Old Memories

A running life is a collection of memories.

13 years old, Fall, 1990, Junior high XC
2 miles XC
It is hot out. He always wins, the guy from Bradley County. I am always second. Today I have decided I will follow him out as far and as hard as it takes. I want to beat him. We go out, and it's hard as I expected, just the two of us. He must know I am there, and he is going to break me. We round the curve by the baseball field, only 600 meters or so into a 2 mile race, and I feel the lactic acid coming up into my arms. This is not good. He is still running strong. I can't do it.

17 years old, Spring, 1994, dual meet vs. Brainerd High under the lights
4 x 400
I felt the prickly feelings in the back of my neck as our #3 leg came straining down the track, a couple strides behind. My whole body lit up the way only a teenaged body can. The other guy grabs the baton, then the quick fear of the exchange, reaching out for a slim piece of metal among all the flesh and the heat. My ears whine from the adrenaline. I'm out, tracking, a couple strides behind, as fast as I can, as relaxed as I can. On the backstretch I close the gap. We are even, 150 meters to go. I know I am going to beat him, and in that same moment I go inward. Blackness, breathing; it's only the feeling of my body, keeping the legs going. I am all the way inside. 80 meters to go, the finish line dances, Coach Clark waving me in.

The author a long time ago.

19 years old, Winter, 1996, Southwest Conference Championships
Indoor, 5000m
On the line, my first college track championships. I am strong and lean, faster than ever. I've been running twice a day, lifting weights, waking early and running long hard workouts in the Houston humidity. I'm one of 15 or so. The top 6 score points. My plan was simple and dumb: don't think about pace, stay in the top 6.  The first 200 my legs felt light and quick. I am in the middle of the lead pack, getting carried along. I am relaxed and strong. 400m, all good. 800m, we are fine. My confidence builds; I am floating -- through the mile and I hear the split: 4:24, faster than I'd run in high school. It takes one more lap before reality sets in and instead of being carried along by the other runners, I realized they and I are not connected. I start to labor, the feeling goes... I'm out the back, mortal again.

21 years old, Spring, 1998, quad meet at Williams
1500m
Before the race, someone pointed out this guy from MIT: Leif. He was the fastest. We were on our home track. I'd been running close to sub-4:00 in the last couple of meets, and I thought this was my day. 64s was my plan. I had them dialed in. Instead of the usual pre-race nerves and slight sickness in anticipation of the pain, I felt only confidence. Out of the waterfall and around the first curve, I found myself in first place, running my pace, eight or so guys falling in line behind me. 200m, around the second curve, holding back ever so slightly. "64!" Good.
I knew that the second lap would require a small increase in effort for the same pace. I feathered my effort on the backstretch, beginning to feel the first waves of fatigue but also the deep strength in my legs. Around the curve, still in the lead, knowing the guys were back there, itching, hunting. "2:08!" Good.
The third lap. I could feel them jostling back there, as some fell back, others looked to find position. It was starting to hurt, but above the hurt was the rhythm, 16 second 100s, 32 second 200s, I could run that. 600 to go, 500 to go. Leif came around me on the outside, and I felt the rhythm catch. Shit, but "3:12!"
A 63 was all I needed. Leif was pulling away, and with 300 to go I was hurt but beginning to kick. 200 to go, I am tightened up and there is no rhythm but I am running as hard as I can, and it feels fast. No one else has come by and I can feel I am running alone in second around the last curve, like I'd done through endless workouts, looking left over my shoulder, eyes up, hunting the line. 3:59.8.

21 years old, Summer, 1998, training run
10 miles
Out after dark over my familiar route back home, an out and back along the road that runs on the brow of the mountain. The air was clear and seemed to fill my lungs. The woods around me was black and hummed in almost deafening waves with the song of cicadas. There were no cars. The city lights of Chattanooga swung down beneath me as I flew along the road, almost naked, my feet touching the ground only so lightly.


Comments

  1. Love talking about yesterday / year reliving the great races I've run... remembering the interschools meeting when in the 3000m race with 300m to go I said to the guys from the other schools: "Bye" and kicked leaving them behind...

    thank you for sharing yours.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well written. My favorite is the 10.

    ReplyDelete

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