My Running History, Chapter 3
By seventh grade, I had become the long distance runner of my school. Cross country season could be boiled down to one word: undefeated. During track season, the only time I didn't win the mile run was in a huge invitational, in which I was running against 7th and 8th graders. All season I was running in the mid 5:25 range, and the day of the city meet, I found out that the city record was 5:25.3. I had been running less than 1 second over the record all year with my race strategy of running with the other team's top runner for 3 laps and smoking him on the final lap. As an aside, that strategy helped me make friends with the top runners from all of the other middle schools, which helped as we all joined together in 8th grade as part of the same team. I remember the city meet 1600m run vividly; someone (a fan? a parent? I'd never seen him before) was standing just past the start line, and at the 400m mark, he shouted to me that I had 20 yards on the next guy: go for it! Then he called out my splits, telling me that the record was within my grasp. I finished in 5:14 flat, shattering the old record by 11.3 seconds!
Things changed a bit when I went "downtown" - all of the middle schools were consolidated into one school. So my former competitors became my teammates. Those were good times, being pushed by Tim and Richard to run my fastest, setting the course record at the Highland Park course (I loved that course, mostly because of the numerous uphill climbs - I was always good at hills).
There was so much drama in middle school, and running was a welcome escape. We would run all over downtown Kokomo - to parks (Summers Park, and it's infamous hill workout), and frequently through the cemetery, where our coach would have us search for certain gravestones or see who could find the oldest one, where we would end up our workouts by running "pete and repeat" laps (trying to beat our time).
I experienced my first running injury during my eight grade year; we were running in Summers Park and on the way down the hill, I fell on a root, twisting my ankle. I just lay there on the ground, mostly because I was tired, not because my ankle hurt that much. By the time the coach got there, though, it had started swelling... the doctor diagnosed a bad sprain. I missed a big meet and a big soccer game for that injury.
Probably the biggest moment for me was when the high school cross-country coach approached me at a meet. He encouraged me to come out for the high school team the next year, that I would be a good addition to the team. I definitely looked up to the high school runners... and so as a freshman, I found myself running with them. I was our #1 junior varsity runner - all the while playing soccer (in the same season) for our newly started Kokomo Soccer Club.
I loved being part of the cross country team; I liked the camaraderie we shared and the fun we had while running. I liked the parties we had - the pool party at one team member's house and impromptu pizza party/TP session the night before a big meet.
At the end of the season, we went to the tournament. But one important thing had happened; there had been some discipline infractions, and several team members were suspended. They returned from suspension right before the Sectional meet, and they competed. One of them, however, hadn't trained, and he tanked. So, for the Regional meet, the team needed a seventh runner, so the top two JV runners had a run-off to determine who would run in the Regional.
I had a cold, but I ran the best race of my life. 16:57 over a 3 mile road course (which would adjust to about a 17:30 for a true 5K). I got the honor of running as seventh man for the team on the Regional champion team, earning me my first varsity letter.
I got to go on to the Semi-State race, and I made my first (and biggest) running mistake ever: I went out wayyyy too fast. At about the 800m mark, I looked around and saw the elite runners of the state. Only. It was then that I realized I was running too fast. Shortly thereafter, I felt a burning pain in my hips, like nothing I had ever experienced, and I knew my race was over. I finished in about 100th place (out of something like 125 runners) - in my slowest time ever (though probably around what I run now as a PR!!!).