Stepping Up

English: C&O Canal in The Palisades neighborho...

English: C&O Canal in The Palisades neighborhood of Washington The canal is a National Historic Landmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sweat beads on Peter’s forehead, running down his cheek and dropping of his chin. He is on his ninth mile now in the summer heat. His lungs burn just a little, he has been pushing too hard, and his shins are starting to shout at him. Just three more miles and he is done for today. He does not think about finishing, the shower after, or getting on with his chores.

In this moment he is in the “zone.” Just aware enough of his surroundings to not get hit by a car or trip into a drainage ditch. Nothing else matters, just pounding the pavement. One mile, then a second, then a third, until he has spent his morning exploring the villages and towns around his without looking. The canal trail is the best, where he can just lose himself in the distance.

Every day is like this. Training for hours. He came so close last year, just missing the cut to go to states. He wants it, more than anything he has ever wanted. His dad told him he needed to get a job if he wanted a car, so Peter decided he would just walk everywhere, and ride the bus to school. A few odd jobs give him spending money, no time for more than that when there is only time to train.

Deep into his groove now, he is not even thinking about winning now. No, the only thing now is the mountain of time. Time he has to eat up and whittle down. Too much time. He needs to make it smaller. He needs to improve, just like coach said. “Do a little better each time, that is all I ask.” So Peter does. One day at a time, one mile at a time, one hill at a time, and one interval at a time. Each exercise and each meal chosen to make himself better.

He does not know what winning the state title will get him. Cross country runners are not the most popular athletes in school. He just wants it, to show himself he can, and maybe see his name in print. Maybe one of the few schools that offer scholarships for distance runners will notice. Maybe he will just keep running. Maybe nothing else matters.

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