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Connected Soles

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photo by Katherine O’Dell

The fire in my lungs, the heat, the burning sensation in my legs – it was all too much.

It was the third day of practice, and I couldn’t take it anymore. At 66th Street and Mission, I was going to give up. No amount of water or promises of pineapple frozen fruit bars could have kept me going.

“I’m going to walk the rest of the way,” I told senior Carolyn Kinney and sophomore Hazel Eastlack running alongside me.

“Not yet, you said you would make it to the stoplight and we’re almost there,” Kinney said.

I wanted to stop, overcome with fatigue and dehydration. I rolled my eyes at Kinney’s words of encouragement.

Except she had a good point.

She had given me a reminder of what I was doing and why I put myself through the torture of running. That was all I needed to forget about the pain. I pushed myself to stick with the people next to me, not only because that’s how I improve, but because I don’t want to let down my teammates – the reason why I run.

I thought back to last year and the feeling of accomplishment when I finished the race with my teammates. Before I started running, I was clueless as to what that felt like.

My very first day of practice, I sat in the shady grass under the cross country tree and listened to an unfamiliar voice welcome us to the program. She rambled on about how great the program was. I didn’t care. All I knew is that I would be expected to push myself everyday after school for two hours.

I ran close to some freshmen I hardly knew, all of us trying to stick with the upperclassmen, a daunting task. They would run fast, never stopping to walk up hills or catch their breath. To them, I was just another newbie who couldn’t keep up and would eventually quit.

Some days I would run alone and question myself, like how, out of all places, did I end up running on a 90 degree day after spending seven hours in school.

That answer wasn’t made clear to me until two weeks into the season last year – the day of time trials.

I had been dreading this day for the past week. I didn’t know if I could complete the 3.1 miles without stopping, walking or altogether quitting. I had no one to match pace or run with.

Coach Beaham started us at 7 a.m. I ran, paying no attention to who was near me. My mind wandered, thinking of an upcoming English quiz, Lancer day and the post-race picnic, while my feet kept steady on the path.

I remember being drained of all energy and being unable to stand still or walk straight after crossing the finish line. Someone threw a cold, wet towel at me – a blessing after the race – and I immediately slapped it on my head. I was so focused on not falling over, catching my breath and the towel that I hadn’t noticed what my pink place card said.

Twelve.

I finished 12th out of 52. I was beyond happy, but not just because of my place. I was ecstatic because someone came up to me and asked, “What’s your name?”

Upperclassmen were congratulating and introducing me to everyone else on the team. I was no longer just a shadow at practices.  These were the people I was going to be spending 15 hours a week with.

When you run everyday together, it’s inevitable to learn all about each other.  Whether it’s small talk about each other’s favorite color or going through the “pre-race jitters” together, you gradually grow to become best friends.  

We would text each other on the weekends to play a quick round of hostages. Each time we would drop each other off in random spots around KC, like the back drive of a retirement home or a forgotten bike path.

We would throw spur-of-the-moment movie nights and watch our favorite horror movies and comedies. Some days we would make a quick stop at 11 at Winstead’s for a late night snack, each time attempting to finish a vanilla skyscraper but never succeeding. We would carpool to carbo loads, jam to pump up music on the bus before a race and cheer each other on while running.

There is no way I could’ve ever kept running on days like that Wednesday without Kinney and Eastlack by my side. I could never have finished a race without my teammates’ support from the side of the route. I would never have been able to wake up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays to run if they weren’t surrounding me on the bus, being the picture of positivity. If it wasn’t for a huge team of support and the experiences I had last season, I would not have shown up to practice this season.

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