Meditations from Carrollton You stand at the season's final exam in Carrollton and it is very comprehensive. The road wasn't easy - coronavirus cancellations, Georgia mixed weather, and the typical drama of any season all lined up to take its tolls.
Still, you are there, after your team aced its way through PRs at the Asics Invitationals and the Coach Woods of the world - the kids bragged about their times, wore their medals like muscles before assemblies, wrote their times in ink as another goal to top.
As for now, though, you stand below Separation Slope, and both of those S's are capitalized for a reason. It's 17 steps for the record - only 17 - but during that trek that must be made twice is where dreams are made and dreams go to fade.
You remember one runner - about to win a state title - who never recovered, and when he collapsed before starting up the final hill you don't recall ever willing somebody forward more strenuously. You called on Jesus and even greats from other religions, offered silently to sacrifice the allotted three goats - but none got that wonderful soul back up again.
Carrollton - where you don't leave there the same person you were when you arrived - at least you don't if you have the guts to do it right. You toss and turn not only the night before but the week before because you remember it was right THERE where that girl passed you or it was THAT spot where you overtook that kid. Go easy on yourself if you didn't excel, by the way. It means you qualified, to begin with, you persevered, and the fact that you can't sleep means you simply give a damn.
It was over there where a co-coach and friend danced in front of the scorer's table - he pulled the results off the computer before they were even declared unofficial. He'd survived an illness and his first test back in life was the adrenaline of Carrollton and that slope thing again and all those hills.
It was over here you celebrated with your girls once - they got in a puppy huddle and face timed an alum, a master's grad of the Carrollton Course, and your school. She had already conquered state individually, knew the feeling of breaking that sacred tape, but her team had never known that, so when she answered her phone and saw her state champ teammates breaking the news, she put her hands over her face and she cried.
You were in that huddle; you did, too. You see, you don't leave Carrollton unscathed, nor should you. If you do, you didn't do it right, and when you get in your car and drive away, the bigger the knot in your stomach the better you did, regardless of the results.
There's another spot that hits home - right there behind the start and below the porta-a-johns. One of your runners heard the good news and lost it on the spot. You congratulated her with a quick hug - she with happy tears and you realize you had a hand in it.
It was the Picture That Was Never Taken, in your eyes, and that's too bad because pictures don't just say 1,000 words, they also climb into your very soul sometimes, follow you when you shop and go to movies and try to sleep.
You remember approaching seven boys at the starting line once, trying to inject your adrenaline from the past 14 years. "Is there any place else you'd rather be?" you scream. You'll never forget one kid - that sophomore - who thought about that for a moment before answering, "Well, I hear New Zealand is nice this time of year."
Okay, it wasn't what you were looking for, but why shouldn't funny things happen in Carrollton, too? Adrenaline, after all, comes out in oh so many ways, and at the strangest of times.
So, now you're back on the bus and this time there are no state banners to raise, the top rung of the podium denied. Still, your body is in the second row but your spirit is still out there, yelling at those beautiful souls to climb those 17 steps, not to get caught up in the too-fast start, stay strong for the second loop.
The season is over now, but it's not. It's really not.
Because there are memories of laughing and crying and dancing and face timing loved ones. There are podium steps climbed and podium steps denied. There are ankles twisted, runners collapsing, happy and sad tears.
And there's a JPEG in your skull - of a photo that was never taken - therefore leaving Carrollton is never a wait till next year - not really - because with everything that happens, there is so much forever imprinted into your skull.
And it is exactly those pictures that serve as connect-the-dot memories that drive you back - one day, and one training run at a time.
See you next year...