Final Chapter ~ A Wild Marathon Finish

Chapter 22 ~ A Wild Marathon Finish

Lisa was experiencing a huge inner conflict. One half of her was pleading to keep up with the Stinson runner, the other half was adamantly telling her Nicole was right. They planned this run all semester. She raced ahead without looking back, then suddenly slowed down and turned toward Nicole.

When Nicole caught up to her, Lisa said, “Let’s go the First Aid station. You’re right. I lost it. We’ll cut back a bit. Okay?”

Nicole smiled at Lisa for the first time during the marathon, “Good for you Lisa. I know how you feel. I was that way when I was your age. You remember Jill Swoop?”

Lisa said, “She was three years ahead of you, right?”

Nicole said, “That’s right. We ran a 10K after the cross country season for fun. At the time, I was the number one runner on the team and Jill was number two. Any time we competed it was friendly. The 10K wasn’t supposed to be a race, only a workout and fun. I turned it into a race. I was going to show Jill I was still number one, and besides, I wanted to win the trophy that went to the best time in our age group. It turned out that even though I won, I lost.”

“Where’s the trophy? I know all of your trophies,” said Lisa.

“I threw it away before I got home. It meant nothing,” said Nicole

“That’s crazy. I’d never throw away a trophy. You won fair,” said Lisa.

“That’s just it, I won the 10K in the high school age group. Jill came in second. But I lost a friend. I could see how hurt she was when we finished. She never said a word to me after the race and she didn’t have anything to do me after that. It took a long time for me to realize what I did was wrong, I went back on my promise to my best friend. A few weeks ago I saw Jill at a race during the season. She would have been running with her team but she injured an ankle. I went up and apologized for what happened.”

“Even though it was five years ago, Nicole?”

“That’s what I thought at first. Jill hugged me and said thanks. Then she apologized for not being big enough to let it go. We’re friends again.”

At mile marker 18 Lisa and Nicole ran through a First Aid station. This time they took Gatorade and skipped the gel. They planned on one more First Aid station at the twenty-two mile marker.

They reached Valley View when Nicole looked at her Garmin. “Yikes Lisa. We’re on pace to break two fifty. We only have five miles to go. Keep it steady. We might win the sisters’ trophy.”

Lisa gave Nicole a quick smile. She smiled a bit broader as they took a turn down Shaw Street when she spotted the Stinson runner she’d been chasing slowing almost to a walk. A minute later Lisa and Nicole easily passed the Stinson runner. Lisa gave her a quick glance. “What’s wrong with her Nicole?”

Nicole said, “She’s bonking. She’s hitting the wall. My guess she was too intent in beating you and didn’t stop to hydrate or take gel. You know anyone like that?”

Lisa, “Yah. Don’t tell mom or dad.”

“Don’t worry. It’s not long now, we’re three miles from the finish.”

Lisa said, “Let’s pick it up, it’s only three miles.”

“You feel okay. You look a little clammy.”

“I feel fine, Nicole. My legs feel heavy, but that’s only a head thing. I’ll think them light.

The only hard part left is Mason’s Hill. We own it. Then down to the finish line.”

“We really need to slow down. You’re making me worry,” said Nicole, her voice filled with concern.

Lisa forced herself to pick up the pace. Nicole knew she couldn’t argue with her, she stayed beside her. It was useless to argue with Lisa being so close to the finish. Nicole was sure Lisa was paler now than she was two miles back. She saw red blotches growing on Lisa’s neck and face. “You okay Lisa? Let’s slow down. Please. You don’t look good.”

Lisa said, “There’s Mason’s Hill, we’re only three-quarters of a mile from the finish. We might win the sister’s trophy. I can make it. I can make. Talk me through it Nicole. My legs feel so heavy. Please talk me through it.”

