Getting Back Up After Paper Cups


800 meters does not seem that bad. It's two laps around the track. I have run over 52 times that on a few occasions. Yet if you're running in an 800 meter race then it's a brutal beast. It's not a sprint and not a distance event but rather some unholy offspring of that pair. You run as hard as you can for two laps and then basically pass it out. It is a stupid race. But it was my stupid race in high school.

This evening, EA and I took the boys to the Spartanburg County Track Meet to watch a few of her students race. The event was held on the same track as the County Meet was when I ran in it a decade and a half ago. I love track meets and it is even more fun explaining the different events to our sons (when they're still). The whole thing was a tidal wave of nostalgia, but one thought occurred to me several times as we sat on the grassy hill above the track.

"I threw up a lot on that infield." 

There are still glimpses in my mind's eye of running the 4x800 meter relay on that black track. I remember slowly taking off while looking back for my teammate to hand me the baton. I remember the dull metallic thunk of the baton being pressed in my hand. The sound changes. The world around turns into white noise. It's just my feet hitting the track as fast as they ever have. And it's my lungs pulling and pushing oxygen the best that it can. The rest of the world would come back twice: when my coach called my split at the end of the first lap and in the homestretch of the final lap.

I can tell you that the backstretch--the second hundred meters of the track--seems like the other side of the world. It seems desolate, depopulated. The wind blows in your face there. I remember digging in the final turn, its curve like a slingshot that propelled me for that last stretch. I remember seeing my teammate reaching out, ready to run their leg. I remember my utter conviction that I would not be passed. I remember stretching out. My right arm temporarily becomes elastic as it places the baton in his hand as he runs away. And then I would stagger into the infield.

The County Meet Coda was that during both my sophomore and junior year, I would eventually drop onto all fours and begin vomiting. Not just once, but multiple times. I would throw up, think I was okay, walk around a bit more, and then throw up again elsewhere. At some point, my dad came down on the infield to make sure I was okay. He began to follow me around and put paper cups over the spots where I booted so none of the other athletes warming up on the infield would slip in my yak. As a result, paper cups littered the infield.

This so defined my experiences at County Meet that one of my stated goals at the outset of my senior year is that I would not throw up at County (and I was successful; "Vomited None in '01"). Besides decorating the field with my innards, the other by-product was that my junior year I didn't run my other race: the 800 meters (I didn't run the event in County as a sophomore). I didn't feel like I could do it. Or perhaps I was too scared. Being sick like that is a violent thing. One does not want to willingly submit themselves to something like that.

Except one time. The only other time I threw up after a race was the 4x800 at the Region Meet in my junior year. Different track, but same story. The metallic thunk. The sound of footfall and breathing. The homestretch. The elastic arm. The stagger. The throwing up and my dad with the paper cups.

Yet this time, I decided to run my other race. I wish I could remember why. I don't know if it was something my coach, dad, or a teammate said. I don't know if I was simply done being beaten by the paper cups. But a hour or so later, I lined up with the other 800 runners and ran my race. It was not one of my better races. Not even close. I felt like crap. But I ran it and, to my surprise, I didn't throw up afterwards.

The next week at practice I was named one of the Athletes of the Meet by my coach. The reason being that I didn't give up when I easily could have. Of course by Region the team is whittled down a good bit and the really good athletes have already won Athlete of the Meet. Even still, that was a proud moment for an introverted nerd like myself and it taught me a lesson. A lesson that I am sad to say that I sometimes forget.

There are times in life when you try your absolute best and are simply laid low. They are moments in which paper cups absolutely litter the infield of our lives. It would be incredibly easy to not go on, to call it a day. No one would blame you. But if you get up and decide to keep going, you might find perseverance inside of you that you did not know existed. And even if you feel like crap as you press forward, remembering that strength will serve you well in the long run.


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