Anecdote number three.
High school was nothing like the books said it would be. I wasn’t picked on, there weren’t cliques of bitches stalking the hallways, band people could be friends with athletes, et cetera. I was in band (playing bass clarinet) and cross country; those were my two groups. I had brief stints in the theatre group and track, both freshman year, but opted out in the years to come. (Our women’s track coach was insane and, frankly, I didn’t try hard enough to see that track could be fun.) I kept a diary then (and still do). Flipping through all four years, I can see easily how my life began to transition more and more towards running. Early entries focus on typical diary things: friends, how I was feeling or thinking, family things, etc. Then they begin to take a different shape. Less social information, more about running. Finally, in senior year, they all read basically the same:
“School was fine. Ran x miles at y pace. Felt z. No injuries. Ate q. Bed at 11.” Which is more or less how they read to this day, except with Work thrown in.
Looking back, I really could have tried harder in high school cross country, especially freshman and sophomore years. I think I shied away from pushing myself simply because it was hard. It was uncomfortable. Unless I was having one of those magical Good Days when I could keep up a good pace, I just couldn’t be bothered. I was one of those annoying people who claims injury when they don’t want to race. I dreaded race days. I only came last in one race, but I was never at the top. I didn’t know why, but I just Did Not Like Racing. Now I realize it was because I didn’t want to push myself, so I was never really satisfied with my results; plus, I wasn’t a fan of the physical discomfort of pushing it. Breathing hard? Sore legs? No thanks. So I’d come in around 25 minutes, shrug, and cool down. I didn’t think I had anything more in me. (My first meet, I ran 27 something. I met my mom at the finish and proudly said, “I got 27:xx! That’s the fastest I’ve ever run!”)
Junior year I stepped it up a bit more, but still wasn’t near my full potential. Then, the summer before my senior year, I ran my first half-marathon. I’d run 11 miles a couple times before, including one terrible, terrible run, so I thought I was prepared. It was a hot, muggy July morning, and the course was on fairly hilly dirt roads. I pushed through the last two (never-ending) miles and finished in just under two hours, completely exhausted, dehydrated, proud… and vowing to never do it again. Marathoners were crazy, I said. I didn’t know how they did it.
Senior year I kicked it in and had a PR of 21:36 or thereabouts on the last race of the season, regionals, where I always PR’d. (It was always chilly, rainy, and windy, and still, I always PR’d.) Still not fast fast, but I could live with it. I wasn’t fast enough to be on varsity – I think I was about 12th on the team – but because I was a senior, Carney let me come to the pre-States dinner that only varsity got to attend. I got to Pet the Donkey (the lucky donkey that varsity petted before States for good luck). It was a little disappointing that I couldn’t run at States, but we also had a really fast team when I was there (I think we had 5 or 6 girls in the 18s), so I felt okay about it.
The morning of my high school commencement, I ran my second half-marathon. It was another hot morning and I, in the infinite wisdom of invincible youth, decided that I didn’t need water, stopping would just be a waste of time, and I was in good shape. Talk about bad choices. I sprinted into the uphill finish, under a giant arch of balloons, and began to walk… when I heard people saying, “Almost there! You can do it!”
I’m sorry. WHAT.
The real finish was another two or three blocks away, so I picked up running again and basically jogged in right around two hours. I was angry at the misleading celebratory balloon arch, I was hot, and everything looked really, really bright. My dad found me and I told him the latter fact, which he recognized as a sign of heat exhaustion and called and EMT over. Ultimately, I was fine, I just had to drink a lot of water and sit in the shade for a while. My little brother looked at me like a crazy woman.
I was one of Them now. The crazy runners I’d marveled at the first day of cross country practice.