I stared out the window and watched the tiny droplets of water drip down the glass. As the bus parked at Tawasentha Park, my cross country team filed out. When I stepped out of the bus, I saw my breath turn into steam in the cold air. The water immediately soaked my hair, as if I had just taken a shower. The heavy rain and the cool wind would make the race much more difficult than the previous ones. We quickly ran to the pavilion to avoid the rain, and we dropped off our belongings. My team met at the start line and started our warm- ups, two laps around the soccer length field. We complained about the cold weather and begged our coach to let us wear jackets.
“Jackets will soak up the rain and will weigh you down,” our coach said.
In our red and white tank-tops and black shorts, we stared enviously at our opponents, Shen. They wore green jackets and looked much warmer than us. Before the race my friend, Isabella, and I promised that whatever happened, we would finish the race together.
I felt a warm tear trickle down my face, and I shook uncontrollably from the cold and nervousness as we lined up at the white, spray-painted starting line. Adrenaline kept me from having my legs getting swept from underneath me, and the fact that if I fell, I would be completely covered in mud. The last time I ran this 1.7 mile course, I ran it in 14 minutes and 32 seconds. I aimed to break that record. My coach blew her high-pitch metal whistle and we took off, only to return to the starting line because a teammate had slipped on the watery mud. I heard the loud screech and we took off again.
“This is real cross country weather! No complaining!” a parent screamed.
I rolled my eyes, spotted Isabella’s black hair tied up in a low ponytail with a single thin, black hair tie in the crowd, and caught up with her. “We got this,” I whispered, and she nodded in agreement. As we turned around the curve, the mob started to thin out into a line. We accelerated up a small hill and jogged towards the thin route in the forest. All I heard were our steadying footsteps splattering in the mud, and I could feel it on my bare legs, slowly dripping down into my shoes. Every time I took a step, I could hear my feet squishing the puddle that had formed in my shoe. We were almost halfway there, but we weren’t even close to the hardest part. I saw the halfway mark: a towering, steep, intimidating mountain. Our coach had made us run up that hill over and over again until we almost collapsed from exhaustion. I took a deep breath, the icy air stung my nose as if a thin coat of ice had formed on it, and started up the hill. I saw Isabella next to me as I made it up the hill, one step after the other. After we got to the top, I saw one of my teammates running into the forest without shoes. I felt bad for her, but my determination got the better of me. Isabella and I sped up and raced ahead of her. We made it out of the forest and it was time for my favorite part. I felt the wind against my frozen, red cheeks as I sprinted down the hill. Suddenly, a teammate stopped and clutched her stomach.
“You got this, Giuliana,” Isabella and I encouraged simultaneously. She looked at us, shook her head and gave up. Part of me wanted to give up, stop running, find a warm place and relieve my legs from the icicles that are slowly making its way towards my bones, but I sucked up all the pain and journeyed down the hill, gravity forcing my legs to move faster than I could handle, I’m surprised I didn’t trip.
My leg muscles were burning, contrasting to my almost frozen torso. My arms were the most relaxed part of my body, because my coach had made us hold Pringles in our hands and we had to try not to break them while running. We finished the second half of the course, giving each other encouragement as we went. Finally, I could see two pennant banners that we had to run through to get to the finish line. We both sped up at the sight of it. Our coach was on the edge calling; “Come on! Run faster!” Our feet crossed the finish line! A man gave us each a card! I stared at it in amazement, 11th out of 45 runners! That was the highest placement I have ever gotten considering I was almost a year younger than most of my teammates. I did beat my previous time, though only by ten seconds.
Isabella and I started to walk back to the pavilion where our backpacks were, staying under the comfort of the trees and cheering on any teammates that we passed. We picked up our clean clothes and changed in the bathroom. My once navy blue shoes were now brown from the mud. My legs were now covered in a thin layer of sand. I cleaned up as best as I could, then put on my jacket. As we waited for the rest of our teammates to show up, the ones who were present were congratulating each other, and I breathed the biggest sigh of relief that I ever had.