Nicole, against her better judgment, said, “Let’s count strides. We’ll count them out loud up to twenty and start over again.” Nicole felt their pace slow considerably, yet, she dared not mention it to Lisa. “Let’s start counting together, “One, two, three, four, . . . five . . .” They reached twenty, seven times when Nicole lost count of how many times they reached twenty. She knew they made it to the top of Mason’s Hill. Three hundred yards away was the finish line in Nickerson Park. They started down the park side of the Mason Hill slope when Lisa stumbled and fell. She landed first on her right knee, her outstretched arms preventing her from hitting her face on the ground. Nicole ran to help her up. Lisa waved her off. She was determined to make it on her own. She rose and started running again. This time Lisa was limping, favoring her right knee, and weaving.
With a hundred yards to go, Lisa was drifting to her left then to her right. She was zigzagging more than running in a straight line. Lisa wanted to run faster. She wanted to run straight for the finish. Her legs refused to obey her mind. She stumbled, nearly falling, but held her balance. At fifty yards to go, she fell again, this time landing on both knees and hands. She rose to her knees and looked up at Nicole. Tears ran down Lisa’s face. Nicole bent over and helped her to an upright position.

She whispered to Lisa, “Like we promised mom, let’s finish together. Put your arm around my shoulder. That’s it.”

Lisa and Nicole jogged, more like a walk, slowly toward the finish line. The spectators at the finish line were cheering Lisa and Nicole as they crossed the finish line. The EMTs grabbed hold of Lisa as soon as she crossed the finish line and brought her to the first aid tent.

Later that day, Lisa and Nicole, sat with their mom and dad, at the dinner table. Their mom said, “You gave us a big scare, Lisa. Promise you won’t ever do that again.”
Lisa said, “We promised to finish as a team. Nicole made that happen. I learned some hard lessons that will stay with me. I didn’t like zoning out and coming so close to the edge. It was scary. What was our time?”

“We did pretty well, we finished in three hours and twenty-five seconds,” said Nicole.

Lisa’s dad rose from the table, “Excuse me a moment. By the way, your finish went viral on YouTube. I saw it this morning. You girls are celebrities.”

Lisa and Nicole grabbed hold of their iPhones, tapped the YouTube app, checked trending and saw a ninety second video someone posted of Lisa and Nicole, arm in arm coming across the finish line. It already had over fifty thousand hits.

A moment later, their dad walked into the dining room, “One of the race organizers ask me to hand this to you.” It was the Sisters’ trophy for the Thanksgiving marathon.

Advertisements

Chapter 21 ~ Lisa Faces A Tough Decision During the Marathon

Chapter 21 ~ Lisa Faces A Tough Decision During the Marathon
On the way to the corral Lisa and Nicole met Mia and Leah. Mia and Leah volunteered as helpers for the marathon. They were going to pass water to runners at a station midway through the race.

Mia looked at Lisa and said,, “Are you guys really serious about running today? I don’t think I’d last ten miles before I’d have to walk.”

Nicole said, “We agreed it’s only a fun run. We planned to run together since I went to the university. thing.” Nicole put her arm around Lisa.

Leah looked at Lisa, “Take it easy today. You outworked and out ran all of us the past three weeks. You have nothing to prove today.”

“I feel great. I think I can run two marathons,” said Lisa.

The four chatted for a few more minutes, then fist bumped. Nicole looked at Lisa, “They really like you. They don’t want you to wear out. Their good friends, listen to them.”

“I know. I think we should get in our corral,” said Lisa

Lisa and Nicole found their places in the corral for runners aiming at 3 to 4 hours. They talked about the route the marathon took. It started in Nickerson Park, two miles from their home, circled through town before connecting to the river trail. The route left the river trail and turned on to country roads leading toward the small town of Carlyle. The race circled around Carlyle Fairgrounds, over to Lassiter State Park where the runners ran around Sweet Water Lake over to Valley View before heading back to Nickerson Park. The course was mostly flat. There was a hilly section in the Lassiter State Park. The race finished back in Nickerson with Mason’s Hill a mile and a half before the finish line.

Lisa nudge Nicole, “They’re getting ready to start. I don’t see why we have to wait for the first two groups of runners. It’s not fair.”

Nicole said, “For the one millionth time, it’s a fun run.”

A blasting air horn signaling the start of the race blocked out the last part of Nicole’s sentence. The runners were off. It was fifteen seconds before Lisa and Nicole crossed the starting line.

Right away, Nicole could feel Lisa wanting to push faster. Three times in first two miles she cautioned Lisa and said, “It’s twenty-six miles. It’s a fun run.”

Each time Lisa answered, “I feel like I’m walking. I haven’t run this slow since I was in sixth grade.”

When they entered the river trail at the four mile mark, Nicole checked her Garmin,

“We’re right on pace for a bit over three hours. It’s a perfect time for us. How are you feeling?”

