Second Thoughts....

I ran cross country in high school and I know how tough it can be. I was never a great runner. I just ran because it was the only co-ed sport and I used it as training to get in shape for other sports. The following essay reminded me of it all, and also kind of reminds me how I feel at the end of a cyclocross race; defeated and exhausted. Have a read....

By Oliver Davies of Viking
The clock reads 4:24. Four minutes, 24 seconds into the most painful run of my life. 36 seconds left. 36 seconds to break five minutes in the mile.

If all the sub-five minute milers in America were to come together to promote breaking this difficult milestone, I have a feeling I might just be the spokesman for their campaign. I can almost see it now, big billboards and posters put up all over cities, buses and sports arenas with a picture of me, with a big caption underneath reading, "If he can do it, anyone can!"

I am a runner, but by no stretch of the imagination do I consider myself elite. I haven't been blessed with a body like Usain Bolt or Steve Prefontaine, but I've ran cross-country for the last four years, and have made do with my God-given talent (or lack thereof.) As this year's season came to a close, I decided I would aim to do what I never thought possible, and judging by the gaping expression on the faces of my peers, what they never thought possible either: breaking five minutes in the mile.

With a team of seniors, (plus one cocky junior Varun Kohli,) I warmed up that fateful Wednesday, aware that whether or not I broke five minutes, I'd either fail embarrassingly, or pass out on the track, unable to revel in my glory.

Conditions were perfect. The temperature was around 60 degrees, no wind. The fans packed the stands to cheer us on. In retrospect, they might have been there for the soccer game: it's still unclear. As runners lined up on the track, the silence was unbearable.

Before I knew it, the watch had started, and there we were, 200 meters into the most painful 1600 meters of my life. If everything went according to plan, adrenaline would take me a lap into the race, while the last three would be dependent on guts and pain tolerance. So why was it hurting already thirty seconds in?

Panic hit me like an egg on Freshman Friday. Thoughts like "Should I just get it over with and drop out now?" and "This could be a bigger fail than Michigan's football season," went racing through my head. Considering I had organized the race, I now had a pack of angry runners going after not only the five-minute mile, but me as well.

Like a bad dream that wouldn't end, I found myself at the end of the first lap, 3/4 of a mile left. My quadriceps were ripping apart as I strained through the first lap. The pack pushed on. I focused on sticking with proper mechanics and kept telling myself that in less than four minutes, I would be home free.

Jeff Billing, Paly's former boys' cross-country coach, used to repeat one thing throughout his infamous motivational speeches: your body can handle so much more than your mind believes. Herein lays the motivation of running, of stressing the body far past the peak of exhaustion: to see whether you can break the body-mind disconnect.

Two laps in, I honestly thought I could.

Pain moved past my legs and engulfed my entire body. The pack was falling apart, but I didn't dare turn around fearing what lay behind may only discourage my efforts to move forwards. Regardless, I pushed on.

In miler's folklore, the third lap serves to destroy every personal record, every shot at glory, and provide an immeasurable amount of pain before the final adrenaline rush kicks in at the finish. I strove to push on the third lap, but found myself helplessly slipping away from the steady pacer, cross-country coach John Welsh, as I closed in on the last 600 meters, one and a half laps left.

I had all but given up on my hopes of breaking five as the fourth and final lap came around. I knew it would take a miracle. 300 meters left and my legs were numb. Then, as I passed the halfway point, with half a lap left, my coach screamed "36 seconds left!" 36 seconds. Just like that, the dream was once again alive.

In those 200 meters, I don't think I've ever tried harder. With 100 meters left, the race became an all out sprint. Desperately trying to catch the lead man, I've almost got him.

Five seconds. Four seconds. This is my last shot. I sprint, no, I tumble, I collapse, through the finish line.

Lying on the ground, with my heart pounding like it might just give up and stop altogether, the timer reads the final time from his watch: