Marcus Grant | Managing Editor
The cold November air rushed past me, turning my nose and cheeks pink as my feet sunk into the dying grass. My lungs burned, aching against the cold. Just in front of me, two boys were fighting for the top spot, their shoes desperately trying to take hold of the ground. It was only a five-kilometer race, right? Shorter than what we’ve done in practice so it shouldn’t be a problem.
But the course was new. I noted the places where I would have to conserve my energy during the team’s walk through it. The big hill toward the end that would probably let some of their guys pass us right before the finish. The steep decline that came right after a sharp bend of the path that could cause someone to trip or to stop, at the very least, if they weren’t careful. The spots where the dirt path turned muddy from yesterday’s rain right before it met the grass that could steal a shoe or send you sliding forward.
We turned into the forest. The sound of footsteps and heavy breathing filled the air around us as we propelled forward, through the trees. Sun gleamed down through the sparse cover of leaves, most of them had migrated to the ground for the season. Behind me, I heard the crack of a branch and something heavy hit the forest floor. I turned, noticing a boy who was picking himself up. I stopped, reaching a hand out to help him up. Dirt caked his palms and knees but he smiled taking it in turn and nodding as we moved forward.
There’s no talking in running. Or at least there’s not supposed to be. My coaches always told me that if you could breathe enough to let out a full sentence, you could pick up your pace. The only acceptable time to speak was if you needed someone to move over to pass them but that was the most you would see on the course.
We had finally made it back to the grass as the wind began to pick up, fighting against us as we moved. The last hill. Once I get over this, it’s a straight shot to the finish. My legs burned with each step, begging me not to lift them higher or to slow down their movements. I pushed on, letting the feeling drive me farther up, faster moving past the boy in front of me whose feet were beginning to falter.
As the grass flattened out, we all pressed hard into the grass, willing our legs to propel us forward at lightning speed. Our lungs ached in the cold wind and the spit in our mouths was thick and hard to swallow. My head lunged forward, past the painted white line on the field and the click of the timer sticks in my ears. It was over.
My hands reached for my head and I look up at the sun, poking out between a few pearl clouds, trying to let the oxygen fill my lungs. A heavy hand grabbed my shoulder and caught my attention. The boy who I helped up in the woods wore a smile on his face.
“Thanks for the help back there.” I smiled back, still breathing heavily as I reached a hand out. He shook it. “No problem. Good job.”
The rest of the teams ran through the finish, sloppily bringing their steps to a halt on the grass and bending into one another, calling out congratulations to whoever happened to be around. Some of them stayed there. Sitting on the ground, untying their shoes, or stretching. Others walked back to the blankets we discarded our stuff on only a few hours prior.
Some days I wonder why I do it. Why I willingly put my body through the pain day after day. Looking around at the boys chatting around me, smiling and happy to be together doing something they love, it becomes obvious.