Chapter 9, Love to Run, “The Medford Invitational”
Ten county high schools were competing in the Medford County invitational. Each year it was held at a different county high school. Coach Kappa chose the fifteen members of the high school varsity team a week earlier. Lisa placed fourth among thirty-five runners in the final practice race to determine members of the high school varsity cross-country team. The first fifteen runners to finish were automatically on the team. The next four runners were alternates. She knew she could have run a faster, but Nicole told her to only run good enough to make the team. She advised Lisa to run with the leaders, but not leave her best race on the course. Lisa wondered about Nicole’s advice, then she decided Nicole was usually right about most things. Lisa ran in a tight pack of Mia, Marie, and Leah. A half mile from the finish, Mia picked up the pace. Marie ran just off Mia’s shoulder. Leah dropped ten yards behind Mia and Marie, and Lisa stayed two strides behind Leah. Mia, Marie, and Leah sprinted the last one hundred yards to the finish. Lisa maintained her stride and finished ten seconds behind the three runners. The four upperclassmen on the team who finished in front of her came over to her and congratulated her on her run. They made her feel part of the team.
The team arrived at the Medford Invitational course an hour before the race. The race started and ended in Deer Park. Coach Kappa explained the course to the team. She told them about the two hills and where they occurred in the course. She also told them Mason’s Hill was a lot steeper and longer than these two hills. After the team meeting, Coach Kappa them stretch and loosen up. When Lisa finished stretching she ran a light half mile with Mia, Marie, and Leah.
Ten minutes before the race, Coach Kappa called the team together. She went over the team strategy. There were more than one hundred runners representing the ten high schools. The winning team would be the one with the lowest score for the first five runners. Coach Kappa told the team it didn’t matter if anyone from the Jaguars won the invitation, what mattered was having two Jaguars in the top ten and three other runners placing in ten through twenty. Coach Kappa was sure that combination would bring home the victory. She said the Jaguars won the Medford invitational four years straight and she wanted to make it five in a row. Lisa knew the first of the four victories began the year Nicole first ran as a freshman for the Jaguars. Lisa was in fifth grade at the time and she still remembered Nicole telling her how she placed second in her first Medford invitational. She won the next three Medford Invitational cross-country meets.
The race started at a large grassy field in Deer Park. The starting line stretched across the grassy field. The runners lined up on the starting line according to a number they randomly received. The number was pinned on their running jersey. Every runner was hoping for a low number because once the runners crossed the grassy field, the race route quickly narrowed into a dirt running path wide enough for only three runners. And, more importantly the lower numbers were closest to where the grassy field narrowed. The runners with the higher numbers had a fifteen yard disadvantage.
Coach Kappa was disappointed with the random drawing. Not one Jaguar was among the first twelve numbers selected. Mia, Marie, and Leah, were placed fifteen, eighteen, and twenty-two respectively. All but one of the remaining members of the team found their places between thirty and sixty. Lisa landed at number one hundred seven, nearly at the end of the starting line. Nicole always talked about how rough some of the starts could be but if you survived the first hundred yards, you had a good chance. Lisa was sure she’d survive the first hundred yards, but she might be two hundred yards behind the leaders by the time she got to the narrow path.
A voice over a loud speaker boomed, “Runners line up according to your number.”
The officials watched as the runners took their places. The starter stood with a megaphone in his hand and spoke to the runners, “I will give two commands, runners ready, and on your mark. The race will start when I signal with the air horn.” The starter blew the air horn once. Several runners started, then embarrassed walked back to the starting line.
The starter said, “The race judges will be watching closely. If they see anyone who tries to trip or knock down or purposely bump someone to gain advantage, the runner will be disqualified.”
The starter walked to the side of the starting line. He placed the megaphone to his mouth and said, Runners ready! On your mark. Lisa’s heart was racing. She’d give it her best shot. Then she heard the starter’s air horn signaling the start of the race.