Love to Run
Chapter 14 ~ Don’t Hold Back
The regional cross-country race was held this year at Westover a one hour ride from Claymont. Lisa sat with Mia across from Marie and Leah on the bus ride. They spoke of their race strategy, the talked about their teachers, and they talked about the Stinson runners.
When they arrived at the Westover course, it was a typical November day, cold, the temperature was forty-one degrees with a wind chill of twenty-five degrees caused by the brisk breeze out of the Northwest. The runners all wore their blue and gold sweatsuits. When Lisa stepped off the bus, she looked around, the leaves were all off the trees, and there were at least six teams warming up. The Stinson team was stretching and their coach looked over toward the Jaguars and said something to her team. The Stinson team stopped stretching and stood and watched the Jaguars walk across the parking lot to a large field where the race was scheduled to start. Lisa felt the cold wind, gave an involuntary shiver, and pulled her hood over her head.
Once on the field, the Jaguars began their warmup routine. Coach Kappa walked among the runners. She was making sure they stretched properly. She was taking no chances any of the Jaguars would pull a hamstring or quad that might keep them out of the states. The runners’ position for the regionals was determined by lottery. The start for regionals was different than the start for the League championship. All the runners were placed in corral. There were 20 runners across each line in the corral. Lisa drew number 114. That meant she’d be in the sixth row. None of her Jaguar teammates drew a starting place in the first four rows.
Two minutes before the starter called the runners to enter the corral, Coach Kappa called the team together. Coach Kappa said, “Listen up, we didn’t get the draw we wanted. We got what we got and you’ll all do great. Watch out at the start. Regardless of the cautions from the starter, there will be pushing and shoving. Don’t you do it. Someone shoves you, let your feet do the talking when you beat them to the finish line. We have two goals today. One, we want to win the regionals. And, two, I want you all to qualify for states. Don’t hold back. You have two races left. Lisa, can I share your mantra with the team?”
Lisa nodded yes.
Coach Kappa said, “Thank you. Lisa told me this is the mantra she says to herself during each race, use it today, “Give it all you’ve got.” Let’s go team.”
The Jaguar girls cheered and headed for the corral to line up. Once the starter sounded the horn to begin the race it course took the runners across a wide field to a road in the park, it continued along the road for a hundred yards before entering a wooded area. The path through the wooded area was wide enough for four people. If you didn’t get to the woods early, a runner could be blocked out by the crowd. Lisa stood next to runne rs from Claymont and Edgewater. She saw four Stinson runners in the first three rows. Lisa closed her eyes for a moment to get focused. She concentrated on sprinting the first six hundred yards. She was ready for the race.
The starter’s air horn went off, the runners looked like a swarm of birds flying out of the corral and sprinting across the field to the road. There was bumping, shoving, and a few elbows tossed here and there. Lisa caught an elbow on her arm, it hurt for a moment, but she kept her focus on breaking through the large pack. Fortunately, no one was knocked down at the start.
Fifty yards from the tree line Lisa spotted Mia and Marie leading the pack. Lisa was twenty yards behind the leaders. Fifteen runners separated her from Mia and Marie. She passed five runners before she entered the woods. When she entered the woods, she lost sight of Mia and Marie who separated themselves from the pack. A group of four Stinson runners were in front of her, running four abreast blocking blocking any chance Lisa had to pass and gain ground on Mia and Marie.
“Open up, I want to pass,” Lisa hollered to the Stinson runners.
The Stinson runners acted as if they didn’t hear her. Lisa hollered again. Again, the Stinson runners ignored her. Lisa settled into a pace three steps behind the Stinson runners hoping she might get a chance to break through. She remember that Nicole told her about a time when the same thing happened to her. She said if it ever happened, don’t lose control, be patient, they’ll slip up. Be ready to scoot through fast before they react. Lisa remembered Nicole’s advice and keeping her cool and waiting for her chance.
She hoped it would come soon.
Nicole saw one of the runners look over her should and check on her. The Stinson runner turned back and said something to the other Stinson runners. Lisa quietly moved closer. She saw a turn to the left coming up. She thought this might be her chance. The Stinson runner on the far right, dropped back a half of a stride as they entered the turn leaving a small opening. Lisa sprinted into the small opening between the two Stinson runners, passing them before they could react. When the Stinson runners reacted and tried to catch her, it was too late. Their efforts were in vain.
Lisa knew she had to make up time. The Stinson runners caused her to throw out her race strategy. She picked up her pace, running faster than she ever had during the last mile and a quarter of her previous races. At the two mile mark she still didn’t see Mia or Marie. Lisa kept chanting to herself, ‘Give it all you’ve got. Give it all you’ve got. Come on, you can do this. Give it all you’ve got. When she was within the final six hundred yards,
She spotted Mia and Marie fifty yards ahead. There were three other runners trailing them. She heard Coach Kappa holler, “Come on Lisa sprint. Sprint. Push it Lisa. You can catch them.”
Lisa closed her eyes for a brief second and willed her legs to give more. She pumped her arms and lengthened her stride. at the quarter mile mark she passed a runner from Westlake. With two-twenty yards she caught the number one Stinson runner. They matched stride for stride.
The Stinson runner glanced to her left at Lisa and said, “You’ll never beat me, shrimp.”
The Stinson runner pulled a half stride ahead. Lisa said to herself, ‘Don’t hold anything back. Lay it on the line. Give it all you’ve got. You’ve got this.”
She caught the Stinson runner with fifty yards to go. The crowd at the finish line was screaming. It sounded like a huge roar to Lisa. She had no idea who they were cheering. In a sudden burst, Lisa edged a half stride ahead of the Stinson runner crossing the finish line and collapsing into into the waiting arms of Mia and Marie who held her up.
“You finished fourth Lisa. Fourth! Can you believe it? You beat the number one Stinson runner,” Mia said as she and Marie walked Lisa until Lisa’s regained her strength. The girls went back and waited near the finish line for the next two Jaguars to cross the finish line. They counted off finishers. Leah and Sara came through at fifteen and seventeen. The Jaguars’ first five runners would have the lowest team score assuring them of their fifth consecutive regional cross-country team victory.
On the ride home, Coach Kappa congratulated the team on their victory at the regionals and edging out their rivals from Stinson. She told the runners to take Sunday off and be ready to prepare for states. The Jaguars qualified ten runners for the state championship. Lisa silently vowed she wouldn’t get boxed in at states.