The following is an excerpt from a memoir I wrote about my freshman cross country season. In honor of counties coming up this Saturday, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite and proudest moments I’ve had as a runner.
Over a week later, it was onto the county meet. The Wootton boys were viewed as favorites for the boys’ race, though not an overwhelming favorite. We had full confidence that we were the best going into the meet. Originally, the meet was scheduled on a Saturday, but a conflict led to a rescheduling to the following Monday, two days later and after a school day. While most of the runners on the team were visibly upset with the news, I viewed it as more time to prepare.
Maintaining a positive mentality was my key to the county meet. In previous races, such as the Coyote Invitational, I’d beaten myself up mentally, telling myself that I was running out of energy, slowing down to lessen pain, and bracing for the worst. This time, I’d control my thoughts to be more motivational and build confidence.
From the time I woke up on Monday morning, I was sure that it would be a great race. When we arrived at Bohrer Park early in the afternoon, the weather couldn’t have been better and I felt at 100% physically. My parents had brought me to the park the previous day to get a sense of the course, which was mostly flat and around grassy fields. The course was 2 ½ laps around the perimeter of the park and finished with a slightly downhill straightaway.
My race strategy, aside from positive motivation, included several points. A quick start was essential for position. If possible, pavement on paths should be avoided due to my spikes. Finish off the short inclines before they inflict damage. Finally, kick on the final straightaway. Going in, I was sure that if I executed the plan, I’d run a strong race, break 17 minutes, and place well for the team.
I lined up behind Colin in the box and, as the race started, tried to stay close to him at the start of the race. I had enough space to work with laterally but couldn’t push the pace in the massive pack. I saw in the corner of my eye a runner fall to the ground and another that fell over him. At one point, there was so much traffic that I had to slow for a second.
At that point, I was around 50th place. I was in last for Wootton, out of eight runners, and far behind Ben and Sam, my targets for the start. I moved to the inside lane after a bridge, opening up my stride and nearly sprinting to catch up with Ben. I didn’t plan to run at that speed in the first mile, but I told myself I was still in good shape and was passing multitudes of runners.
Going into the second mile, I felt strong and confident. The second mile wasn’t as fast and I was settled into good position. To make the shortest route possible on the winding pavement path, I ran on the path, even if it meant feeling my spikes grind against the pavement. As long as it didn’t slow me down, it would work.
For the last half-lap, I battled with a pack of runners from other schools. We all took turns in the lead, but when the straightaway started, it was all business. Before the race, I visualized a killer finish. Just as I’d imagined, I picked up the pace on the straightaway, but as I was finishing it hit me that I could go even faster if I tried to pass other runners. I bounded past a runner and nearly caught up to a Northwest guy at the finish.
When I finished, I was exhausted, but I knew that I had the race of my life. The race felt incredible and shorter than any other 5K I’d run. I felt pain, but doubt couldn’t penetrate my mind. Positivity was the difference and that was a big difference.
“You broke 17,” one of the other Wootton runners told me. MoCoRunning, the website that covered high school running in the county, projected me to finish in 16:48, but I thought that was a long shot. When I checked the official time, it was 16 minutes and 44 seconds, a new personal record by 17 seconds, and in 21st place. I wasn’t the only Wootton runner with a PR performance- all five of our runners ran career-best times, with Colin coming in 3rd with 15:55, Cliff in 6th, and Jacob in 9th, all with times that were below 16:15. Ben, our fifth runner, also broke 17 for the first time with a 16:54 time. It was no surprise when the point tally went up and Wootton won the county by a ridiculously wide margin. Celebration ensued.