Running Down A Dream

My Junior year of high school, I was the fifth fastest sprinter on my track team. Of course, we were all ranked in the top nine in the state and top fifteen in the region. What I am saying is, I was fast, and so were my teammates. Really, Bob and Streep were one and two, then Jay, Matt and I were tied, but all four of them were Seniors.

Midway through the winter track season, I popped my hamstring. I tore it, but just a small tear, very high up on the muscle almost where it attaches. If I pointed it out, you would tell me that’s my ass. Stop imagining my nice ass now.

Moving along…. That strain or tear, prevented me from sprinting. I could still jog and run. It only hurt when I hit a full on sprint. Just a few things I couldn’t do.

Coach Snell always tried to find something for everyone to do at a track meet. Well, I couldn’t sprint, so my usual races and relays were out.

That’s how I found myself in my most memorable race. Coach Snell decided I should run the Thousand meter. That’s 1-0-0-0. That’s more than half a mile. A little more than two football fields beyond a half a mile.

Coach had to guess a time for me, because I had never raced beyond 400 meters. So I was placed at the second position in the slow heat. Now, I didn’t know how to race 1000 meters. I could run that far, but racing is completely different. All my races ended in the word “dash”. Run as fast as you can. That’s easy.

So there I was, standing second from the inside line of the track on my left, in the back corner of the local college indoor track where the orange rubberized surface of the track and hazy yellow lights were somewhat dulled and shaded due to the lower part of the ceiling, and a bit hazy with dust from the long jumper’s sandpit. There I was, standing in between a pair of tall lanky distance runners on the starting line with one goal in mind.

I’m going to win the first lap. The track was 160 meters. These were scrawny distance runners. This race was almost 6 laps. That’s ridiculous. I can’t win a race that long, but I’d be damned if I was going to let a bunch of scrawny distance runners beat me off the line. This isn’t my race, but what the heck. I can win the first lap.

There’s a straight away in front of us. I’m about half a foot shorter than the two guys I am in between and easily out weigh them by fifteen pounds. I am going to be first into that first corner.

“Set!”

BANG!

Gun goes off. I’m pretty sure I elbowed the guy on my right. It takes me most of the straight away but, I shoulder in headed into the first corner and took the lead. I come out of the first corner and down the next straight away toward the finish line where Snell is standing in the outer lanes. I can feel a small pack of them right behind me. I am winning the first lap.

“Good job, Patman! Seven seconds fast!” yells Snell, as we passed the finish line. Yes, my nickname was Patman in high school. Let me explain. Wait. No. I can’t.

Seven seconds fast? In about seven seconds my entire body is going to fill with lactic acid and my muscles and lungs will scream as I hit the wall. The running wall, not a real wall.

Now we’re on the first straight away of the second lap and no one has passed me yet. It’s going to happen soon. I don’t want to lead, but I can still feel a guy running with me. It’s definitely single file behind me now, but the whole pack must be there.

“C’mon Pattie!” yells Mark as I barrel down the back stretch. Mark is the assistant coach, a recent college grad come back to town to be the sprinting coach. Mark called me Pattie. Don’t call me Pattie.

Through the next corner and headed toward the finish line again. They’re still behind me. I’ve slowed down some. I can feel my legs getting heavier and my lungs are starting to gasp. We’re closing on 300 meters. I don’t like to run this far. Why haven’t they passed me?

“Still a little fast. Four more to go.” calls out Snell as I complete lap two.

A little fast? Like I have any idea what I am doing. He’s crazy if he thinks I can run another 4 laps.

Into the back stretch, that guy is still behind me. He’s going to pass me soon or I am going to pass out. Headed into the second corner, a bunch of sophomores from my team have camped out there. My lungs hurt. Why hasn’t that dude passed me? Why haven’t they all passed me? It’s not like I know how to run this race. This is what I know — they should pass me soon.

“You’re slowing down,” calls Snell, as I finish lap three, still in first.

Really? Me? Struggling? My lungs are burning. My legs are heavy. This guy behind me is going to go by me any second now. ”

You got this, Pattie!” Seriously. Don’t call me Pattie. I liked Mark. He added “ie” to everyone’s name. If he couldn’t make your name end in “ie” he wouldn’t talk to you.

