I knelt down to re-tie my spikes for what must have been the tenth time in the last 20 minutes, each time tighter than they were before just to be sure they wouldn’t come off. Standing up, I felt another intense wave of butterflies fill my stomach. This was it - the New Jersey Prep A State Championships. We were the defending winners and we had been preparing for our three big championship races since June 7, the first day of summer break. Our efforts - every early morning summer run, pre-season training practice, and in-season workout - would be tested here, right now, and it would all be over in about 20 minutes. We leaned forward into the ready position as the starter blew the whistle, indicating to “take your mark,” and raised the gun.
There was a sudden silence and the air was thick with anticipation. I could feel my teammates on either side of me as we held our breath… “Ka-boom!”
The loud roar of the crowd filled the air as we sprinted off the line. I honestly can’t tell you much of what happened in the next 20 minutes, because it’s mostly a blur. I know I was very focused on moving my arms and legs as fast as I could. If you’ve ever run a 5K race, you probably know what I mean. It’s not an easy feat - 3.1 miles is a rather long distance to run at your top speed. I do remember hearing a few people calling my name along the way, cheering me on. I heard Assistant Coach [Enithie] Hunter, standing at the top of the hills, yelling to keep pushing “up and over” and Head Coach [Katie] Chaput telling me to “go get that girl” right in front of me. But the next thing I really remember is crossing the finish line. I knew I had finished fifth, but wondered about my time because even though I ran right past the clock, I never actually look at it! I kept walking, taking a few moments to catch my breath. I congratulated Charlotte Bednar ‘22 on her first place finish and walked back to the chute to begin cheering for my other teammates who were on their way in. In the end, our team finished in third place in Prep A, which was even better than “the experts” had predicted.
Of course, this scene illustrates just one day in my shoes as a Lawrenceville cross country runner. Each big race is a culmination of our training efforts over the past days, weeks, and even months. Cross country racing is very different than most other sports I’ve done in the past. We don’t have an hour and 30 minutes to “get it done.” We don’t get another chance in another tournament game, another half, or even another at-bat. We get one race - with only one start and one finish. The clock never stops and we can’t take a water break, have a team huddle, or take a time-out. If your shoe comes off, you finish the race without it. If an opponent tries to pass you, you have to keep up or she will be gone around the next corner or over the next hill, completely out of sight.
This season, our team consisted of some of the hardest working athletes I’ve met at Lawrenceville. Each day, we showed up to practice and lifts and worked hard, running 3-12 miles per day and up to 40 miles a week. Our efforts paid off when we were able to outsprint Hill to the finish to solidify wins at the MAPL Championships and again on Hill Day, when they came back hungry for revenge. Individually, we racked up some impressive personal records, meet records, and quite a few medals. Together, we also accomplished some great team finishes - including winning the MAPL Championship, placing third at the Briarwood and Six Flags Safari Invitationals and fifth at the Mercer County Championship, as well as an undefeated season for dual meets.
As a team, we had a lot to live up to. Last year, Lawrenceville won the MAPL and the NJISAA Prep A Championship and graduated 10 seniors (three of whom were our top three varsity runners). We came together in August as a whole new team and began the season with a lot of new members, some of whom had no prior running experience. We learned from each other, pushed each other, and encouraged one another to never give up. Our top seven runners changed from week to week as each team member battled to run their best and overcome their limitations. To me, that’s what a sport like cross country is all about. Yes, it is considered by many to be an individual sport, but it’s also about running for something bigger than yourself - you’re also running for the team. At the end of the day, everyone is running the same race and it takes seven strong finishes to place or win as a team. Ultimately, our success is often a product of the struggles we battle when no one is watching and it often comes down to which team wants it more.
Running long distance is never easy, however, we are stronger as a team because we push one another to our fullest potential as we conquer the courses, the work-outs, and the hills together, one day at a time. Our season might be over, but I’m already looking forward to next year when we can continue to build on the momentum we began this year. I’m confident that with our consistent efforts over the rest of the School year and next summer, we will be even more ready to challenge for 2020 titles!