My first competition

The beautiful park. A chill day. I'm in my school hoodie, under that a t-shirt, and under that, a tank top with my school on it. I'm also wearing sweat pants, and under those short shorts. Outside of my layers of insulation, the air is chill, not yet frigid, but much cooler than during the summer. My heart is pounding. An hour and a half until my first ever cross-country competition. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of calories have all been poured into practicing for this team, and this is my first chance to see if it pays off.

It's beautiful. I've been to this park a couple times before, but never for a competition. All up and down the part of the park designated to the teams I see large tents, all for teams. And hundreds of kids like me. Runners. It's a magnificent sight. Just seeing all these people talking, walking around, jogging, warming up. I look at the older kids, knowing one day I'll be like them. I look at the kids my age, knowing that soon my mind will be consumed with thoughts on how to beat them.

The coach arrives with 70 minutes until my race. He instantly starts to yell at us about how we "should have already started warming up". Once he finishes his 5 minute long rant, we all start warming up, joining the almost one hundred kids I see also jogging in a lot of layers, sweat building on their foreheads, trickling down their bright red faces, all trying to prime their muscles, but not prime them too hard, a balancing act.

After a couple minutes of jogging, too little I learned after the race, we started to slow down, and stop. I grab my brand new shoes, with screw-in points for spikes. I then grab my bag of spikes, but one spike comes out, and it falls into the dirt. After five minutes of looking for it, I determine it is impossible to find it, and that I'll have to run in uneven spikes. I screw in the rest of the spikes, little 3/5 of an inch pointy things, and feel amazing, as if I have a newfound power, and a wildly increased speed, literally squeezing power out of me. It is at this moment I notice the timing booth, containing a very very fancy clock designed to time me, and other people, down to the millisecond.

At this point, with 40 minutes to go, the coach starts to hand out these bibs. We attach them to our running tank top with some pins. These bibs have insanely accurate timers in them, in order to tell who got in first, down to the centisecond. Then, we duck behind the tent, with a bunch of competitors on one side of us and the woods on the other. Here, we do our drills. Quad-grabs, high knees, some weird thing where we put our leg down and then swipe our hands, you name it, we did it. We leave with 20 minutes to go, our muscles ready.

It is at this moment, I screw up. I take off all my insulation here, and completely neglect to stay warm. Within minutes I'm chilly. The next day I'll have a terrible cold and fever, but that's in the future. The far future. Right now I'm only looking 20 minutes ahead.

We do a couple accelerations, running out for a little and then jogging back. And then we stand and line up. I end up lined up behind a team mate of mine. I will later make sure this never happens again, but again that is in the future. My mind races. My stomach dances. I look down the line, at over a hundred other kids all lined up, all ready to race. All sour, serious, and sober (not the alcohol type). I hear the whistle blow. 2 minutes.

The referee stands there, his gun in hand, staring at his stopwatch. And he stands there. And stands there. Each beat of my heart I can feel. My ass is freezing off. And he stands there. For longer and longer.

And then he pulls the trigger. My pupils widen. My veins increase in size. My heart beats faster. My breathing increases. Adrenaline. I stop thinking about anything for a few seconds, and just start pumping my legs. Feeling my body pound up and down. A nice breeze rolling over me, one of my own creation.

However, after a couple hundred meters, maybe a minute, that feeling passes. I have to take a 90 degree left turn around a pole. Some people cut the pole, turning ahead of it, gaining well over 30 meters on me (bunch of cheats), but I press on. While turning I look behind me, and realize that I'm certainly in the top half at least. I then pace up a little, trying to keep pace with a teammate who was slightly better than me at practice.

All around me I pass people. It feels kind of bad when passing though. I can only imagine myself in that position, infuriated at being passed. To my left, someone slows to a walk. I can only imagine being them, feeling great out of the gate, and then something, I'll never know, happens, and falling back.

After a couple more hundred meters, I feel (later analysis reveals this feeling was wrong) as if I can not keep up this pace and slow down a bit, by around 10 seconds per mile. My teammate passes me, and then another does. But I keep on passing other people. By this point I've fully turned into the woods and dirt hills, off of the grass that I started.

I keep pumping my legs. My entire body is bright red, sweat dripping down and flying off. Coaches from other teams who hiked back into the woods are cheering and yelling just out of the course. They keep telling people to pass me, but I ensure that nobody does. Each turn feels like torture. My legs are dying, almost anaerobic at this point. Whenever I turn a corner I think the big hill is upon me.

After what feels like forever, and was probably around 8 minutes, I come to the big hill. Looking up it I see a bunch of other competitors walking, or at the very least slowing down. I decide to speed up, pumping my legs, repeating what my coach told me in my head. "Knees high, back straight, knees high, back straight", for the hundred or so meters up the steep hill. And then finally I summit it. My legs are noodles, and I start plunging down.

The wind on my face is severe, and it feels like I put my hand out the car window. I decide to slow down a little to keep from sliding. Right as I do that, I finally feel my feet on the gravel, finally at the bottom. I take the steep 120 degree turn to the left, and enter the final stretch. I start sprinting, but peter out after 30 seconds. Slight miscalculation.

I keep running, and after around 600 meters, finally see the clock peak out from around a corner. Over a minute less than my last personal best. I sprint. My legs pump, my vision narrows. I can feel my heart beating everywhere. My breath rushes. Each step onto the earth is a jolt, a mini-earthquake. But I press on.

After around 30 seconds of that, I finish. My first race. I'm finally done. I put my hands behind my head, interlacing my fingers, trying to cool down. I appreciate the chill wind, cooling me off from ludicrous temperatures. I go in the team tent, and lie down. My first meet, done.

This post is part of the Agora Road Travelouge
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