The tingling sensation ran up and down my arms, claiming control of my body. My legs were dead weights, moving out of sheer momentum now, destined to stop in a matter of seconds. My knees were as wobbly as those of a baby taking her first few steps without her mother’s hand. No matter what I did, I could not seem to regain control of my body. It had a mind of its own and it had already succumbed to exhaustion.
Mind detached from body. Maybe I was dreaming? Despite every twist and turn of the trail, that magnificent lake remained in view. The rippling water looked like countless brushstrokes painted by an artist who had struggled for years to find the perfect blend of blues. And the trees. Rich greens that seemed to block out the sun and the rest of the world. . . . But this could not be a dream; dreams weren’t this painful.
“I can’t do this. I can’t keep going,” I thought as I tried to focus on Savannah’s feet in front of me. But as energy drained from my body, panic filled its place.
“I can’t do this.” This time, I said it out loud, as the edges of my vision began to blur. My voice was still fairly recognizable, but my heart was beating erratically. Partly from exerting such tremendous effort. Partly out of fear.
“Yes you can, Lauren!” Aryn smiled encouragingly as she dropped back to run with me.
“No . . . Aryn . . . I can’t. . . . I really can’t,” I somehow managed to reply. My heart was thudding against my chest and I struggled to control my breathing. My throat burned fiercely; it was parched and even swallowing provided no relief.
“I’m going to die.” The thought pushed me to the brink of hyperventilation. My legs ached, having already logged five miles earlier that morning, and my arms and fingers prickled.
“You can do it, Lauren! C’mon! You got it!” Savannah, Kelli, and Jenna called out in encouragement. Beside me, I caught a glimpse of Sarah’s attempt at a smile. She, too, was beyond exhaustion. But even glancing to my side took too much energy. I refocused my attention on Savannah’s feet in front of me. Left. Right. Left. Right. The distance between her feet and mine began to widen. I was falling behind.
“C’mon, Lauren! Keep up! You can do it! We’re almost there!” they called to me. What part of “I can’t do it” didn’t they understand? Though we were almost there (it was probably only an eighth of a mile back to our starting point at the edge of the lake), it seemed as though I wasn’t getting any closer. I was frozen in space; my legs were churning, but I was making no progress. Everyone else was silently chugging on, but my gas tank meter was pushing “E,” for empty.
“I . . . can’t . . . do . . . this . . .” Left. Right. Left. Right. We were so close. I could see all of the vans of our cross country caravan around the bend. One more curve, one more straightaway, and I would be done. But I would not make it. I could not make it. My body was done.
“C’mon, Lauren! You can do it!” my sister Shannon, urged me on. She was running sprightly at the front of the pack. She didn’t even look winded. Yet here I was, breaking down both mentally and physically only yards from the finish.
“NO! I CAN’T!” I screamed in the meanest, most desperate voice that has ever erupted from my mouth. I was hysterical. My voice cracked as I screamed and the chest-heaving sobs that followed only made breathing even harder. This was the critical moment. The moment in movies when the protagonist perseveres and the audience is moved to tears. The moment when I kept running and I finished. No matter how many times I replay this moment in my head, I will never know how I kept running. It is beyond comprehension.
Hunched over my legs, tears spilled onto the dusty ground. Sarah flopped her arm over my back and assumed the same hunched-over position.
“You did it,” Sarah sighed with an exhausted smile on her face. Those three words unleashed another gushing waterfall of tears. Had she told me that two minutes ago, I would have wanted to call her a liar and scream and yell, but now, I only wanted to wrap my arms around her and tell her I was sorry. Sorry that I was so selfish. Sorry that I was such a drama queen. While everyone else was silently enduring, I had to make a fuss. I hated myself for that.
“Sarah, I’m sorry,” I whispered as tears mixed with sweat and rolled off my cheeks, “I’m so, so sorry.” I knew what she was going to say before she said it.
“Why are you sorry? Why are you sorry, Lauren? What do you have to be sorry about? Believe me, I was dying. Everyone was dying. You’re too hard on yourself,” Sarah reprimanded me.
“I just feel so bad. Everyone else was working just as hard as I was, yet I had to be the one to break down. And I yelled at you guys when you were trying to help me. I feel like such a failure. And I really don’t want to disappoint Renee. She definitely won’t want someone so weak on her team, and I want to be on this team so badly, Sarah. I want it more than anything. I . . . ”
“No, no, no. Lauren, no. You are not a failure,” Sarah interrupted my rambling.
“Nobody’s a failure around here,” Renee came up behind us. When she saw my soaked face, Renee exclaimed, “Whoa, why the tears? You guys were awesome!”
“Renee, I’m so sorry!”
“Why on Earth are you sorry, Lauren?”
“Because…” I proceeded to spill everything out on our cool-down run. Renee listened thoughtfully and when I finally finished, she said, “Lauren, understand this. I can help you increase your speed and improve your endurance. That’s why I’m here. But I can’t coach drive. That is something coaches can only wish for in their athletes. And you, my dear, have drive. I could not ask for anything more. I am so proud.”
Later, back at our cabin, Annmarie nodded compassionately as I poured out my emotions.
“It was just so overwhelming. Part of me is crying because I wish I had held it together like everyone else during that speed workout, and part of me . . . well . . . part of me is crying because . . . oh, I’m just so overwhelmed. This is my dream, Annmarie. These people. This team. Training in Mammoth with the Mira Costa cross country team. I just can’t believe it’s actually real.”
A warm, thoughtful smile spread across Annmarie’s face. “And you know what, Lauren? I think it was a good thing that everyone got to see your flip-out today. The people you are with when you’re pushing past your threshold . . . ,” She paused, trying to find the right way to say it, “. . . those are the people who share the most intimate bond with you.”
When we rejoined the team in the living room, I could not help but think of a quote Shannon had shared with me before: “The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.” I had pushed beyond. And this was my reward. B
Author’s note: This is a true story about my experience during Mammoth Summer Training with the Mira Costa cross country team. ER
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