Bang! The flash of the muzzle paired with the crack of the starter’s gun ends the hushed pre-race nervousness and begins a chaotic five-kilometer chase for the finish. A sea of colored uniforms begins to meld together into a crowd of bobbing heads, swinging arms, and pumping legs. My spiked shoes dig into the ground, flinging dirt behind me with each step and bringing me one stride closer to the end. “Thank God I put in my half-inch spikes,” I think to myself as I trudge through ankle deep mud. “Wow this is terrific, I feel strong and confident. Nothing can stop me!”
After three years of running Cross Country, I should have known better than to assume this feeling would last. This naive attitude at the beginning of the race is a result of a sudden adrenaline rush as well as my relief that the culmination of all my hard training was here.
The summer months of training forty to fifty miles a week in the ruthless heat while all my friends were sleeping in was finally about to pay off. Unfortunately for my oblivious self, that adrenaline rush and mindset would change in a remarkably short period of time.
“Are you joking, that was only three kilometers? It feels like I have been running for an hour straight!” My calves are throbbing, my throat is burning, my lungs feel like Mike Tyson is squeezing the air out with all his might and I am barely halfway done. This is the point in a race where my mind’s self defense mechanisms spring into action. “Quick, think of something inspirational, like a quote.” Winston Churchill once said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s a lot easier said than done. Churchill must have never run a 5k. As my mind desperately attempts to distract itself, my legs continue to churn and the scenery blurs by.
Eventually, the final uphill stretch to the finish appears. Although people are yelling at me to begin my final kick, everything seems silent. Suddenly the pain falls away and I feel like I am floating. I watch myself as my legs pound faster and faster into the ground and the finish line approaches. Closer, closer, closer and done! All the noise and complete exhaustion come flooding back. I collapse and lay on the ground breathing heavily, but I am exhilarated.
After the race as I received congratulatory pats and handshakes, I realized how insignificant and quick that short stretch of pain was. I did not remember the pain and mental anguish; I only remembered the thrill of crossing the finish line with a personal record time. All the preparation and work had built up to that moment and it was all well worth it. Long distance running has taught me that committing myself completely to any task I attempt would bring great things. The work and pain will last a short while, but ultimately the results are what will last.
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