Lisa turned her head slightly toward Nicole, “Can we pick it up to a six thirty pace? Please. I feel great. I promise I’ll tell you if I don’t feel good.”

Nicole rolled her eyes, “You heard what Leah and Mia said. They don’t want you overworking on the run. It’s your first marathon, remember?”

“Come on Nicole, the seasons over. After today, we can rest all week. No running, just hanging out together.”

Lisa didn’t wait for Nicole to answer, she picked up the pace, Nicole stayed with her, keeping one eye on the trail and the other on Lisa. She promised her mom they’d finish together.

They approached the first aid station at the 5K mark four miles outside of Carlyle Fairgrounds, Nicole called to Lisa, “Lisa, let’s grab a drink. We’ve got to stay hydrated.”

Lisa pushed forward, “The next station Lisa. I’m feeling good.”

Nicole said, “I’m going over, come on.” Nicole headed toward the first aid station, grabbed a drink and looked up to see Lisa thirty yards ahead of her. Nicole picked up the pace and soon caught up to Lisa. “What are you doing Lisa? You promised mom you’d run with me.”

Lisa said, “I saw a runner from Stinson, I can’t let her finish ahead of me. Besides, I feel fine.”
Nicole shook her head, “Next station Lisa, we hydrate. Run through it, grab eight ounces of water and a gel pack. I’ll tackle you if you don’t.”

Lisa  knew Nicole meant business.

Lisa and Nicole grabbed an electrolyte infused drink and gel pack at the first aid station at the 10K mark prior to the entry to the Carlyle Fairgrounds. Half way around the fairgrounds, Lisa said, “Thanks Nicole. I needed that. How’s our time?”

Nicole looked at her Garmin on her right wrist. “The last two miles we ran at a six fifty pace. We’re on track to finish around just under two hours. Perfect.”

Lisa said, “I feel really, really good. Let’s pick up it just a bit. There’s the girl from Stinson, she’s only fifty yards ahead.”

Nicole knew there was no reasoning with Lisa. “Two miles and that’s it, then we’ll do an awareness check. That’s what Coach calls it. You do a quick body scan to see how you feel.”

“Okay,” said Lisa lengthening her stride. Her eyes on the back of the Stinson runner.
Nicole caught up to Lisa, and said, “See the red barn off to the right? That’s where we cut it back.”

Twenty seconds later they were five strides behind the Stinson runner. The Stinson runner looked over her shoulder and picked up her pace. Lisa didn’t ask Nicole, she matched the Stinson runner stride for stride. They passed the red barn without either saying a word. Lisa and Nicole stayed just off the Stinson runner’s right shoulder on the road over to Lassiter State Park.

When they entered the state park, Nicole checked her Garmin, “We’ve been running at a six minute ten second pace for four miles. We’ll refresh at the first aid station. Then we’re cutting back, we still have a bit more than eleven miles to go.”

“Nicole, she came in second at states. I can’t let her beat me,” pleased Lisa.

Nicole said, “It’s not a race. It’s supposed to a fun run with you and me.”

Lisa got stubborn, “I’m not slowing down.”

Nicole said, “I’m going to stop at the First Aid station. I’m going to stop running if you keep this up.”

Chapter 20 ~ It’s Marathon Day

Chapter 20 – It’s Marathon Day

Lisa and Nicole planned to get to bed early. Like most plans, life gets in the way. After all, who could sleep with the excitement of seeing each other for the first time in four months and the Thanksgiving Marathon tomorrow? Lisa and Nicole stayed awake until eleven catching up, taking turns describing each of their races, and talking about the marathon, strategy. They made plans to hang out together the entire time Nicole was home. Lisa didn’t fall asleep until 12:30. Her mind kept playing how Nicole and she would run in the marathon.

Sunrise was at 7:10 a.m. The race started at 9 a.m. Nicole’s coach told her that she and Lisa needed to have a powerful breakfast four hours before the race. It meant they had to be up early. They asked their mom to get them up at four thirty so they could eat the race day breakfast meal Nicole’s coach suggested.

Lisa was up at 4:15 and in Nicole’s bedroom shaking her. Nicole opened her eyes and looked at Lisa, “You’re already dressed? What time is it?”

Before Lisa could speak, their mom’s alarm went off.

Lisa said, “I heard mom making breakfast in the kitchen. I knew I wasn’t going back to sleep for 15 minutes, so I got up. Can you smell the bagels toasting? I’m starving. Hurry up and get dressed. Remember, your coach said to eat four hours before the race?”

