Going The Distance
Hello again folks!
The past few days all I have done is sit on my bed and refresh Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Memebase while simultaneously playing Tetris so I figured it is time to do something productive. As I promised several times before I am going to write a blog post on cross country. Well here it is!
For me my interest in running started in eighth grade. At that age gym became my favorite class and I was part of the small handful of girls who actually did participate. At the start of every gym class we would have to run two laps around the gym, or two laps around the tennis courts if we were outside. I would go full out sprinting right behind a girl who did track outside of school. I didn’t move my arms correctly which resulted in the boys of my gym class calling me Sausage Fingers. I never understood that logic but I embraced the name. In eighth grade I went through my angsty-I-hate-everyone phase that most tweens/teens go through and yet in gym I felt pure joy. Also in this year we had to choose which high school we would be attending. I wasn’t happy at this time that I would be attending the high school I did (re-read my spirit week post and you’ll see it took me time to love it there) but on an orientation day that my high school held for the newly accepted students they gave out booklets with all the clubs and sports that they had. The three that popped out to me were track club, volleyball, and cross country. At this time I was really interested in volleyball but because of gym I considered cross country and track club. One of the current students informed me that track club didn’t interfere with volleyball and that you don’t have to run as far as you do in cross country, which I thought was good because at that time running 1.5 miles seemed impossible. I wasn’t even ready for the end of the year mile we had to run in gym class! So I decided that I would do volleyball in the fall and track club in the spring.
When freshman year came along I tried out for the volleyball team along with my cousin who was a year older than me and already on the team. After the second day of try-outs I was cut but a week later my cousin informed me I was on the team. I didn’t realize it until years later that she must have talked to the coaches and got me on the roster. I was not good at competitive volleyball. Not at all. I did very good back in middle school when the rest of the girls didn’t move on the court at all so it was all up to me. But in high school I bombed at it. I wasn’t even put on the court for the first two games! I don’t blame the coach, she wanted to try to break our eight year losing streak (not joking, it took until the year after for the JV team to finally when a game) and having me on the court would not let that happen. The team was fun but there seemed to be tension and such between players. It didn’t help that we weren’t the best and couldn’t win more than a single set. All in all it was just not the greatest of experiences. Then comes spring time and track club finally starts. The amount of fun I had in this club cannot be put into words. Around the middle of the season I finally started getting used to the running and finally started to get to know other people in the club. People from other sports tried to convince me to join their sport. I had a friend who was on the soccer team (who did cross country with me for one season before going back) try to get me to join that. I had another friend who was captain of the bowling team try to convince me that it would be a good idea to join that, little did she know I was worse at bowling than at volleyball. I don’t remember if any basketball people tried to get me to join that but it would have been a laugh considering I can never get the ball into the basket. Then one of my now closest friends, who was captain of the cross country team, told me to consider joining that. And I did consider it. After a couple of weeks I finally went to see my guidance councilor who was also the cross country coach at my school to tell her that I will be joining cross country in the fall season and she was happy to hear that. I continued to do track club for the rest of my time in high school and it was the only extracurricular activity that I did for all four years. As the time moved it it became a lot easier and I would always laugh when my non-runner friends who joined the club would complain to me in school about how sore they were.
That summer my coach sent out emails to everyone interested in joining the team. These weekly emails listed out how far she wanted us to run and how many times in that week we should do so. I followed those emails almost religiously with my dad. We used Google Maps Pedometer to track out the course we’d run and out the door we went. The whole summer I agonized over the thought of “What did I get myself into?” and I always hoped I would trip on one of the cracks on the sidewalk and that would be the end of my running days. But I never tripped and even though it hurt, I pushed through. The first day of practice I found out there were no cuts, if you wanted to stay on the team you just had to put the effort in. It was really tough at first. Hell, it still is. But I kept going. My friend Michelle, who I spoke of in my previous post, was on the team and at practice we would always run side by side and when it came time for walking we had to keep on a look out because our coach always seemed to pop out from bushes to tell us to keep running. The friends I made from this season I kept throughout the years and the memories we shared were countless. My coach put me in charge of leading the stretches everyday and this lasted for the rest of the time I was on the team because, according to her, I had super memory and a loud enough voice to keep everyone in line. I tried to mix them up by counting in various languages like Spanish, Finnish, and German which always got laughs. During every season as the months progressed we would run outside of the park and in the streets of the neighborhood where my school was located. We would always end up in the next area over with really nice houses and all of us picked out where we will eventually live when we were all rich. One of my friends from the team sat behind me in Spanish class and since we never really learned in that class, it was more of a party with quizzes every now and then, we made a list of everything we wanted to accomplish in our future seasons of cross country. I do not remember everything on that list but I do remember Number 1, “Get a medal at every race.” Sadly to this day that has not happened but I still have that as a goal. Another thing on that list was to go off on people who called cross country “track” because that is one of my biggest pet peeves. THEY. ARE. DIFFERENT. SPORTS. My most memorable race this season was a sophomore only race that took place after the PSATs. During the race I was doing my usual thing, struggling and walking at some parts. Suddenly that girl from gym class in 8th grade who ran track was next to me, and she was from my rival school. I was nice and said hello and she remembered me and we continued in silence because we were both tired. When we were out of the woods but not yet at the end of the race I was starting to slow down and was about to walk when a couple of her teammates shouted “Good job, Diana! You can beat her, she is slowing down!” And then they started chanting their school’s name. That was all the boost I needed to push me on and I left that girl in the dust. I just looked at the results of that meet, I finished in 24:31 and she finished in 25:08. That was one of my proudest moments that season and in my time of being on the sport in general. Plenty of other races had memorable moments, like my second meet when there was a tree blocking the way and a big group of us didn’t know that we had to climb through it to continue on. Or one other meet sometime in October when out of nowhere it started snowing and we were stuck on our bus for hours as the public schools did their race and we waited to see if ours was cancelled or not, and eventually it was.
