The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Guest Blogger: Also A Cross Country Runner

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Christine DiGrazia is a teacher of 11 years experience at Zion-Benton Township High School. When she’s not busy grading essays and following University of Illinois basketball and football, she coaches track and cross country. Last month’s posting Once A Cross Country Runner inspired her to relate a true tale of hardcore running steeped in the philosophy she originated.

Once a Cross Country Runner brings to mind the first 5K that Jobs for Illinois Graduates sponsored at Zion-Benton. I had decided to run the race for a number of reasons: first, I wanted to support local running; second, I hoped to use the race as motivation for a post-bronchitis comeback; and third, I asked my team to run the race, so I figured I should play along, too. After all was said and done, my t-shirt might as well have had “Once a Cross Country Runner…” plastered across the chest.

It was the last weekend in June, and the day was rather hot. The late start (9 a.m.) only made matters worse. I arrived at Van Patten Woods eager to kick off my comeback, albeit a little worried about what type of performance I would be able to muster. As I warmed up and stretched, my Once a Cross Country Runner… pride began to kick in, and I silently sized up the competition. It was a small race, so I figured I could do reasonably well in my age group.

Rodney Winslow toed the line next to me, and right before the gun sounded, I decided that I couldn’t let a 6’4” science teacher / badminton coach beat me. At the crack of the pistol, I instantly bit off more than I could chew by dashing out in front of him faster than I should have for my fitness level. As we passed the mile mark, my lungs started to burn and my diaphragm spasmed. I realized that perhaps I wasn’t as post-bronchitic as I thought.

When I glanced at my watch and saw 7-something for the first split, I tried to reassure myself that my years of running experience would save me.Then we left the safety of the shade and made the turn at the north side of the lake. My diaphragm was a sinewy knot twisted in my lungs, completely uncooperative in the breathing process. My legs not only felt like lead, but were starting to itch, too. We hadn’t run through much grass, so I didn’t understand why I was having an allergic reaction. Rodney was inexplicably in front of me, and his giant silhouette grew smaller and smaller as my pace slowed. Before he was too far away, he called out something about beating the cross country coach, but my brain was too murky at that point to process the insult or use it for motivation– I was far too busy participating in a pity party of one.

As I turned south on the path that seemed more desert than dirt, it felt like the sun was blasting my pale skin. I began re-evaluating my goals for the race. This type of advanced thinking was difficult though, because my body was on my mind. I could barely lift my knees. My tongue was four sizes too big for my cotton mouth, and it felt like I had stopped sweating. I wouldn’t realize until my next race that I should not run this hard in the sun while taking antibiotics for bronchitis.As I contemplated simply stepping off the course and finding some shade and some water, the dull thumping of Jeff Burd’s pace behind me reminded me that I couldn’t. For the last mile and change, my whole being was dedicated to one cause: Beat Jeff Burd.

At several points, I had that weird feeling that time was standing still; I would look around and wonder how I had gotten to that spot on the trail, because I didn’t remember running to it. At one point, I tried to do math in my heat-stroked head; all I could figure was that I had run my middle mile real slow, because I was going to finish around the 30:00 mark; it was bewildering. At another point, doubt crept in my mind about whether or not I could finish. Then I’d hear footsteps again, and snap back to reality: must beat Jeff Burd… must move one leg, then other…

Finally, I enjoyed a stretch of shade before attempting a kick. My arms pumped to their own rhythm, out of sync with my legs, and my legs… well, they were doing what they could. I remember Crazy Bo Ledman (who had already finished, cooled down, had breakfast, showered and come back to cheer for us pluggers) giving me the “Oh, you’re finishing!” pity-clap along with a few of my runners, but I didn’t care because I had held off Jeff Burd.

After the finish line, I don’t remember much. Somehow I got home; the next thing I remember, my husband woke me from a nap as I shivered fitfully in my sweaty t-shirt. I remember him bringing me Gatorade. I remember him scolding me, “Why didn’t you just stop? What’s that rash all over your legs? Jesus, you’re totally dehydrated!”

I remember smiling and quietly uttering between sips, “I had to beat Jeff Burd.” He smiled back at me, knowing exactly what I meant. He, too, was once a cross country runner.

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Written by seeker70

December 29, 2008 at 6:25 am

Posted in Cross Country, DiGrazia

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