Nicole gave a big yawn, sat up in bed, and stretched her arms out over her head. She looked at Lisa, “I’ll meet you in the kitchen in ten minutes.”

“I’ll wait in my room. Get me when you’re ready so we can go to the kitchen together,” Lisa said.

When Lisa and Nicole walked into the kitchen, they already had their sweats on. Their mom said, “You girls are ready to go. Breakfast will be ready in five minutes. I squeezed fresh orange juice, it has a lot of potassium and I read online where that is very good for runners.”

Lisa and Nicole fist bumped their mom, then sat at the table. They drank their orange juice without taking a breath. Their mom brought two plates for them. Toasted bagels were on the plates surrounded by raisons, and sliced bananas. A large jar of peanut butter was open.

“Girls, I read online about breakfast and I’m going to make sure you eat enough to make it through the marathon. No skimping,” the mom said.

Lisa said, “If I overeat I’ll have to go to the bathroom during the race.”

Nicole gave Lisa a gentle push with her right hand, “Mom’s right Lisa. You’ll run great for the first ten or so miles, then you’ll bonk. You won’t have the energy left to make it. Do it for me, okay.”

“Okay Nicole. I hope you’re right,” said Lisa.

“Don’t worry about that, there will be plenty of Porta Potties at the park. We can use them right before we enter the corral,” Nicole laughed.

At 8:00 a.m. the sisters hugged their mom and dad and started off jogging the two miles toward Nickerson Park. The designated parking lots were already packed. Runners were warming up on the streets. They arrived at the park at eight twenty and checked in. Three trips to the Porta Potty later and Lisa and Nicole headed to the corral.

Nicole said, “We’ll line up with the runners who are aiming for three hours.”

Lisa frowned, “Come on Nicole. I bet we can do a two forty-five easy.”

Nicole put a hand on each of Lisa’s shoulders, “We promised Mom to take it easy and make it a fun run.”

Lisa said, “Okay, okay, you’re right. But if we feel good at mile fourteen can we pick it up a bit? Please?”

Nicole said, “We have to both feel good. And, if we need to slow down we’ll cut it back a bit. Deal?”

Lisa fist bumped Nicole, “Deal.”

Chapter 19 ~ Lisa & Nicole Promise to Make the Marathon a Fun Run

Chapter 19 ~ Lisa & Nicole Promise to Make the Marathon a Fun Run

Lisa and Nicole sat in the back seat of the family SUV as their dad and mom drove home. Their mom promised them the best pre-marathon meal ever prepared. Nicole asked Lisa all about the race at states. She wanted to know how she got to the dam first. What sprinting up Falcon’s Hill felt like. How she reached down and found an extra reserve of strength as she came close to the finish line. She had Lisa tell her the story three times. Each time Lisa asked Nicole about her season, Nicole said she wanted to hear more about Lisa’s season.

Lisa couldn’t take it much longer. “Come on Nicole, tell me all about your season. Did you like it? Do you like running in college? How is your coach? Is she as good as Coach Kappa? I think Coach Kappa is the absolute best.”

“It was a lot harder than I thought. First thing, college is so different from high school. The course work is harder. No one reminds me to go to class or study. I have lots of friends, but we’re all on our own. Most of us for the first time in our lives. It’s all up to me. It takes a lot of self discipline to follow through. The good thing, I think running cross-country helped a lot. It’s a lot like college, no asks you to train, especially in the off season. No one tells you to get up early to get your work out in. You know how it is. It’s all up to you. I think that is why all the cross-country runners did well in classes. I’m pretty close to a 4.0 in all my classes. I think it’s the discipline we learn from training that helped more than anything.”

“But how did you do on the cross country team?” asked Lisa.

“I did pretty well for a freshman. I ran third on the team. Maria Torres is our top runner. She got an invite to an Olympic training camp in Colorado Springs for the 5000 and 10000 meters. Running with her made me better. I like her a lot. Maybe this spring you can meet her. Coach said if I work hard maybe I’ll get an invite to Colorado Springs in another year. My times really improved over the season. I thought Coach Kappa worked us hard. It was easy compared to this level. Coach wants me to run the 5000 and 10000 meters in track. I’m excited about that.”

