When the pain sets in.

When the pain sets in.

A Chapter by Katherine Van Hook

Running begins as an accident.


Running began as an accident. Elizabeth was always the golden girl, so when she leaned back in Spanish class and whispered, “Wanna come to cross-country practice with me today?” I figured it must be a good idea. We’d never really been friends, but she was probably the most genuinely good-hearted human being I’d ever met. On the first day of fifth grade I was the awkward new girl with glasses on the school bus. It could have been bad. I stepped cautiously into unfamiliar territory and dozens of eyes stared at me from behind leather seats. The bus jerked forward and I lost my balance. I was immediately launched forwards onto the grimy rubber-ribbed floor and my backpack landed two feet in front of me. Biting back tears, I scrambled to my feet, only to be flattened again by our driver hitting a speed bump at over 40 miles per hour. I looked up to see a pale girl with a wide smile holding out her right hand, while her left hand brushed bits off grass off my purple Jansport bookbag. She hauled me to my feet and said, “Jenna, move, we need the back seat.” The next morning, she waved me to the back of the bus and motioned for me to sit beside her again. The day after that, she silenced the snickering boys with the briefest of glances. We never became close friends, but I never forgot that. Rarely are the nice girl and the girl that rules the playground one and the same.  Elizabeth was the exception.

            That day in Spanish class I had no idea what Senor Lugo was saying. It was the first day of freshman year, and I was in way over my head. He was still in the first stage of the year that all foreign language teachers go through, that three-to-four week period when they truly believe they will teach the entire class in Spanish. They feign ignorance when you ask anything in English, shrugging their shoulders exaggeratedly and replying, “No se!” with sly grins. I’ve taken 5 years of Spanish, and from what I can tell the phase lasts from 2 weeks to 2 months before they give up.

Translation? I was glad for a distraction.

“What’s the deal?” I whispered. Senor Lugo’s head snapped in my direction, and I tried to look attentive. I squinted at the board, furrowed my brow thoughtfully, and bent over my notebook, writing, “Notes, notes, notes, notes, notes,” until he looked away. A tiny square appeared on my desk. I unfolded it. It read: Tomorrow 3 p.m. Field House. Come ready to run.

Coach Jameson was a friendly-looking old grandpa-type with a white beard and a faded Greenfield XC cap on his head (XC stood for Cross-Country. I had just learned this in the locker room). We sat in a group on the grass underneath a twisty-looking tree.

“Today is Tuesday,” Coach said slowly, looking around. “Tomorrow is Wednesday. Most of you will want to return tomorrow, but by Friday, when the pain sets in, many of you will cry uncle.” I glanced sideways at Elizabeth, who was examining her left shoelace.

“YOU!” he said. I looked up, alarmed. “YOU are not allowed to quit until next Wednesday. It takes the body a week to adjust to distance running.” I looked around. Some girls looked like seasoned runners already, and I wondered how. There was no middle school cross-country in our district. When had they found time to form such an official-looking love of running, with their shiny adidas shorts and tiny little ankle socks (my own socks were rolled down)? At least a couple girls looked as lost as me.

“You will be in unimaginable pain this week but if you persevere for seven days I promise you will never stop running.” Coach paced back and forth in front of us. “You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But you will trust me on this and you will do what I say. On Monday you will feel like there are lead weights strapped to your feet, and on Tuesday You. Will. Fly.”

A shiver went through me. It was like watching that scene in a movie, when you’re holding your breath as everything rises up towards one moment, and you could cut the anticipation with a knife it’s so thick in the air, and then it breaks, crests like a wave on the beach sprinkling sand, saltwater and anticipation into the air. Not a single person moved.

I was hooked.  

© 2011 Katherine Van Hook

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Added on April 20, 2011
Last Updated on April 21, 2011
Tags: running, coach


Katherine Van Hook
Katherine Van Hook


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