Cross Country: Hard work pays off

Cross-country running is the hardest, most physically-taxing activity I’ve ever done. From a distance, it may not seem all that hard. But anyone can think that it’s easy until they’re the one anxiously waiting on the crowded starting line, anticipating the starting gunshot.

   My story of glory begins on the morning of September 29th, on a damp, musty school bus en route to Delsea Regional High School. The entire team stoically rests, engaging in extended sessions of earbud worship. As the rolling hills and farmland of South Jersey fly past us, nervous thoughts rattle around my mind like popcorn in a microwave.

   “Drew, you’ll be fine,” my best friend Ethan tells me, but the words do little to console me. “Don’t think, just run” – Ethan’s words begin to fade out as my body falls victim to sleep.

   As if being snapped out a trance, the world suddenly materializes around me, and my feet are standing on the fabled white starting line. Several incomprehensible chants break out between the nearly 140 other freshman stacked up at the line for the 3200 meter race.

   Thump, Thump. Thump. My heart jumps up and down in my chest as the orange-garbed race official slowly lifts up the flag- POP! The pack of racers is a cannon ignited, exploding out into the grassy field. Each contestant equally yearns for the first-place title, but only a single, solitary runner will emerge victorious.

   Around four minutes into the expedition, my breathing begins to accelerate, and lactic acid slowly creeps up into my calf muscles. Coach McAleer stands eagerly on the sideline in his signature gray backwards cap.

   “Pick it up, time to race now, kid,” he exclaims, giving me a surge of energy and pushing me onwards through the sea of sweaty jerseys.

   The cheers and applause of the crowd now become audible as the race transfers onto the closing stretch: 300 meters of red, concrete track. Coach Miller stands near, informing me of my position. “47th Place!” As the first few finishers file into the exit queue, the fact that I need to pass seven more runners in order to medal sinks into my brain.

   “It’s go time,” I think to myself as my plan of attack comes into view. Arms driving forward and legs churning ahead, I eclipse the front of at least five runners coming around the final turn, and then charge forward with all of my remaining energy.

   Eyes fixed on the blue finish gate, I pass four more unlucky runners and barrel across the line. I throw my arms up to the sky, celebrating my 36th place finish with a personal record time of 12:08.

   But the unfortunate aspect of cross-country racing is that celebration- when you accomplish something that warrants it- is very brief. Once the race comes to a close, all focus shifts to the next one, whether it be two days or two weeks ahead.

   Even though my short moment in the spotlight might not do anything to change the world, my best cross-country race ever definitely changed my world.