“I think you’ll be the number one runner next fall. Maria better watch out, you’ll zip right by her,” said Lisa.

Nicole touched Lisa’s arm, “I’m not competing with Maria. Coach taught us that the biggest competitor anyone has is the one we have inside us. She told us to focus on getter better and better and everything else takes care of itself.”

“I guess. The Stinson runner don’t think that way. I was happy I beat them,” said Lisa. She reached into her backpack and pulled out the Thanksgiving Marathon race packets. It wasn’t a big marathon as marathons go, race organizers expected about six hundred runners. Lisa hand a packet to Nicole and said, “Here’s the packet I got at All Sports. It’s got everything we need for tomorrow.”

The sisters opened their packets and the first thing they pulled out were their bib numbers. They had to pin them to the front of their race shirts. Lisa’s bib number was 215 and Nicole’s bib number was 216. On the back of the bib number was a small electronic timing chip. The chip digitally recorded their times at different points of the race and transmitted the to the race officials who posted the runners times at checkpoint online. Their parents could follow their progress with their smart phones and still wait at the finish line.

It was Lisa’s mom who broke up the marathon conversation going on in the back seat of the car. She said, “I don’t want you girls to race in the marathon. It’s not about time. It’s not about winning. You’ve both had full cross country season. I don’t want two sick daughters hanging around mopping. It’s a fun run, promise? If either one of you feels tired or out of it during the race, the both of you stop. No competition and no finishing without the other. Promise dad and me.”

Lisa and Nicole reached over the seat and grabbed hold of their mother’s hand, “Promise mom, we’ll finish together or we won’t finish at all.”

Lisa laughed, “Mom worries too much. I was running under five minute miles for cross country. When I won states, I averaged four minutes and forty seconds for the course. I bet we can do five thirty easy.”

Nicole laughed, “I’m not a math brain, but I know times. If we did that pace for a marathon we’d finish under two thirty. That would be pretty close to an age record if you did that. This is our first marathon. Most marathons have an age requirement and you have to be at least sixteen or eighteen. You’re lucky this marathon set the age requirement lower. They do that for a reason. Coach told me I’d know I ran a marathon when I finished. We’ll need to cut back the pace a lot. It’s a fun run like mom said.”

“That’s not fair. I’ll feel like a zombie if we go too slow. Can’t we try it at my pace and slow down if we get tired?” said Lisa.

What if we try to maintain a bit over seven minutes pace. We’ll be right around three hours,” countered Nicole.

“That’s like sleep walking. I can walk that fast. Honest. Can we try to go a little bit faster? Please?”

Nicole said, “It’s time to listen to mom and your big sister.”

Lisa pretended to pout, then smiled and the sisters fist bumped.

Chapter 18 ~ Lisa is Psyched for the Marathon

Chapter 18 ~Lisa is Psyched for the Marathon

As soon as Lisa had a chance to get to the team bus and her backpack she text Nicole.

I won. I won states. I can’t believe it. We won the state championship for the fifth time. We beat Stinson by ten points. Mia came in fourth. Marie ran seventh, Leah came in twelfth and Sara twentieth.

Within seconds Nicole texted back.

Wow. Congrats Lisa. I didn’t want to say anything, but I had a feeling you were going to win. Your times got better each week. Can’t wait to run with you next week. You made me proud.

Lisa was exhausted. It was a happy kind of exhaustion. She and her teammates were excited.

Coach Kappa stood up in front of the bus, and said, “I am so proud of you. You never quit. You fought hard against the toughest opponents we’ve ever faced. You earned this.”
Coach Kappa raised the state championship trophy over head. The runners gave a sustained cheer. “One more thing, some of you are planning to run in the Turkey Day marathon. Don’t turn it into a race. Enjoy the run. Enjoy everyone who runs with you. You worked hard this season. Our spring track seasons begins March 1. Between now and then only easy runs. One more item, lunch is on me.” The runners let out another cheer.

Lisa listened to Coach Kappa, maybe she’d take it easy this week since the season was over. She wanted to be ready for the Thanksgiving marathon on Saturday. Well, maybe she take a couple of long slow runs to keep her legs in shape.

When Coach Kappa sat down, Lisa pulled out her iPhone and texted Nicole.

What kind of workouts will you do this week?

Nicole’s text came within seconds.

Let’s take it easy. You pushed hard the last few weeks. We’re only running for fun. Don’t forget to pick up the registration packets at All Sports. We have to have our bib numbers before race day.

