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Cross Continent – A memoir of a speed challenged individual

Matt King Cross Continent – A memoir of a speed challenged individual thrown into the depths of cross country
by Matt King


I fear no man…unless they make me run.

Running has been a form of torture in my life for as long as I can remember.  I do not enjoy it and I avoid it if possible.  I would joke about running and runners themselves.  I would call the track athletes “stupid people that run for fun.”  I was happily living in my own world of slowness.  But all that was about to change.

As much as I despise running, I think of it as a necessity.  If I am going to play basketball then I must be in shape and, in order to get in shape, I must run.  I tried getting up early to run.  That lasted all of one day, the next day I refused to get out of my warm, comfortable bed for the cold, tiring task of running.  I tried running after school.  Once again that lasted a day, if even a day, as I gave up after a minute and went inside.  After a long day of school I just didn’t have the energy to make myself run.  That day I came to the conclusion that I needed to run with other people, I needed someone to tell me how much to run and when to run, and I needed a sandwich…bad.

One day while I was brainstorming, it occurred to me to try cross country.  Some of my friends were doing it and it would be good for me.  How hard could it be?  Had I known the foolishness of my thinking I would have gone back to not thinking at all.  But the mental damage had been done and I decided to go ahead and ask to join the cross country team.  The coach was understanding and let me on the team.  The first day I ran with a group of guys that did nothing but play tag on the third floor of our school.  Sure it wasn’t what we were supposed to do, but who cared?  “This might not be bad at all,” I thought to myself, “It might even be fun.”  Then we started hard days and I began to realize what I had gotten myself into.  Running up and down a quarter mile hill six times is not my idea of fun.  “At least,” I told myself, “this is helping me.”

Later on I got to see our team run a race.  It didn’t look bad at all.  They just ran along a trail and most finished in around twenty minutes or so.  “How hard could running for 20 minutes be?” I asked myself.  I look back and pity the poor fool that I was.  Finally, the day came that I would run in a race.  As excited as I was, there was a minute setback at first: my uniform.  I had to wear shorts that would look scandalous even on a girl and a polyester jersey that was so tight fitting that it appeared I was wearing a spandex outfit.  I looked like a deranged superhero, “Captain Belly.”  Something must be done, I couldn’t run like that.  And I was sure that there were laws against appearing in public with such a thing.

After I got that all straightened out (although I still had to bear the shorts), It was time for my first race.  Someone asked if I was ready.  I replied, “I have never been less ready for anything in my entire life.”  None the less, I was pumped and as the starter shouted “go” I was off.  My strategy was to pace myself, but the entire pack raced in front of me.  I wanted to shout at them to slow down, they were going way too fast for me.  Resisting the temptation to catch up, I trotted along at my set pace.  But after the kid in the wheelchair passed me, I knew I had to step it up a little.  After I got into what I thought was a fast pace, I tried to get into my “runner’s zone.”  Not knowing where that was, I got lost and ended up in my “tired and cranky zone.”

The first thing I remembered was passing a teammate who was sitting the race out and had a stop watch.  “Is this the mile split?” I asked hopefully.

“No!” he shouted, “It’s only been three minutes!”

“Well,” I began, feeling foolish, “I thought it was a good mile.”  And on I went, thinking to myself how courageous I was.  It was like my legs worked without my brain.  My brain said, “Stop running, running isn’t fun.  It’s hard and you don’t like it.”  But my legs wouldn’t listen, they just kept on going.  I wish it were as easy as that, but I was starting to get worn out with all this leg movement.  I wanted to at least walk, but my pride would not let me.  I wanted to finish this race without walking.  I wanted to do it right.  As I passed the first mile split, my time was 7:58, just under eight minutes.  “How could this be?” I thought,   “Surely I’ve been running faster than that.”

A couple of days later I reached the two-mile split.  Now I was at 18:26, about 30 seconds off my pace.  I tried to make my legs go faster, but to no avail.  I was stuck in first gear.  I saw my coach up ahead and thought I was about to receive praise and support.  But instead she saw me and immediately ran away.  I found out later that it was because the top of our team was finishing the race right after I finished the second mile.

I was two thirds done with the race.  That didn’t actually compute during the race.  All my mind said was “RUN!”  And so I did, feeling ready to lose my lunch any second.  But still I pounded on with the grace of a handicapped rhino toward my destination.  Finally, the end was in sight.  The relief I felt cannot be put down in words.  But I was not done, I must get to the finish.  I ran as hard as I could, which at that point was no harder than a light jog.  As I crossed the finish line, a teammate handed me a cup of water.  I downed the water, limped to the side, and fell flat on my back.  My teammates, worried that I might cramp up, formed a human chain to lift me up.  It was at that point that I looked at my place card.  I had managed 51st place!  And my time was a blazing 26:58.  I had beat five guys and another five girls.  Granted, most were using crutches and one kid I believe I saw using a walker.  He finished just seconds after me.

I stumbled to my teammates, expecting to be raised in the air and carried to the bus, but only a few seemed impressed at what I believed to be a Herculean effort.  I had completed my three goals for this race.  1: I finished, 2: I didn’t finish last, and 3: I ran in under thirty minutes.  Overall I was pleased… when I regained consciousness that is.

Reflecting back, I pondered running in general.  Did it have the same meaning to me?  Did I have a greater respect for it?  Would I ever walk again?  I now can say that I have a greater respect for running and for those who run, but I am still deathly afraid of it.  What is worse than running a cross country race?  Running another one.  And so I set out again on what may be my greatest cross country performance to date.  So I would like to ask you to wish me good luck and…some speed.

Source Matt King