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.


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 13 ~ Focus, Focus, Focus in Love to Run

Love to Run

Chapter 13 ~ Focus, Focus, Focus

The state cross-country championship was open competition. Runners from every high school in the state could compete. There was no division based on the size of the school. Runners first competed in the regional cross-country races to qualify to run in the state-wide championship. Nickerson High School, the Jaguars, was located in the South Regional District. Most of the teams that won the state cross country championships came from either the southern or western regional sections.

Monday, after the league championship the Jaguar runners entered the locker room at the end of the school day and were greeted by a bulletin board filled with newspaper clippings showing the times and names of the Jaguars’ biggest threat. Every newspaper clipping posted by Coach Kappa was about the Stinson High School runners. Their co-captains told a reporter this was the year they were going to win and defeat Nickerson High School.”

Coach Kappa gathered the team together in the locker room. She said, “There are new guidelines for qualifying for the state championship this year. Each of the regional districts is having a record number of runners competing. Because of the high number of entrants in each of the regionals, the state committee is only selecting runners meeting the minimum time they set to qualify to run at states. The more runners who meet the qualifying time, the better our chances to repeat and with our fifth championship. We need at least five to have a chance to repeat as state champions, I want all fifteen of you to qualify. I’m asking a question. I want you to shout out the answer. What are we going to do this week and next?”

The team in one voice hollered, “Work hard. Focus, focus, and focus.”

Coach Kappa said, “I hear you, but I don’t feel it. It’s not loud enough. It’s not coming from your heart. What are we going to do?”

Mia, Marie, Leah, and Lisa stood up, the rest of the team followed their example. Together, the entire team shouted loud enough to get a dog barking across the street from the school gymnasium, “Work hard, focus, focus, and focus!”

Coach Kappa said, “That’s the spirit. Let’s stay focused. Today we’re working on speed drills, tomorrow’s distance. Speed drills the next day, on Thursday, we’ll do five mile run on a hilly course, then Friday is our rest day. No parties. No late nights. I posted a list of the foods to eat that will give you the energy and stamina you need for the races.”
The Jaguars followed worked hard. They focused, focused, and focused. Lisa looked forward to Friday before regionals. It was a day of rest and recovery, that’s what Coach Kappa called it. It was also a teacher workshop day.

Friday morning, Lisa’s mom and dad let her sleep in. When she woke, She showered and dressed and went into the kitchen. Lisa walked to the refrigerator and saw notes her dad and mom posted to her on the refrigerator door.
Her dad’s note read:

Remember to take it easy. Catch up on your school work. Stay away from thinking or going online to check on the regionals. Do some fun things. See you at dinner. Love, Dad

Lisa was happy she had no tests next week. She’d get her homework out of the way so she could enjoy Sunday, then she’d play video games. She hadn’t done that for a while.

She read her mom’s note:

Hot oatmeal is in the small crockpot. Raisins and nuts in the top left shelf next to the energy bars you like. The top shelf has all the foods Coach Kappa put on the list. Even Dad’s not allowed to touch the shelf. See you around five. Love, Mom

Lisa loved her mom and dad. She knew they loved her. They treated her no different than Nicole. She knew she was one of the lucky ones, especially when she listened to some of the kids at school complain about their parents.

She took her time eating her breakfast. While she ate she had her iPad next to her. Her dad’s note said to not go online and check out the regionals. It didn’t say anything about the Thanksgiving Turkey Day Marathon. She decided she could tell her dad the truth and say she didn’t go online to read about the regionals. She felt better and then typed in

She quickly connected to the website. She scrolled through photos of last year’s race. She scanned through the times of women finishers. Her eye caught a link on the right hand side of the page that read: Age categories. She clicked on the link. She eyeballed the youngest category for awards, ages 12 to 16. She made up her mind she was going to win it. She organized her training for the marathon in her mind. She’d keep her word to Coach Kappa and the team. But, on the day after the state championships, she was going to train hard for three days in preparation for the marathon. She was going to make Nicole proud.

Chapter 12 ~ Coach Kappa Challenges Lisa to do Better

Love to Run

Chapter 12 ~ Coach Kappa Challenges Lisa To Do Better

Claymont High School hosted the league championship on it’s home course. It was their turn in the rotation of where the championship would be held. It would be a decade before they could host it again. It would rotate among all the high schools in the league.
The course location didn’t matter to the Jaguar runners. They placed one, two, three, seven and ten easily winning the league title for the fifth consecutive year. Lisa placed third, only seven seconds behind Mia and two strides behind Marie. The three of them separated themselves from the pack of runners in the final half-mile and ran away with the first three places. The entire team was in a celebration mood. They boarded the bus, Lisa was anxious to text Nicole and tell her about the race.

When she boarded the bus, Coach Kappa who was sitting in the front seat behind the driver, patted the seat next to her and said, “Lisa, sit here.”

Lisa tightened her grip on her cell phone and slid into the seat next to Coach Kappa. She had no clue what Coach Kappa wanted. Coach Kappa usually sat alone on the bus trips.

The bus driver asked everyone to fasten their seat belts. She got up from her driver’s seat and walked down the aisle making sure all the girls were buckled. When she returned, she closed the bus door, started the engine and began the trip back to Nickerson High School, home of the Jaguars.

Coach Kappa said to Lisa, “You ran a great race, today.”

“Thanks, Coach,” said Lisa not sure where Coach Kappa was heading.

