It was Sunday, the day before state, and I had just finished my last high school cross country practice. I went home right after practice to start getting ready for our state dinner. I’d been going to state dinners since my freshman year, and it was hard to believe it would be my last one. State dinner was always a fun time for the seniors, senior parents, and runners to get together one final time before the end of the season. I left for my teammate Ben Maas’s house for my last dinner. The Saints game was still on when we got there, so we watched it for a bit before eating. We finished watching the game through the beginning of dinner and had a great evening. Coach Dupe’s wife wouldn’t be able to travel to Natchitoches with us the next day, so it was the last opportunity I would have to see her before I ran. She gave me a few short words of encouragement before she left. Soon after, I headed home to get my final packing done and make sure I was ready to go.
When I got home, I gave Christian Johnson, my former teammate a call. I ended up talking with him for nearly an hour and a half, at which point he realized he had a Chemistry test and I had a meet to run in the next day. We talked about the season and caught up on how we were doing. He told me that the most important thing was to have fun. I of course knew that I would have fun, but his words really resonated me coming from one of the runners I have great respect for.
I woke up in the morning a little before 6:00 and quickly threw on my uniform and my shirt. I headed over to Go Physical Therapy so I could get my leg worked on for one last time before the race. I was suffering from a tendonitis injury that held me out of running for a couple of weeks and had been slowing me down for a while. I came home and finished getting ready and had a quick breakfast while I waited around for my sister to get ready to leave. We drove to Episcopal and started loading up the bus. Everyone who passed by from the parking lot on the way to school wished us luck and shared some words of encouragement. Around 8:00 we left EHS and got on the road to Natchitoches. The first cross country coach at EHS, Fr. Seger, tagged along with us on the way up. During the ride, I had a small lunch that included eating peanut butter with a spoon next to my teammate Ben Maas who’s allergic to peanuts, which was probably poor planning on my part.
We stopped off at a truck stop near Alexandria since the rest area that we normally stop at was closed. There wasn’t really anywhere for us to do a jog to loosen up our legs, so we ended up running a few circles around the parking lot dodging 18-wheelers and the horrible smelling dumpers in the back.
When we got to Natchitoches, it was nearly time for us to start warming up. After getting our unnecessarily large race numbers on, we headed off to do our warm-up. We went through the usual drills (after an extended debate about the direction we usually face to do them), did a little jogging, and then went to do some stretching. We didn’t really say much about the meet; we knew that we were ready. We headed back over to our team area to watch the 1A boys’ race. After they came around the field for the second time, we moved over to our meeting space with Coach Dupe for a prayer and a short talk before the race. We went back to our team area took off our shirts, adjusted our uniforms, and laced up our spikes. It was race time.
We jogged over to the starting line as former runners, current runners, parents, and coaches cheered. We did a few builds, told a few jokes, and shook a few hands. “On your marks! Set!” and then the gun, and I was off on the last state meet of my high school cross country career. I stuck to my pace for the first mile of the race, and then I started moving up when I came around the field for the second time. I slowly passed people throughout the mile to get into position to be leading at the two. I slowed down off my pace a little bit, but I was in the position I wanted to be in.
The last mile was a bit tough for me. In the latter part of the season, I had been struggling with the 3rd mile of my races, and this was no exception. But it was my last race and I wasn’t going to let one last mile stop me, so I pushed through it until I got to the track. Now, when I got on the track I felt like I was moving pretty well, but looking back on it, that was apparently not the case. I was doing more of a slow motion power walk instead of the fast sprinting I had hoped to do, but I still managed to get through to the end. I felt absolutely horrible, but I had won and done what I knew I needed to do for my team. I sat in the chair on the side of the finish line and tried to watch everyone else come in, but I only really saw splotches of light in an otherwise black field of view. The only thing I really remember was Coach Dupe shouting “I’m so proud of you!” over the fence. When the top 10 was announced I wandered over to the podium and climbed up it like I was climbing a rock wall. At some point when I was standing there, I started to realize exactly what was going on, especially when the Episcopal section erupted in cheering.
After the team awards were announced we went to take pictures, which took a bit longer than expected because teammate Ben Murrey was relatively unconscious. We then moved to the infield and had a quick prayer and a short discussion about the run before we left the gates to go back out and face everyone. I picked up the trophy and carried it out of the gates where I hugged Chuck Harlan and lots of other people. I carried it all the way back to the team area where everyone erupted in cheers when we arrived. My mind was racing with thoughts about cross country being over after seven years of relentless training, one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever experienced. We watched the girls run and I ran around as much as I could to cheer them on.
We had our post run party and cleaned up our team area. It was time to leave Natchitoches one last time. We loaded up the bus and I made sure to carry the trophy with me. After a hectic bus ride back, we pulled into the EHS parking lot. I carried the trophy off the bus and brought it straight into Coach Dupe’s office where it will live forever, and I closed the door to my last state meet. One thing was sure: I had fun.
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