I was standing on the starting line. I was forcing the breath out of my nose. I looked down the line. So many bodies. “What are you doing, Nicky?” I thought to myself. I slowed my breathing. In. Out. In. Out. “God, give me your peace. I need your peace.” I breathed in the words. I released them into the air like a promise.
The starter walked to the center of the field. On one sleeve was the orange flag. He slowly raised his right arm into the air. I got into my starting stance. His left arm went up, and there was the gun. My muscles flexed into ready position. His gun didn’t fire. I relaxed. Bounced a little to shake out my legs.The starter lifted his right arm. Then his left. Nothing from the gun. I was getting antsy now.
The orange went up, then the gun. Smoke was followed by a loud crack that broke the silence, and I felt my body forced into motion. The hardest part was almost over. Coach Med said top 20. Coach Med said top 20. Coach Med said top 20. The issue of the start was that 200+ girls needed to go from an entire field into a 6-foot wide trail. Position is key. Vital. Almost everything that matters is the start of a race, at least that’s how it feels when you’re there. If you start out too far back, chances are strong that you’ll never catch back up. If you start out too fast, your last mile will probabably be ugly to watch, and torture to run.
I tried to count the girls in front of me, but I decided that all the bobbing ponytails looked like 15-20 girls. We hit our 6-foot trail in the right position. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and let my body relax.
“Everyone here?” A chorus of three yes’s. I had my girls who have been with my on the best and the worst of days. They have undoubtedly seen me cry. They have been with me through countless injuries and setbacks. My girls have often given me the strength to finish the hardest of workouts. There is no peace like the comfort of a teammate who has been through it all, running next to you in the chaos.
Together, our feet pushed us down the winding course, through the trees, into puddles, and on the occasional sharp turn. Every nerve that had been on edge at the line had long ago dissipated.
I don’t remember the scenery of the course. If you took me back on it, I couldn’t tell you the route. I could tell you that I remember that rock, the one I had stepped over. I could tell you I remember the color of the flags that were my distraction as my calves burned up that steep hill. I could tell you the faces I saw cheering for me, but I can’t usually hear the words coming out of their mouths.
I could tell you that I love everything about this sport. I love the desperation to finish. I love the nervousness to start. I love the jitters. I love the setbacks, the faith, the improvements, the pain, the exhilaration.
I love the relationships I have built. I love the growing I have done as a runner, as a believer, and as a person.