In junior year I became one of the team captains which, out of all the leadership roles I had in high school (which is a pretty long list) is still my most favorite of them all. I made it a goal this year to not walk in a race again and I have kept to that goal, despite injuries and all. This was the last season that I had with a big amount of my teammates because they were all graduating but we made the most of it. However, there was a group of girls who were on the team that really did not put in the effort and used practice more as a time to socialize than exercise. The phrase “keep running” was used far too often at practice. Something else that was used way too often at practice was Bengay. So many of my teammates used Bengay like a drug. The moment they felt anything in their legs they would lather themselves with it to the point where I am sure the entire park smelled of peppermint or whatever it was supposed to smell like. Some of my favorite memories from this season were… One day at practice in this season out of nowhere a swarm of dragonflies came into the park and like the tough beasts that we all were, we rushed back to school only to be followed by the harmless little insects. Throughout this season Michelle and I would always pet a cat that lived in one of the houses on the way to the park. This cat would even run up to us when we were coming just to get it’s daily ear scratches in. We called the cat Mr. Kitty but one day the cat was wearing a collar and turns out her name was Foxy. I still have photos of Mr. Kitty/Foxy on my phone. I will post one of them below. From then on my coach made it a rule at the beginning of every track club and cross country season that we were not allowed to pet the “stray cats” of the neighborhood. I always broke that rule. Also this season our coach signed for a 5k, which none of us had ever run before. This race took place on the ginormous grounds of a high school out in Long Island. At this race my coach saw someone she once knew and I don’t remember what he did but apparently he was rude to us or something. When my coach went to go get our bibs the person at the tent asked her “Where’s your coach?” because my coach looks like she could pass as one of us and she had to inform them that she was the coach. Later on at this race when I was doing a warm up jog with my teammates some of the officials yelled at us to get off the course, not that we knew where the course was because there were no lines and when we actually started the race we had to run in circles and past the same areas I don’t know how many times. Apparently in this race a few of my teammates got yelled at for breaking other rules that we didn’t know were in place and at the end of the day we all decided that we are never going back to Great Neck for a race ever again. Another meet we had this season was called the Reebok Manhattan HS Invitational. My teammates and I were at Van Cortlandt Park for over six hours because of all the events that took place between the race our freshmen were signed up for and the race that the rest of us were signed up for. Apparently the female captain of my college cross country team, who is now one of my good friends, was at this meet too, but we were in different events. She still beat me by a lot, 5 minutes and 32 seconds to be exact. At the sophomore only race for this season two of the seniors and I went hiking through VCP and discovered that the park was much bigger than we thought. Somehow we managed to find our way back to cheer on our teammates. All in all this was a fun season.
In senior year we had basically a brand new team since a majority of the members from the previous season either graduated or quit. This season, since the other two captains graduated, I had to step up my leadership game. Especially since the new captain, who is the first ever four year runner my high school had (also the fastest runner my high school has had so far), always manages to get lost. Even if we were running the stairs inside of school she would still manage to lose her way and it was up to me to keep her in place. I had to push myself to run along side her at practice so she would know where she was going and this helped me because my times kept improving for each meet. But the fun stuff wouldn’t happen when I raced, it would be after I and most of my teammates finished and there was still one person left. During this season we had to run the course in reverse as a search party more times than not for that one lone girl who was still running. Every time without fail it would turn out that they ran to the public school side of the course instead of the Catholic school finish line. But as in every season we had our fun and made memories and became that close family that seemed to happen in every season. I even used running a cross country race as a metaphor to my experience in high school for my personal essay to use when I was applying to colleges. I compared the different parts of the race to each year in high school and it worked out beautifully.
