It has been almost 50 years since that day. I rarely ever think about it now and it doesn’t haunt me every waking moment. But when my therapist started talking about self-esteem, this story popped into my head.
When I think about not running the race, things get complicated.
I remember the day clearly. I was in 9th grade and ran the ½ mile on the track team. We had a meet that afternoon. My school was hosting the meet, so no bus ride to get there. All we had to do was suit up in the locker room which was adjacent to the track.
When I woke up that morning, I was sick. Not “projectile vomiting” sick, but a slight fever, achy, beginnings of a sore throat sick. Not wanting to miss school, or the track meet, I was getting ready to go to school. I never wanted to miss school. There was just too much to do to stay at home.
In fact, several years later, a friend and I drove 2 ½ hours to see a musical, meeting a teacher and some of my classmates for an 8 PM curtain. We were going to be performing that musical at our high school and this was a chance to see it live. By the time the show was over and we returned home, it was about 4:30 AM.
Guess who was the only one that made it to school 3 hours later?
Even the teacher who drove some of the students called out. I didn’t know that everyone else wasn’t going to be in school after being out most of the night. I just knew it was time to go to school and I went.
Getting back to the morning of the track meet, there was never any question in my mind when I woke up that I was going to school. And, there wasn’t any question when I woke up about running that afternoon. I was already looking forward to coming home after the track meet and just hanging out.
And then someone talked to me.
Since this is my blog and my story, I’m going to tell it this way. I heard that “if I was sick, I should not race” that afternoon. It would be better for me to come home and not go to the track meet. That’s what I heard.
As I am hearing this, I also hear the beeping of a VW horn.
My ride is in the driveway. I had dated a girl whose brother was an upperclassman. My relationship with his sister didn’t work out, but I became very good friends with her older brother. This led to my having a daily ride to school instead of having to ride the bus.
So, I grabbed my books and headed out the door.
In homeroom, I had this nagging feeling I should go home. But I never went to the school nurse and I did not go home. I always toughed it out. Plus, there was a track meet after school. And while class was going on, I kept thinking back to what I heard about not running if I was sick. I had decided that morning that I was going to run. I had woken up with that plan in mind. But I can’t get this other idea out of my head.
By the fifth period, which was lunch for me, I was feeling a little better. I am not hungry, so I play spades in the lunchroom with some of my friends. I don’t eat, which backfires later as I begin to feel achy and sick after lunch is over. I do alright in spades, winning enough to make me feel good. The bell rings and I’m back in class.
Eventually, the final bell rings. There are closing announcements over the PA system. There is a reminder about the cafeteria menu changes for tomorrow and then we are dismissed. As other students head for the busses, I head for the locker room. I had already told my friend I would be staying for the track meet.
This meant that after the track meet, I would have to wait for the activity bus to get home.
I never liked the activity bus. Mostly, because my town seemed to always be one of the last stops. There were several communities much closer. After we would wind through these neighborhoods, then we would finally head towards my street. This was fall, so I would get home before dark, but not too much before.
The locker room was already chaotic when I arrived.
Trash talk and banter was being thrown around, along with towels and jock straps. The coaches had already headed out to the field, so there was no adult supervision or direction. Everyone just got dressed, in their own time, and headed out to the track.
I had been piddling along, slowly changing from my school clothes into my track uniform. I had saved my lawn mowing money and had bought a pair of “real” running shoes. They were only to be used on the track. The shoes had ridges on the entire sole for better traction and were super thin. I was proud of those shoes.
After putting on my socks, I finally got my track shoes on. I spent a lot of time fiddling with the laces, making sure they were just right. I didn’t want them to come untied during the race. Then I looked around to see who was left.
I was alone in the locker room.
It was at that moment that I heard a voice in my head say “if I was sick, I should not race.” What the hell? I was planning to run; I woke up planning to run. I stayed in school. I didn’t go home. I went to the locker room and got dressed for the track meet. I was committed to running. So why am I thinking about this?
Why am I sitting in the locker room?
The locker room windows are those small, narrow casement type windows that open out. They are above the lockers so no one can see into the locker room. But because the locker room faces the track, you can hear pretty much everything that is going on out on the field.
For track meets, our coaches have bull horns to announce the events. You can hear this very clearly from the locker room. And the starter’s pistol for each race used .22 caliber blanks. These starting shots always exploded across the field and echoed inside the locker room with a loud report.
I heard the sprints being called, then the 440. The 440 was a ¼ mile, a single lap around the track. It was a full out sprint. Very demanding.
I knew my race was going off after the 440.
Mine was the ½ mile. Two lapses around the track. You had to have a plan; you couldn’t just go all out. But that was always my role, to go all out for the first lap.
The year I ran track, we had a senior who was winning state titles in the ½ mile. I found out on the first day of track season that my job was going to be to set the pace for the race. I would sprint the first 440, then our senior would take off from there.
Usually, the other runners would try to keep up with me and would be spent when our star senior would take off on the second lap. Did I mention he won state championships?
I am still in the locker room, listening for my race to be announced.
In the back of my mind, I am still hearing that voice saying to me, “if I was sick, I should not race.” Why was I still thinking that? Why wasn’t I out on the track warming up? I’m dressed, I have my special track shoes on.
Why am I not out there?
And then I hear my race, the ½ mile, the 880-yard race being announced. I am thinking that if I ran out of the locker room now, I could get to the starting line before it begins. While this sounds like a plan, I am not moving. I am still sitting on the bench, fully dressed in my track uniform, with my special shoes.
CRACK! I hear the starter’s gun go off. My race is being run.
My head goes down. I stand up and open my locker. Slowly, I get out of my track uniform and take off my special running shoes. I put everything in my gym bag and put on my street clothes. I put my lock into the bag and walk out of the locker room.
I use the inside hallways of the school to get to where I will catch the activity bus. It turned out there was an early bus, so I was able to get on the bus and slide down into one of the seats. I didn’t have to wait another 1 ½ hours for the late bus and hear about not running from any of my friends.
I’m sure it must have taken forever, as usual, for the bus to get to my street. But I cannot remember thinking about that. The ride home was a blur.
All I could hear the whole way home was, “if I was sick, I should not race.”
Please leave your comments as I continue on my journey.