and I just smiled and nodded.

With so much attention at once, I didn’t really know how to deal with it. I made it a priority to not let success change me or what I believed and stood for. In running, you can be humbled with a bad run or race at any time, so being prideful is a foolish and demoralizing mistake. Trying to be humble throughout it all was difficult, especially with the non-stop praise from my teammates, but my parents and faith helped me stay grounded. I also made it a priority to encourage teammates and reciprocate the praise I’d received. I celebrated the achievement, but come Monday’s practice, I shifted my focus to the upcoming divisional meet against Churchill and Richard Montgomery, our two rivals.

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