Going into college I found out to get onto my school’s cross country team I would actually have to try out and this included running 3.6 miles in 32 minutes or less. From the day after my high school graduation until the end of August when tryouts took place I woke up at 8am every weekday morning to have a protein bar and go run in my neighborhood to try to get the mileage under my belt. I started out fine but in the middle of July at the end of one of my runs I fell and hit my knee hard. It hurt like hell to walk on it, never mind run. This pushed me back a whole week in my training and I was unable to practice speed, only distance. As it got closer to tryouts time I noticed that I was constantly four minutes slower than I needed to be. At that time I started to question whether I really wanted to continue doing cross country but I kept going, not letting anyone know I was having doubts. Then one of the senior members of the team held a few unofficial practices before tryouts. I went to all but one to see how it was running as a collegiate athlete. After the first of these practices I really started having doubts as to whether I would be able to make it on the team. I even needed to take my first ever ice bath because my legs were killing me from running to Central Park, around the Reservoir, and back and then running up and down the stairs of my school. When I went back a few days later I told the teammate in charge of these practices that I was having doubts as to whether I’ll make it and he told me that since I am a freshman and I hadn’t been on the team before the coaches would be a little more lenient with the time trial results if I didn’t finish in the 32 minutes. This gave me confidence and hope. Which was ultimately crushed when tryouts did come along and on the very first day we ran about 7 miles and the next day we did 8 miles. I had never run further than 4 miles before that and I felt absolutely dead. I was the slowest out of everyone and I doubted that I would be able to get on the team. When my mom was driving me to the train station one of these days she said that she could turn around and I could stay home if I really wanted to. But I decided I came this far, I might as well continue on. The next two days of tryouts we were indoors in the fitness center doing either machine circuits or calisthenics. I had never used any machine in a gym before except for the stationary bike so this was not easy to do and the calisthenics were tough, but more manageable. Then after that we had to run up and down the stairs, all 193 steps (I counted), for 15 minutes with a 15 pound vest on and 15 minutes without. This was absolute torture for me. Then we got a day rest and after that it was time for the time trials. Just like the previous days of tryouts I was the slowest person in the group that I went out with. I finished in 35:59. I was so disappointed in myself and I was so upset that I wasn’t going to make it on the team at that point that I walked far ahead of the other four people and my coach so they wouldn’t have to fake kindness to me and so they wouldn’t see how I felt. That night I waited in my room for hours for the email with the roster list. When it finally came in I couldn’t believe it, I actually made it on the team! One of my coaches later told me that they saw my determination to not quit and felt that my attitude towards the sport would get me further and that is why they put me on the roster.
For the next two months I ran further distances and more often than I had ever in my life. I also actually fell in love with the sport when before I just simply ran. Even though I suffered through Runner’s Toes, an Achilles Heel injury, possible shin splints, and just general fatigue all over, I really enjoyed what I was doing. Three times a week I ran during the midday practice and the coach in charge of that time pushed us further than I thought we could possibly go. Twice a week I would run at the evening practices and it was always interesting being in The City that late at night; I wouldn’t get home until around 9pm. We had meets not only at VCP but also upstate, Long Island, and even one in Delaware. During the middle of the season we had a Bye-week where we didn’t have to run, but we did have practice in the school’s pool and the fitness center. It was like try-outs all over again and it sucked but it made me appreciate running even more. During that week I visited my high school team at practice and at their meet that weekend. I tried hard to not scare the girls away from joining cross country in college but it was hard because they did not like hearing about how far I was running every day. It was only a month into the season but what seemed impossible to them, and even me at the time, I was able to accomplish with ease. Unlike the nice, happy, friendly family that the cross country team was back in high school, on this team we were all assholes who loved to mess with each other, but we supported our teammates through thick and thin. Sadly the season ended early for all but one member of the women’s team because we did not perform excellently at CUNYAC Champs. The rest of the team was able to compete in two more races. When this season finished I didn’t have much time to run, but I somehow managed to squeeze a few runs in and as a new member to the New York Road Runners I even did two races to try to stay in the running shape. I plan to continue running throughout this year instead of only starting again in the summer like how I did in previous years because I want to close the gap between me and the fastest girl on the team and I also just want a damn medal. Just one will make me happy, more than that would be even better.
Cross country is no longer just a hobby for me, it is my life. It has shaped me into a better person physically and mentally. Even though at the start, middle, and even the very end before I cross the finish line of every race I question why I do this, I will not give it up. I will always be good friends with my teammates from both my high school and my college team. I think at the start of this I had more to say about how cross country has affected me but I forget, but I think you get the point by now so I shall end it here.
The running fiend