Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: That cross country nostalgia hits different

<p>Runners do their final stretches Sept. 3, 2022, as they prepare to race at the Harrison Invitational in West Lafayette. Even though Isabella Vesperini hasn&#x27;t run a cross country race since high school, she still gets emotional at meets.</p>

Runners do their final stretches Sept. 3, 2022, as they prepare to race at the Harrison Invitational in West Lafayette. Even though Isabella Vesperini hasn't run a cross country race since high school, she still gets emotional at meets.

T-minus five minutes until the start of the race.  

You could hear the runners' feet hit the uneven grass as they did their final runouts. You could see the distinct watch tan lines on their wrists from 100 yards away. Sweat glistened off their foreheads from the humidity. 

Some laughed with their teammates, perhaps trying to get their mind off the fact that, in less than five minutes, they’d be stuck in the middle of a race. Others cast their eyes down, stuck in their racing mindset. They prepared themselves for the five kilometers ahead of them, accepting their fate head-on. 

There were a mix of purple, black, red and green jerseys. They had bibs pinned to their jerseys. 505. 909. 711.  

Coaches gave the runners a few final lines of advice. There were no smiles. 

On the outside, the crowd murmured in excitement as they waited. I wasn’t even running, and I grew nervous. I could feel butterflies in my stomach –– prerace nerves. I hadn’t run a high school cross country race for years. And yet I felt like I was about to run a 5k. 

All of a sudden, I felt my eyes start to water. I felt sad and nostalgic. I didn’t miss the stress of racing, but I missed the excitement and thrill of feeling good in a race. I missed the adrenaline you get when you’re competing and fighting for a better place or a personal best time.  

I remember doing strides leading up to the race, thinking “Gosh, I’m already so tired, how am I going to keep this pace up for three miles?” I’d pour water over my head, preparing for how hot I was going to get over the course of the race. I remember double tying my pink New Balance spikes and tucking the laces in, trying to avoid losing a shoe. If I did, it was over. 

I remember huddling up with my team before a race, listening avidly to the coach’s directions.  

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“Keep your eyes up,” she’d say. “Surge every now and then. Don’t let anyone pass you in the final stretch.” 

I got more choked up as the runners lined up at the start line. This used to be the worst part of the race, even worse than the hills. Worse than when you hit the 4k mark and felt like giving up and dying right there on the spot.  

The course looked intimidating. This is when everyone would do their final stretches. Some were jumping up and down to keep their legs warm, like I used to do.  

“When you see the flag drop and hear the gun go off, that is the start of the race. If you hear a second gun, that means a runner has fallen. We will restart the race.”  

The starter put down his megaphone and put the whistle to his lips.  

Every runner stepped up to the line.  

A blur of neon yellow, grey and orange spikes flew off the ground as the gun went off. I could see the top of my brother’s head as he started. His eyes were trained forward, trying not to trip or hit anyone. 

I followed him throughout the race, like I did at any other meet. I cheered him on, not caring if I was too loud or enthusiastic or annoying. Because even though I’m on the outside now, I know what it’s like to be on the inside. To be in pain and wishing it was all over. To want to reach that person ahead of you. To fight.  

You never lose that passion, even after you’ve stopped racing. It stays inside of you and lets you know it’s still there. It slaps you in the face every single time, makes you cry and reflect on how things used to be.  

All that time and energy I put into practice strengthened my overall mindset. Every second I spent on a workout, race and long run were worth it. It built my determination and grit. It taught me how to be committed and hardworking — not just in running, but with other things like schoolwork. It helped me have more faith in my capabilities. 

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All six years I competed in cross country paid off because by the end of it, I cultivated a love for running so strong that it became a part of who I am.  

And that love will never disappear.  

Isabella Vesperini (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and minoring in Italian.

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