Chapter 17 – The State Cross-Country Championships

Chapter 17 – Lisa Carries the Hopes of Her Team into the State Tournament
Lisa and her teammates were wearing the blue and gold colors of the Jaguars. She and the runners near her ignored the wind chill and each held an intense look top with a healthy heaping of pre race jitters. Lisa looked around at the first three rows and there was no one else near her sharing the Pirate’s colors. She looked at the runners to her right and then to her left. She saw two Stinson runners’ numbers fourteen and fifteen looking toward her and talking. She recognized them from the narrow path in the wooded area. They were part of the group that blocked the path.

One of the Stinson runners walked toward Lisa. She stopped and said in a soft voice, “You won’t get past us this time, shorty. We’ll own the dam.” Then she walked back to her starting place in the first row.

Lisa’s eyes followed the Stinson runner back to her place on the front row. Focus, focus, give it all you’ve got and then some, she told herself. Lisa turned her attention to the dam. It was a bit over a quarter mile away. She couldn’t let the Stinson runners beat her to the dam, if she did, the Jaguars wouldn’t stand a chance of repeating.

She heard the starter, “Runners, I will give one command, ‘On your marks.” After I give the command, I will sound the air horn. The sound of the air horn will mark the start of the race. A word of caution. Assistant starters are posted for the first one hundred yards. If any runner is knocked down within the first hundred yards I will sound the air horn. That will be the recall signal. You will return to your places and we will repeat the start. Be courteous to your fellow runners. Do your best. On Your Marks.”

The air horn blasted.

Lisa shot out from her starting position in the front row. Lisa and seven other runners were quickly out in front of the swarming hoard of runners. Two of the seven runners in the lead pack were from Stinson. One hundred and fifty yards into the race, Lisa was running neck and neck with the two Stinson runners and a runner from Westover High School. The four pressed forward, trying to reach the narrow pathway across the dam first. With twenty yards to go to the dam, the Westover runner dropped back, leaving Lisa and the two Stinson runners to battle it out for the lead.

Lisa recalled Nicole’s words never look at your competitors, always run your race. She fought the temptation to check out the Stinson runners. She imagined a finished line stretched across the beginning of the narrow footpath across the dam. She surprised the two Stinson runners when she sprinted as if she were heading for the finish line. Lisa hadn’t planned this move, she didn’t even think about it. Her body seemed to be operating on a whole new level, acting instinctively. She left the two Stinson runners behind. Lisa felt a sense of triumph when she was the first runner to reach the dam.

Lisa crossed the dam paying attention to Coach Kappa’s warning that a quick left in the course came up right after the dam. She followed the chalk line and took the left and started on the dirt road around the reservoir. She rounded the far end of the reservoir and ran down the backside, she knew Falcon’s Hill was waiting for her. She wasn’t frightened of Falcon’s Hill, she trained with Nicole and Mia on Mason’s Hill, she was ready. She heard the Stinson runners somewhere behind her. Don’t look back. Don’t look back, you’ll only encourage them.

She recalled Nicole telling her how she could break the spirit of other runners in a race by sprinting up the hills. When Lisa reached Falcon’s Hill, she started sprinting. She didn’t know where she was getting her strength. Falcon’s Hill was a tortuous three-hundred yard hard climb averaging a nine percent gradient. Once at the summit, Falcon’s Hill turned into a steep drop leading to a rolling country road.
When Lisa came off of Falcon’s Hill, she knew she had broken contact with the closest runners. She had no idea how far she was in front. She didn’t think about it. She was in a running groove. Her arms and legs were flowing smoothly, to the casual observer they would thought she was grace in motion, running fast but appearing as if she were running effortlessly. The course now took her through the rolling hills. She dared not slow down. After she came out of the rolling hills and back into the recreational area, she spotted Jane and Debra standing out int he roadway waving frantically her. The were screaming something, she couldn’t tell what they were saying.

As she passed Jane and Debra, Jane hollered, sprint, sprint, you’ve got a twenty-yard lead. Lisa’s adrenaline shot up. She increased her pace to just shy of an all out sprint. As she turned down the hill she saw a crowd of spectators lining the roadway to the finish line.

She heard lots of hollering and screaming, she didn’t know if it was for her or for the people behind her. Then, she spotted her dad and mom.

“Go Lisa, go, it’s not far. Go,” Her dad yelled. Her hollered, “You’re doing great. Almost home.”

For the first time since she sprinted up Falcon’s Hill, Lisa heard footsteps. She couldn’t tell if it was one runner or more than one who was closing in on her.

Reach down Lisa. Reach down. Dig deeper she repeated to her self. Lisa needed to discover an inner reserve of energy within that she hadn’t previously tapped into. Her mind flashed to Nicole running the same course and she saw Nicole running the last stretch. It was a good image for her. She knew other runners had closed the lead she built. She felt their presence just off her back.

Now, now, now, she screamed to herself. Her legs got the message. Lisa pumped her arms, exaggerated her stride and was propelling herself toward the finish line. The crowd around the finish line was shouting. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, she knew it was loud. She could see Coach Kappa waiting just beyond the finish line. Seconds later, Lisa burst across the finish line two strides ahead of the top Stinson runner.

Coach Kappa caught her as she was collapsing to the ground. Lisa was sucking in great gulps of air. She couldn’t move.

Coach Kappa held on to her, “You’re okay. Keep taking deep breaths. You’ll recover in no time.

Lisa’s stomach ached. Her legs felt like rubber bands. She was holding onto Coach Kappa’s arm as if it were a life preserver and she was floundering in the ocean.

“You did good Lisa. You did really good. You won. You won states. You are the first freshman to ever win states,” Coach Kappa said while walking Lisa away from the finish line.

Lisa looked up at Coach Kappa, “I won?”

Coach Kappa, “You won. Let’s go see how the rest of the team finishes.”

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