What defines a “good” race? Is it a fast time, achieving some gold standard of pain, or even catching the eye of a local Deptford resident? Whatever your response may be, it is subjective to say the least. Everyone applies their own standards to performances, making it nearly impossible to formulate some blanket statement response. However, I can say with near certainty I know what a “good” race looks like.
The team has scraped themselves off their comfy mattresses onto our not so luxurious school bus. We trek across US-30 East, stopping only to alleviate the bladder of an unnamed individual. The sun is baking the tears of junior high racers onto the pavement by the time we arrive at the acclaimed Cherokee High School. Tents are set up and port-a-potties are s(p)oiled. Nerves have begun to sink in. Tension grows as the freshmen battalion creeps closer and closer to their moment. Bibs are tacked and chips are tied. We conclude the warm-up, dynamics, and strides. The hay is in the barn. The boys are ready..
The strategy is simple: go out hard, settle in the first mile, and rip the latter half. Our comrade, KV, feeling light as a feather, knew what had to be done. He got out hard, then harder, and harder. He came bolstering through a quarter mile, reeking havoc amongst his noobish competitors. He had is game face dialed in, as well as a suicide pace. I quickly obtained a spectating position at mile one. I waited as the frosh boys streamed past me, trying to pick out purple in a mass of frenzy. I eventually locked in on him- he had followed through. Same pace. Same face. We made sweet, sweet eye contact, and he took off. The rest is history. Shiv ripped it, gripped it, then ripped it again until he crossed the line. He never quit. That, however, was the minimum for Shiv. He needed more, and he knew he was only one man for the job.
Looks can be deceiving, very rarely are they not. Zeke Rein proved this to be undoubtedly true. Create a race strategy then execute- the chalk plan for a “good” race. I could lecture Zeke about the hills, when to push, and when not to. It clearly did not matter. The man had one goal- stick with Owen Kelly. The matchup we had all anticipated was falling right into the clutches of Mr. Rein. They were together through half a mile, yet when Owen breached the mile mark, Zeke was 15 strides back. I ordered him to catch Owen to which he managed,” I can’t”. It was the most rancid load of B.S. I had ever come across. Why? Because Zeke was latched onto Owen two minutes later. Did it matter that Zeke had already dumped “everything” he had on that hill? Not at all. He found more than what he thought there was, and in turn created a masterpiece of a race. What at first looked to be a shot in the dark gone rogue, transformed into a courageous effort.
Our final race of Cherokee that will gain some attention is that of Owen Monson. Owen is no stranger to total domination. Out of millions of players, he is ranked 250th in the world for the popular video game Overwatch, involving aquiring targets in a co-op environment. On the cross country course, however, Owen is fairly new. This being his second race ever, the focus was on putting out a solid effort; do just that and the race will be “good”. I waited at the quarter mile. Alas, he came through. He was maintaining a strong pace, yet we both knew there was more. I dashed to my staked spot at one mile. In a group of four or five, Owen bolted up the hill. He was moving faster than before with the same game face as always. I yelled at him to accelerate- pass his competitors in that group. I did not know if he received the message, and if he did, would he do it? Two minutes later, I was given the answer. Near the bottom of the hill crest towards the mile and a quarter mark, he had put on a 50 meter gap. I sped off to the 1.75 mile mark. Now 100 meter ahead of his once worthy group, he increased his speed up the final hill. Over the course of a week, Owen had put down a finishing time of 90 seconds faster per mile between his first and second career race. No longer just a gamer on the desktop, but on the green, too.
You know a “good” race when you see one. Gritted teeth, clenched fists, and some mean turnover. That is PHX Cross Country. We are the Punishers. You see it on our shirts, our flags, and most importantly, how we carry ourselves. Our races look good because we care. We run for effort and not time. We run for each other. So as the season marches on, and you see Purple come whizzing down the back straight, you know we are up to no good.