As the days begin to lengthen, my thoughts drift toward spring things: baseball, cute cotton dresses, strawberries, and track.
It almost didn’t happen. As eight grade soccer season wound down, two of my friends asked me to run track. I wasn’t interested. They bugged me and begged me until I relented.The first couple of weeks were awful. I hate this. I’m not coming back. But I did, and eventually some of the lung searing, gut wrenching misery subsided.
At our first meet, the coach asked for volunteers to run the mile. Why not? I’d run the mile in PE before. I lined up with the others and hung with them for about a lap. Gasping, every cell aflame, I slowed to a walk. I ran, then walked, and ran again. Last place. There are some numbers that stay with you forever. 8:35 is one of mine. By the end of the season, I knocked over a minute off my time.
In high school I became a hurdler. The 100 meter race was my favorite. I didn’t have the power to three-step, but I didn’t want to resign myself to the awkward stutter of a five-stepper either, so I learned to four-step. One of the other girls on the team, who wasn’t even interested in the hurdles, three-stepped on her first try. Sometimes life is like that. The 300 hurdles taught me how much agony could be crammed into 53 seconds. I still contend that it’s the single most awful event in track (the 800 is a very close second). I had one mantra: This is less than one minute of your life.
High school seems to last forever, and then one day you find yourself wearing a cap and gown, hugging your friends goodbye, and wondering where it all went. There aren’t very many avenues for a marginally talented hurdler to pursue her hobby out in the real world, so I hung up my spikes. I have grown to love distance running, but sometimes I miss the thrill of being assigned a lane and pitting my best against a handful of people.
The memories remain. Lying on the high jump pits with my friends, soaking up the sun until the coaches shook us off. Snapping off trail leg drills. The sweet taste of cold water after a hot afternoon run. Bus rides. Setting up camp under the bleachers during invitationals. Crushes that never amounted to anything. Easy, chatty off-campus runs. Pre-race butterflies. The world-beater feeling I got the first time I ran five miles. Learning that you can’t always tell who the fast ones are by looking at them. The paradox of pleasurable pain.
Just like laps around a track, sometimes life loops back on itself. I’m the coach now, and I know that some of those middle school girls are as miserable as I was at first. I just hope that they stick with it long enough to make the joyful discovery of just how far their own two legs can take them.