Lisa texted.

Will do 2morrow. There’s a trophy for the best sister team. Did you know that? I saw it on their website. Maybe we have a chance. What do you think?

Nicole texted back.

You up to it? We’ll have to push a bit harder this week. Don’t wear out.

Lisa thought Nicole was still trying to protect her.

I feel good. I will feel better after a good night’s sleep – what’s the plan for the week?

Nicole texted:

I’ll talk to coach. She’ll give us a plan. I’m going to brag about you to her. I’m so excited about your race. Love you. N.

When Lisa woke up, she checked her iPhone. There were no overnight texts from Nicole. Then she checked her email. A wave of excitement ran through her. Nicole e-mailed her coach’s plan for the week before a marathon. Lisa forwarded the email to her iPad. When she went to breakfast she already had the training plan memorized. She wished she could memorize her Spanish vocabulary as easily.

Lisa and her parents ate breakfast, then went to church at 10 a.m. She fidgited all during church. Her mother once whispered to her, “What’s wrong? Please sit still.”

The family went out to lunch after church services. During the meal, her mom said, “Something is wrong. First, you couldn’t sit still in church. Now, you’re not eating your lunch. You should be famished after yesterday’s race.”

Lisa looked up, “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m only excited Nicole is coming home this week and we get to run in the Marathon together. I haven’t seen her since we took her to the university. I’m going to pick up our bib numbers this afternoon. First I’m going on a bike ride over the twenty-six mile course. Get a to-go container and I’ll eat after my ride.”

Her dad spoke up, “Don’t you think you should rest, at least one day?”

“I promise, Dad it will be a fun ride. If I feel the least bit tired I’ll turn around and come home.”

Her mom said, “At least take a bite of your sandwich. It will make me feel better. And, I want you to take tomorrow off. You need a day of rest.”

Lisa smiled at her mom, picked up her turkey sandwich, and took a bite. While she was chewing her food her mind was thinking about the bike ride. It would be a switch from running. It would be her cross training day. She was going to make sure she kept taking plenty of fluids and eating the diet Nicole’s coach suggested for the week before a marathon. When she finished chewing her food, she said to her mom, One more week, that’s all mom.”

The only reason Lisa took Monday off was a promise she made to her mom. Even though she took the day off, she ran the course in her mind five different times. Once she was interrupted by her math teacher and asked if she was daydreaming.

As soon as school was over on Tuesday, Lisa came home, changed clothes, and headed out on a ten mile run. She was training at what she thought was a marathon race pace. Although she’d never run a marathon before, it couldn’t be much tougher than the fifteen mile runs she and Nicole ran in the summer. When she finished her workout she thought of the additional sixteen more miles to this race. I can do it. I can do it. Yes. I can do it she said to herself. Lisa fell asleep shortly after supper while doing her homework on her bed. Her dad covered her up with a blanket and let Lisa sleep with her clothes on.

Wednesday Lisa took a nice easy run. She ran through Nickerson’s Park and over to the river before coming home. She felt a little flat. Her legs felt heavy. She hoped her legs came back in time for the marathon. She remembered from the workouts Nicole sent that tomorrow’s workout were supposed to put life back into her legs. She finished her workout before her mom and dad came home from work. She was hungry. She walked into the kitchen and their was note for her from her mom telling her the training snacks were in the first cabinet and if she was still hungry to eat something a little more substantial like peanut butter on a toasted bagel. Lisa ignored her mom’s advice, opened the cabinet door, and got the pretzels and salted nuts to keep her sodium levels up. Nicole said that was important. She must have needed them because they tasted awesome.

Thursday was the final day of preparation for Saturday’s marathon. It was a combination low and high intensity workout. She knew it was a fartlek run where she ran slow for a time and then ran at a strong pace for one to two minutes. Nicole’s coach was right. Her legs felt great. She was ready. In her mind, Lisa was already holding the Best Sister’s Team trophy over her head. Tomorrow, Lisa and her dad and mom were going to pick up Nicole at college. They’d be home in time for dinner. Lisa didn’t know if she was more excited about the marathon or seeing Nicole. Or, having Nicole home for a whole week.

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.”