“Tell me about the race, you know, your part in the race,” said Coach Kappa.

“What do you want to know, Coach? Mia, Marie and me ran away from the rest of the field. There’s not much else to tell,” said Lisa.

“I think there’s a lot more to tell, give it a try,” said Coach Kappa.

“Okay, Coach. I got a pretty good draw, number twenty-five. When the race started I sprinted across the open field toward the trail. I was tenth when we got to the trail. I saw Mia, Marie and Leah in front of me. I don’t know if they were in the lead or not, I was concentrating on my form.”

“Good, keep going,” said Coach.

“I got boxed in by three runners from Red Willow. It almost seemed as if they were doing it on purpose. There were two in front of me and two on my left, the running side of the trail. I couldn’t step off the trail on the right because I would have been disqualified.”

“I understand. What did you do?” asked Coach Kappa.

“At first, I was hoping they’d separate a little and I could squeeze through an opening, but they didn’t. I didn’t want the leaders to get too far ahead of me, so I dropped back.”

“You dropped back? Why did you do that? It cost you some time,” said Coach Kappa not really as a question, but more to make Lisa think about why she dropped back.

“I know it cost me time, Coach. The way I figured it, they wouldn’t notice me dropping back. When I was three strides behind them, one of the runners looked over her shoulder at me and saw me content to be running behind them, I thought I saw her smile. That’s when I turned the jets on and sprinted on their left and passed them before they realized what I was doing.”

“Did Nicole teach you that strategy? It’s a good way to get out of being blocked in,” said Coach Kappa.

“No, Coach. I figured it out all by myself,” said Lisa with a bit of pride. Then she continued, “At the mile marker, I was forty yards behind the lead pack. I didn’t panic, I concentrated on my form and kept repeating my motivation saying as I ran.”
Coach Kappa interrupted Lisa, “What is your mantra that you kept repeating?”

“It’s just something Nicole and I share, that’s all, Coach.”

Coach Kappa turned a bit toward Lisa and said, “You don’t have to tell me. Whatever it is, keep using it. Now tell me about how you caught up to the lead pack of runners.”

Lisa was picturing the race in her mind, she said, “Around the two-mile mark I pulled within twenty yards of the lead pack. I was comfortable there. I settled in coming up slowly on them. I didn’t want to let it all out. There was still a bit more than a mile left to the race. I had plenty of time. It’s an easy course with only one hill at the 2.75 mile marker. That’s where I planned to make my move. I did, when I hit the base of the hill, I poured it on. I caught Leah on the hill and by the time I got to the top of the hill I was running third behind Mia and Marie. Mia picked up the pace going down the hill and got a bit of separation from Marie and me, but not too much.”

“Why didn’t you go after, Mia?” asked Coach Kappa.

Lisa shrugged, “I don’t know. I just didn’t.”

“Are you saving yourself for the marathon?” asked Coach Kappa.

Lisa knew she held back and now she knew, Coach Kappa knew. She didn’t know what to say, so she didn’t say anything.

Coach Kappa turned to Lisa and spoke softly, “You and Mia are the best runners on the team. I believe you are her equal or better. Your thinking is misguided. What do you think Nicole would have done in your situation? I want you to answer me.”

Lisa didn’t look at Coach Kappa. Coach Kappa said, “Lisa?”

“She would have gone after Mia. She wouldn’t have held back.”

“So, you didn’t give it all you’ve got. I think I heard you tell me that before,” said Coach Kappa.

Lisa wondered if Coach Kappa knew that was her mantra. She said, “Sorry, Coach. I promise it won’t happen again.”

“I believe you, Lisa. I want you to run the marathon with Nicole. Don’t think I don’t want you to run in it. Let it be a fun run where you and Nicole can enjoy and talk about your seasons over the twenty-six miles. Can you do that for me?” Coach Kappa asked.

“I can, Coach. Can I sit with my friends now?” asked Lisa.

Later that night, Lisa struggled to fall asleep. It was eleven p.m. and she was wide awake as she might be at noontime. She wondered if Nicole were awake. She texted her.

You awake?

Lisa flipped her iPhone over on the lamp table next to her bed, turned off the light and pulled the blankets up over her head. No way was Nicole awake.

Sixty seconds later, the text ringtone.

What’s happening Lisa?

Lisa grabbed her phone.

Didn’t hear from you when I text about the league. You okay?

Nicole texted back.

Sorry. I really am sorry. We were out on a long training run. We have the league championships on Wednesday. Plus, I have a paper due Monday and a big Chem exam on Tuesday.

Lisa Texted back.

It’s Ok. Coach Kappa thinks we can capture states. She says we’re peaking at the right time.

Lisa watched the little bubbles dancing on her phone.

Awesome. What was your time?

Lisa was ready for Nicole’s question.

Mia ran 14.50, course record, Marie ran 15:02, I ran 15:04.

Lisa didn’t wait long for Nicole’s reply.

Lisa, you beat my freshman time at the league meet by eight seconds. Think you’ll catch Marie at the regionals?

Lisa texted.

I going to give it all I’ve got.

Nicole texted.

That’s the spirit. I have a hunch you’ll be the number two runner going into states. Can’t wait to run the Thanksgiving marathon w/ U. G2G

Lisa stared at the text message. She read it, and read it again and again. She closed her eyes and pictured Nicole and she running in the marathon … and she fell into a deep sleep.