It’s been a hot minute. My 57 mile run (actually 59.8 – but who’s counting?) for Lyme disease awareness is over and it was spectacular! I can’t believe it’s over and I do plan on writing a recap of the day, but it’ll have to wait. Today, I want to post an old piece of mine about Meet of Champions back in 2006. The recent autumn weather has been giving me all the feels about past cross country seasons, and because NJ Meet of Champions is tomorrow, I decided to post an old writing piece on when my team and I won it in 2006.
Tomorrow, the girls Colts Neck XC team lines up in Holmdel Park to go for the win again. I wish I could be there, so this is me being all nostalgic and what not for the days when I was an xc machine.
November 17, 2006
November always meant the end of cross country season. The days were shorter, the air was colder, and by then the trees stood half naked, barely holding on to their brown and dying leaves. November was my favorite month. It meant I was at the peak of my training and I was ready to run fast.
In November of 2006, my team had more than a state championship title on the line. We had Nike Team Nationals. We needed more than just a win the next day. We needed speed. We needed heart and courage, and the ability to put everything on the line without fear.
Silence. None of the eight of us spoke during our shakeout run the day before state championships. The sun was already setting and we moved steadily through the somber air. We ran close, together as one. I could hear the crunch of gravel beneath our feet and when I exhaled my breath frosted up in front of me like a wispy cloud in the sky. It was a beautiful evening and the wind blew the dead leaves across the path in a swirling pattern, dancing together. As we looped the soccer field, the sun was low enough to peek through the thin trees on the other side of the park, causing great rays of light to escape, creating a striped pattern on the field.
Our captains stopped toward the end of the run and the rest of us huddled around them knowingly. Words were not important at this point. Or at least they were not as important as the electric feeling in the air. We were ready. From the moment we lost the bid to Nike Team Nationals the previous year we began our preparations for success in 2006. Practice six times a week. High mileage weeks. Speed work. Hill work. Long runs. Tears. Blood. Courage. Friendship. I looked at my captains and realized this was it. There would not be another Colts Neck high school cross country season for them when they graduated at the end of the year. We knew the only way for us to get to Nationals was for each and every one of us to give our all.
We huddled together only for a few moments, but it seemed like hours. I felt serene, despite the nervous energy pulsing through every vein in my body. I knew I would never forget this moment.
After practice, Erin and I walked from the locker room to my mom’s waiting car. We did not say anything to one another. I looked down and closed my eyes as the car drove away, sputtering exhaust into the dark sky.
I visualized the race the next morning. I saw the park littered with people, teeming with its own heartbeat as spectators gathered by the starting line. I saw myself racing through the woods, going up and down and up and down with the rhythm of the progressing hills. I followed the girls ahead of me like the rolling swells of the ocean. I felt my lungs screaming, my legs growing heavy, and I felt the pain and embraced it. I could smell the crisp, autumn air and hear the undying roar of the crowd urging me onwards to the finish line. I could test the fear of my competitors and sense their aches and pains, so much worse than my own.
I could see the finish. Feel my feet giving out from under me. Feel my entire body screaming as the last of my energy escaped my gasping breaths. I could feel the scratchy, yellow ropes at the finish chute, and could feel my breath come back to me as the ground slowly stopped spinning beneath me and I finally felt anchored in place.
I was ready.
November 18, 2006
I can hear the screams of the crowd through the woods. I am close, within a mile. I have run Holmdel so many times before it now feels like I am greeting an old friend. I know every inch of the course, every tree root, bend in the path, and certainly every hill. I know when I am supposed to feel fresh, dig deep, hurt, and hold on. Now was the holding on part.
Despite my nerves and the extra electricity laced through the air the race started like any other. When the starting gun rang clear I jolted off the line like a coiled spring let loose. I felt lost within the hundreds of girls sprinting across the field as we jostled for position before the course bottle-necked up our first real hill. I settled in. This was my sit and wait time.
No longer did I feel the pressure of our team placing first. I had one goal: focus on the moment. Catch the girl in front of me. Lean into the hill. Don’t. Let. Go.
And now the finish line was close. My father had been standing at the entrance of the path right before we plummeted back into the woods at the 2.5 mile mark, yelling his support. Con Te Partiro, Time to Say Goodbye, he shouts in his always steady voice. We both know I am running the fastest I ever have at Holmdel. If only I can hold on. Earlier, when I emerged out of the Bowl and hit the two mile mark my coach yelled out one of my fastest miles at the park, even with the monstrous uphill.
My father and the rest of the crowd disappear as the path curves into the woods. I have no idea where my other teammates are but based off the crowd excitement, I know we are doing well. A few other girls surround me as we race down hill after hill, making our much deserved descent to the finish line. I can hear the booming cheers from the finish, beckoning me forward. My body is screaming and I swear my lungs are going to burst, but I push it more anyways.
Without a win this will be our last cross country race of the season and then it would be onward to the endless loops of the indoor track. I wanted more xc and I wanted to win and go to nationals more than ever. I push up the final hill, short but steep, and pass two girls as we hit the crest. I open up my stride at the top just like my coach taught me and I am confident I can beat them out on the homestretch as they fall quickly behind me.
When I burst out of the woods the atmosphere is like none I have ever experienced. The homestretch is completely lined with spectators and they jump up and down as they cheer in a wild sea of colors. The roar is deafening and their screams fill me with adrenaline once more. Some individuals are standing on their cars and RVs parked on the far side of the field and they frantically wave signs in the air as they try and balance. I begin to sprint and the crowd catches on, screaming so loud I am afraid the girls I passed on the final hill are catching me again. But I dare not look back. I push harder and I can hear my coach screaming, GO GO GO, and I reach for more inside but there is nothing left to give. My legs are numb and my breathing is almost hyperventilating, but I am upon the finish line. I can see my two teammates already finished and I hear them screaming my name, giving me the final push to lean forward across the line.
An official steadies me by the arms and pulls me gently, almost nicely, from the finish line where girls are continuously coming in. With a pat on the back she pushes me forward into the finish chute and I grab the yellow ropes to steady myself as I stumble forward with the other girls. I have finished 35th out of 181 girls. As I gasp for breath I catch eyes with my finished teammates and before I know it I am in their arms as we hug and wait. Within minutes the rest of our team is finished and my coach has already calculated the score on his clipboard. We have won the Meet of Champions by 66 points. My parents hug me and then hug Erin. I look around, at my teammates, my coaches, and I see nothing but smiles and laughter.
A little while later we are standing atop a podium accepting our first place medals and trophy. My smile has not left my face since finishing and I happily look down at my parents and friends as they cheer and clap ecstatically for us. Cameras flash. And in that moment we are not only standing atop the podium but it feels as if we are atop the world. Invincible. Completely untouchable.
Good luck to CNXC tomorrow! It was fun for me to look back on this memory. If you’re feeling even more nostalgic, you can re-read my post about NTN HERE.
Stay tuned for my Penn State to Bucknell Run Recap in the next week or so!
© Allison Donaghy 2017 All Rights Reserved