Chapter 16 ~ Coach Kappa Adds Pressure to Lisa

Love To Run

Chapter 16 ~ Coach Kappa Adds Pressure to Lisa

All members of the Jaguars varsity were going to states even though only eight would run. The Jaguars were on the team bus at seven a.m. States were held at the Governor Clara Geyser State Park an hour and a half away. The championship race was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Coach Kappa wanted the team to arrive with plenty of time to warm up before the race and talk strategy.

Lisa sat with Marie across the aisle from Mia and Leah. Five miles from the state park, Lisa heard her text ringtone. She pulled it out of her backpack. A text from Nicole.

Good Luck Lisa! I dreamed you ran a great race. Text as soon as you can.

Lisa texted back:
☺ ☺

The bus arrived at 9:05 a.m. The parking lot was already filling with school busses and cars. The driver parked the bus near the back edge of the parking lot. Coach Kappa stood up and spoke to the runners.

“Remember, you are the champions. You will be the champions until someone beats you. Do not let anyone intimidate you. If anyone trash talks, ignore it. We’re the champs, we’ve been here before. We know how champions act. Did you see the dam we crossed on the way here?”

The runners nodded.

Coach Kappa said, “The dam is an important part of the race. You’re going to cross the dam and once across the course leaves the main road and veers to the left. Pay attention, it comes fast right after you cross the dam. You’ll run the perimeter of the reservoir before heading toward Falcon’s Hill. Falcon’s Hill looks a lot like Mason’s Hill. I think it’s about twenty yards longer and maybe a degree steeper. Use the hill to your advantage. It can make or break runners in an important race. Once at you get to the bottom of Falcon’s Hill, the course goes for about a mile on a country road through rolling country terrain before returning to the large recreational area below the dam. I am going to have Jane and Debra standing one hundred yards before you begin to enter the recreational area. When you see them, you’ll know that a fifty yard downhill into the recreational area below the dam is coming up. Pick it up, don’t wait. Once your at the bottom of the dam, the course veers sharply left onto the large grassy area. At that point it’s a 300 meter sprint to the finish line. Any questions?”

Mia raised her hand, “Coach, what if we don’t see Jane or Debra?”

Coach Kappa laughed, “Don’t worry, they’ll be calling out your name loud enough to scare the birds out of the trees.”

Coach Kappa said, “One more point, I need to mention about the dam. recall last week when the Stinson runners blocked Lisa on the path through the woods?”

Lisa answered, “I do, Coach.” The girls all laughed.

“They’ll probably do the same here,” Coach Kappa said. “If we’re to win states you’ll have to beat the Stinson runners to the dam. Their strategy will be to sprint out with their runners. The six through ten runners will try to block the dam so the faster runners can get a big lead on the field. They qualified as many runners as we did. We were fortunate to edge them out in regionals. I know it’s unfair and I spoke to the state committee during the week. They told me if your team doesn’t like it tell them to get to the dam first. That’s what we’ll have to do. If any of you get to the dam first. I don’t want any blocking, run your race, and concentrate on finishing as high as you can. Got it?”

The team responded together, “Got it Coach.”

Twenty minutes later, the numbers were randomly selected and posted for the three-hundred runners who qualified from across the state. Lisa tried to jump up over the tall runners in front of her who were looking for their names and the number posted next to them. Being as small as she was, she was one of the last runners to find her name. Instinctively, she started looking at the numbers at the backend, beginning with three-hundred. When she reached one hundred-fifty, a little smile crossed her face, she’d be in the front half of the pack. Still she hadn’t seen her name. It was Mia Hale who patted her on the back, “Lisa, you pulled number four. The rest of us are three rows back. You got to go out strong. You can win this thing if I don’t break through.”

Lisa felt her heart thumping like a huge bass drum. She didn’t look at Mia. Instead she looked at her shoes, nodded and went to the registration table to get her number.

Moments later Coach Kappa called the team together one last time before the race. She said, “We got the draw we got. Focus on the race, not the draw. Mia and Marie are back a bit. Lisa, you’re going to have to run the race of your life if we’re to have a chance at five state championships in a row.” She paused for a moment, “We know the Stinson strategy. I don’t think it will change since the regionals. They’ll probably try to get to the dam first and block other runners from passing while their best runners build a big lead. We’re running two races. The first race is to get to the dam ahead of the Stinson runners. The second race is from the dam to the finish line. It’s the last race of the season. Don’t hold back. Give it all you got. Okay, let’s go!”