Utter horror surrounds me. I see fallen comrades writhe in the mud while others spew their morning’s breakfast over the dense foliage. I begin to wonder if what I am seeing is just a falsehood created by my oxygen-deprived brain, but this is no time to wonder. I must do as I have trained — keep my eyes forward and trudge on through the fog. I must finish the race.
The most commonly told tale is the one of the varsity cross country runner. As it should be; they train rigorously, and finish their races many minutes faster than the rest of us. But the races they run are far from the same as ours. We, who do not kill ourselves during practice, who do not have the God-given talent and who just want to finish the damned race, have an entirely different story. This is the lament and recognition of the C-team runner.
Us C-teamers view the running world through different eyes. Practice is a harsh boot camp that is intended to prepare us for war, commonly known as a “race”– a name that doesn’t truly express the drudgery that takes place. The simple-minded spectator would argue that a runner must train hard so that they don’t suffer in the race. But the C-teamers have an entirely different agenda.
We have recognized the fact that we are not the varsity marines, but the basic footsoldiers of the team. Our primary goal of practice is not to train our bodies, but our minds. Usually, we are ordered to run a route, which we then creatively alter to aid us. Sometimes, we take scenic nature paths to explore the beauty of the city, run through the creeks to admire the aquatic wildlife, or even dart our way through trees, buildings and side streets to hone our stealth skills. If this in any way coincidentally shortens the route, so be it. We are the kings of the city, learning its every hidden path and landmark.
Every run, no matter the length, is an adventure of its own. And if anything is created from one of these adventures, it’s the enduring brotherhood between us C-teamers. This sacred bond is carried not only on the roads, but back in the halls of East. Of course not all of us know each other’s names, but when eye contact is made, like battered war veterans, we can see the mutual strife we have shared. In this way, we are strong.
But our mental workouts are not enough to get us to that divine finish line. We must have wise leaders, toughened by years of running, to aid us along the way. Head Coach General Tricia Beaham is the strong-handed guiding force that realigns us when we stray too far from the path. Coach and Field Medic David Pennington is at our side with medical advice for our various — and sometimes fictional — injuries. Corporal Meschke provides running technique (it’s a lot more complicated than left-foot right-foot.) Then Lieutenant Amanda Besler, along with her athletic expertise, is there for us C-team runners to remind us of the beautiful women we fight for. Finally, Sargeant Michael Chaffee, barking in incomprehensible Russian, provides us with the image of the true running veteran that all runners strive to become.
Alas, nothing can prepare the C-team runner for race day. If Sunday is the Lord’s Day, then Saturday is the Devil’s Day–the day I watch my brothers writhe in the mud. On this day we glorify the marine varsity runners, who are actually able to run a 5K with an intent of achieving their set time goal. Yet, no war can be won with just marines. That is why us footsoldiers must run, too.
I have seen what pre-race nervousness has done to men. Some, not mentally strong enough, gorge themselves with delicacies on the snack table. I later see them during the race, crying as they see the delicacies again, in the mud. Others succumb to the stress, so they suddenly get “injured.” All their worry is caused by the fear of the sound that haunts them — the sound of the gunshot that signals the start of the race.
The moment of reckoning has begun. The sound, like the dropping of a bomb, has shell-shocked us. This is where we are supposed to be “finding our pace,” but this is really where we begin to drown in the impending wave of dread. We are panicked and running as fast as we can, like men bridging the gap between trenches. We are constantly being shot at. Photographers lurk behind every corner, cruelly memorializing our worst moments.
People cheer, but after the first mile, we can’t hear anything but the tortuous sounds of runners suffering around us. Demons try to grab hold of our minds, making us think of the morphine-like water that could wetten our crusted lips and throats. They make us consider the bittersweet consequences of twisting our own ankle or hurling ourselves off the upcoming bridge. But we C-teamers do not succumb to wishes of demons. We may not be able to feel our legs, but our mental goal of finishing and preserving our honor remain in tact.
As I approached the finish at Rim Rock Farm, our last race of the year, I experienced something that can only be defined as a religious experience. I was not controlling my body, I was only bathing in the sweet light of the holy finish line. It did not signify the end of a race, but the end of the season. I finished and drank the morphine water. I would finally be able to rest my body — for months on end.
It has been almost a month since the 2014 season has ended, and I have not run a single step. I’m betting most of my comrades could say the same. Yet, in our off season, we are not completely separated from cross country. Some of us continue to hear that dread-inducing BANG when a classmate drops a book, while others suddenly feel the agony of shin splints every time they see Sergeant Chaffee in the hallway. Yet, when I lock eyes with my teammates, I see past the pain of battle– I see the comrade who finished the race alive, by my side. Until next year, boys.