Finished the fourth lap. Still in first. I couldn’t hear what Snell said. My ears were clogged with the sound of my own labored breathing. I rounded the corner. Finally the lanky dude behind me passed me. Just the one guy, not the whole pack. Where was everyone else? I wanted to collapse. I can’t lift my legs. He’s pulling away from me. I had to keep running when I was in front. Now I’m not in front. Either he’s getting really fast or I am really slowing down. My vision is blurring.

“You can do this! It’s in your head. It’s in your head!” Mark is running down the straight away with me. Running might be a loose description at this point. It’s more like a face just appeared and shouted at me.

It’s in my head. I can do this. I look at the feet of the guy pulling away. One step in front of the other. His foot goes down. Mine goes down. One foot in front of the other. His foot goes up. My foot goes up. I’m getting closer to him. My breathing has changed. Am I breathing? I can’t see anything but his feet. I’m right behind him now. My foot lands where his foot just left. I am running in his footsteps. It’s all I can see. One foot in front of the other.

We finish the fourth lap.

“Two laps. Next one is the gun lap,” yells Snell.

I’d never run a race with a gun lap. My races were too short. I’m still in his footsteps. I don’t feel a thing. Nothing. I’m on my second wind. My stride is the exact same as his because I am in his shoes and just gliding along.

We hit the last corner before the straight away to the gun lap. I can run 160 meters. I am going to take off! Coming out of the corner, I drift into the second lane. I don’t want to make my move until the gun lap, but I have to be ready. I lengthen my stride so I can pull up next to him. Shoulder to elbow. I don’t run faster, just lengthen my stride, still just running.

I’ve always imagined how that looked to Coach Snell. I mean, we came out of the corner and I drift out into lane two. He never knew what was going to happen next. That’s for sure.

I’m running stride for stride with Lank. I’m watching the starter, standing at the finish line, raising his starter gun. Two strides to the gun lap, I shift again, raising my hips forward, coming up onto my toes, but keeping my stride.

BAM!

The gun goes off and so do I. I kick into my full sprint. Two strides and I blow by Lank, dipping into the inside lane headed into the corner. I am pumping at full speed that I can go. Hips forward, up on my toes, pumping my arms as fast as I can go. My legs fly.

“Yeah PATTIE!” yells Mark, as I scream down the back stretch.

Heading into the corner, Nate, one of my sophomore teammates looks up.

“Go, Patman!”

None of the others ever look up. I come out of the last corner and down the final straight away. I’m pumping, but have no juice left. I don’t hear Lank. I keep running as best I can. I cross the finish line first. First in the slow heat.

Snell comes over as I come to a stop just past the finish line, never taking his eyes from the track. I think I had a teammate or two running in the race as well. Slower underclassmen. I never saw them.

“You beat him by half a lap.”

Lank. I beat Lank by half a lap.

Later, on the bus ride home, Coach announced the overall scores. Turns out, I placed third. Out of the eight people in the fast heat, I beat all but two. From the slow heat.

Everytime I start running again, I think of that race.

There’s a point to this story. It’s really about how I approach a lot of things. Fast out of the gates, to prove I can win something, Surprise that I am doing as well as I am for far longer than I expected. That moment of doubt when the weight of it all hits me. The point where want to quit because I can’t see the end. The inspirational voice that gets me to keep going, Marking time placing one foot in front of the other, not thinking about winning or losing. Not thinking about anything, just moving forward. The point where I know how far it is to the end. The moment I start preparing for the gun lap. And finally, the gun lap. That moment in time where you might think you’re with me and suddenly you’re miles behind me.

I think about this when thinking about my writing career. I’m not in that first three laps wildly running in the lead with no idea what I am doing. And I don’t want to quit. I know there’s a gun lap coming up, but we’re not there yet. One foot in front of the other. That’s me in your footsteps.

First person to put “Bang!” or some variation of that in the comments — Nevermind. Go ahead. It’s very clever.

There are all sorts of other similarities between being on a track team and writing — the individual team thing. We each run our own race, write our own book and can be competitive while the race is on, but teammates in between. People say it’s easy, because it’s just writing or running, which is true if you just want to do it, but if you want to compete, it might be more than you are up for and at the competitive level, you might not be as talented as you think…

And the only way to find out is to join the race — and it isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.

2 Responses to “Running Down A Dream”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    That was really beautiful. Which is not something I thought I’d EVER say about the experience of running.

    My security word is KITTENS, though. I always think they’re beautiful.

  2. Does this mean you still haven’t finished the book?