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Trail Run by Eliza Petersen

artwork by Livy Crandall


I take a deep breath as my foot collides with the ground, my first step of thousands on this crisp September morning. The soft dirt of the trail welcomes my footfalls as it has many times before, guiding my feet over the dips and curves in front of me. The rest of the girls fall into place behind me, matching my pace. Our voices begin to filter through the trees carrying our joyful spirits high into the air, though there is no one to receive them on these deserted trails.

There are six miles worth of dirt bike trails at Westbrook, and today we’ll be running all of them. To most, this may seem like a difficult feat to accomplish especially on the confusing twists and turns of the thin, shrub-lined trails. However, for my team, we know every dip, curve, fallen tree, and strange patch of thick uneven rock slabs that call for little leaps and strong ankles.

Somehow, I was the chosen leader on these runs and my desire to stay in that position pushes me forward. I want to be a good example like past teammates were for me. It’s a desire that pushes energy through my legs as I charge the small hill before me. I call out a loose stick on the ground in hopes that none of my teammates will become its unlucky victim, muddying their legs so early in the run. I stride out on the downhill, eyes glued to the ground for fear of slipping. I take a deep breath. I’ve got this.

The steady pounding of feet combines with the rushing of green around me, unearthing three years of memories that I have pounded deep into this very trail. I imagine that if I dug deep enough, somewhere under the mud, those footprints would lie. Instead, I smile at the sky, thanking God for this beautiful morning. The cool breeze chills my skin as the occasional glimpse of warm morning sun kisses my flushed face. As I look around, eyes wide with joy or perhaps adrenaline, it is hard to make out the outline of any distinct plant. I try to take it all in. I try to remember it all in the seconds it takes for me to rush by. Striding out, I meet the next curve with a burst of speed. The strong scents of fall greenery that would typically fill my head with fog, inducing a headache, now go unnoticed, seemingly only adding to the high of the moment.

I feel aching above my knees, begging me to stop but simultaneously urging me forward, to go faster, push harder. To maintain my pace, I retreat to my head letting the tangled thoughts and loose song lyrics hide the pain. Inside my head, there is little pain felt amidst the millions of thoughts and memories that dance around my head to distract me. Though there is no pain here, there is also no recognition of the beautiful moment I am in. Chatter from behind pulls me out of the trance I have entered, I remember I am not alone. Seven girls trail behind me, our conversations and jokes scattered across topics and intensity. They always seem to circle back to one topic, the many memories we have of us together on these trails.

I flashback to my first time on the trails. I had been running the roads all summer and was excited for a change of scenery. I was running by myself and three miles in, I was lost. In a flurry of fear and confusion, I ran the trail forward and back trying to find help or a way out. Tears coming up to meet my eyes, I was scared and alone. Flustered and tired, I had no more will to run. Reluctantly, I pushed on. Now, as my legs tingle with lactic acid, oxygen long since used up, that memory keeps me humble. I feel responsible for the safety and well-being of my new freshman and the other new girls. In return, I feel their enthusiasm and love keeping me going though my body is tiring. I am glad we have each other.

My foot collides with something solid, round and brownish green in color; I recognize the familiar nut, a walnut. I gasp at the weight of it against my foot as I stride forward. A giggle slips out from one of the girls behind me as I assure them, this time, I am ok. This little mishap incites a series of stories of our past trips and scraps, battle scars of our hard work.

Four and a half miles in, we only have one trail left before we are done. No longer are all the girls right behind me, some needing to slow, but I run peacefully knowing none of them left without a partner and a goodbye. Now, I do wish to stop, to walk. To maybe look at some flowers or sit on a decomposing bench surrounded by trees. The girls behind would likely stop with me, understanding and also tired. Instead, I push on. I don’t want to subtract from their run by causing them to stop, allowing the intoxicating buzz to come to a halt only to have to find the strength to start up again. No, I allow my human need for success push me forward carrying my chilled, aching legs onward.

I close my eyes, breathing in and out, oxygen flooding my lungs as my foot leaves the soft trails and collides again with the pavement. An hour of running and now I only have 200 meters left. Phrases of encouragement flow out of our mouths carrying all our weary bodies forward, the pavement unmoving under the quick thuds of our feet. I have done it; I led my team through six miles, holding our pace and showing them the way. After an hour of my body in constant motion, I stop. My muscles relax instantly, if this were my first time, I would fear they would no longer support me. Instead, my hands fall onto my waist, squeezing my insides like a corset, to support my lackadaisical muscles begging like a slave for rest. Unfortunately, they cannot rest yet. Turning to the girls behind me we congratulate each other on the hard work done this morning. Eventually, we mosey toward the brown roofed pavilion that welcomes us like a warm home, offering us water and a place to sit.

As the water cleanses my mouth, I smile knowing that I am strong, but looking around, my strength, or stubbornness is not what got me through this run. It’s my team, the caring, strong, encouraging women around me and the joy they fill me with are the reason I succeed. When I want to slow down, I lean on their strength to help me continue. When I’m tired, it’s the memories of past successes and laughs that carry me forward. When my body fails and all my strength is stripped away, it is their words and love that hold me together.

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