With the warm afternoon sun shimmering off the leaves still hanging golden, red, and yellow, no one wished the race had been run Saturday. A conference championship in frigid conditions and several inches of wet snow would not have been ideal. We were grateful the postponement gave us near perfect conditions on the first day of November.
We trained hard for this day. Fast intervals on the track, miles of trails, and up and over mountains prepared the kids for this tough, hilly course. The conference meet is always hard-fought and we expected nothing different this year.
The men's gun sounded first. Trey, my consistent number one runner, ran with a specific plan. Only one of these opponents had beaten him before. But that prior defeat was just what my runner needed. The loss had festered for some time, every workout focused on righting the wrong. His plan was to be patient until halfway up a mile-long climb. If his nemesis was close, Trey was going to pull away in a definitive surge. He intended to break this other runner despite it being his home course. Cresting that hill, he would fly down the other side before tackling another uphill to the finish. The plan worked perfectly. Trey claimed the championship by a substantial margin. Teammate, Ike, crossed the line in fifth place and, along with Trey, earned all-conference honors. The men's team placed second in a strong field of eleven. It was a great start to a great day.
The women's race was an epic battle. Though the course was novel, we studied it beforehand and trained specifically for the terrain. War raged early as a tight pack of four of my runners and an opponent lead the way. Close behind, another pack of red-uniformed runners from another school ran in hot pursuit. They rounded the bend and ran out of view to fight their way up the mountain and back again. When they returned, a red-uniformed runner lead the way. But it wasn't the red of our uniforms. Abby, my runner, trailed by fifty yards across a flat. But a steep gravel hill in the last half-mile started to break the leader. You could see it in her face; the pain, the strain. She clutched her side and fought back tears. Abby dug deep and gained ground. Toward the top of the hill, our eyes locked. She was within ten yards of the struggling runner. "Abby. This is your day. I know you can chase her down. Go! Go!" Her eyes turned back and locked onto her prey. Abby was the hungry lioness chasing down the tiring gazelle.
With that, I raced off cutting the corner to the finish line. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Abby take the lead on the final grassy ascent to the finish. She held her position for those two-hundred yards, placing her name in the record books as the 2011 conference champion. But there was another race behind her.
Rebecca was at her breaking point. Her race plan was an aggressive one that I fully supported. I knew there was a chance she would blow up. Nevertheless, I was confident she could handle the physical and mental stress. When she came across the line, she was pale, legs wobbling and no longer trust-worthy. It was all she could do to emerge from the finish shoot on her own power. Then, down she went. She had raced herself right into the abyss, a frightening place few runners dare go. Recovery was long and difficult but she was rewarded with the fifth place all-conference honor. Behind her, sister Carolyn captured eight place and Jami, tenth, to round out the all-conference team. Their efforts earned them the team conference championship.
Well done, Liberty Christian Academy. Well done.