My last high school cross country race will be a memory I treasure forever. I have never experienced pain like that, pushed myself that hard, or raced with such incredibly talented people. The day of the race we woke up at around 6:15 to repeat the familiar ritual of packing bags, checking spikes, and -- for me -- eating a bagel, but with tremendously higher stakes and expectations.
Seeing other phenomenal runners like my fellow South teammates, the girls who went out in a blistering 5:09 first mile, and the pro athletes inspired me for my race and put into perspective the greatness of our sport and the heights people will push themselves to. After warming up on a crushed gravel loop that brought me back to mile reps in Webb Bridge Park and Piedmont Park, we watched the girls' dramatic finish, spiked up, then headed to the start line.
Every step getting to that start line seemed so natural, but standing on a bright orange starting block with a bright orange singlet brings both an existential sense of importance and yet also a feeling that this was right where I wanted to be. The race started fast, in a dense, single pack that made seeing the sharp turns and varying terrain difficult to see and react to.
Once the pack loosened up enough to have some room, I settled into the pace fairly well… until the hill at mile one. That hill disrupted any kind of rhythm or confidence in me, and began the really intense struggle within. Then the downhill replaces the struggle of climbing up with jarring speed and impacts. After that, the pace and smaller hills became a real struggle to maintain, my only thought was to hold on to whatever place I was in. Climbing the hill a second time gave me tunnel vision, lactic legs, and put me in survival mindset. The rest is a blur for me, until the finish where I barely eeked out some kind of kick.
On the wall of my room is a quote from the founder of the modern Olympic games: "The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle." In that light, I am completely satisfied with my race in that I struggled as hard as I could, and ever have. After the race, we suffered through pictures and cool down, both of which were repeatedly interrupted by people throwing up.
After taking a long shower and laying down for a few hours, a big group of us ran back and forth between the ocean, where we got thrown around by the biggest waves I have even seen, and the hot tub, which had way too many people in it. Even with a chipped tooth from the surf, it was one of the most fun times I have ever had. Then we went to the dinner banquet where we laughed through the night at things like one guy breaking a glass and the embarrassing race pictures.
John earns Foot Locker All American status with 17th place finish
I am so grateful to my parents, coaches, teammates, and so many more for supporting, encouraging, and mentoring me to get to this point. Running may largely be an individual sport in that you must push yourself, but my reliance on other people could not be understated. I'll look forward to watching the livestream of Justin Wachtel and other Georgia athletes at Foot Locker Nationals next year!