It's State Week!
In honor of that, I've decided to share the following excerpt from my book - Bolder Dreams - the State chapter, or, at least a part of it - I can't give away the climactic ending...
For the uninitiated, the climax of Bolder Dreams takes place at the Colorado State Cross Country Championships - at Penrose.
The course in the book is identical to the course state-bound athletes will compete on Saturday.
Read up - enjoy - and calm those nerves!
The following is an excerpt from Bolder Dreams.
By Bobby Reyes
I stared at the bright red numerals on the clock in the hotel room. They looked eerily similar to the ones on the clock at each race. Those curveless red digits, separated by thin lines of fact or fiction.
The clock, like the Flatirons, the overseeing judge of all. The god we must all appease if we wish to be successful.
I wiggled my toes while intently staring at these red numerals in the way I would in another five hours, waiting for them to click to 6:15 when the alarm would go off. But by 6:05 a.m., I couldn't wait any longer.
With another five hours before race time, I took to the streets for a shakeout run - an approved shakeout run. The sun hadn't yet risen over the plains to the east, but there was a gentle orange hue that lined the horizon as if hinting at what was to come. Above me the morning sky was shedding its dark blue hues in trade for a lighter shade as the dawn became the day. The air was cool and crisp, and soon it'd be warm but dry.
I ran along the vacant sidewalk behind the hotel where streetlights led the way toward the back of a grocery store. I eyed the cracks in the pavement as I jogged loosely over the giant squares, no longer hiding in shadows.
My mind scanned over every last fiber of muscle in my body, searching for inefficiencies. There weren't any.
I tried to find nostalgia in the moment but couldn't. I thought backwards in time, scanning the season like I scanned my body, reminiscing about it all, and thinking back to that morning run down the South Boulder Creek trail back in August. Months had seemed like years.
Look at us. Who would have thought?
I couldn't cling to the moment, because my mind was somewhere ahead of me now, somewhere with my legs and body, already on the starting line waiting for an old man in a bucket hat and a Polo shirt to send us off to battle.
While I kept the pace as lazy as possible, it felt as though I could've slept through this run, because I couldn't feel a thing. I was practically numb to any physical exertion, for now at least.
Within minutes the top of Pikes Peak lit up in an orange glow over the white snow, and the sun stretched lazily down the mountain as it climbed upwards into the sky for its daily trek. Soon all of Colorado Springs was out of the shadows along with me, and this run was over with for this time around.
The next few hours came and went in a haze of anxiety.
I sat in the passenger seat of Coach's Toyota 4Runner while he stared at the road from under his navy blue hat. His hands clung to the wheel as he drove. Blake and John sat behind us in silence as we rolled up to the course, which only intensified the flutter of butterflies swirling anxiously in my stomach.
I tried not to look out the window now, because it was all reds and blues and oranges and packs of runners striding one way or another. Worried parents with hats and bags with Gatorade, and kids with painted faces and bodies.
From the outside this had to look a lot like a circus. But for me, these were my people. And I was theirs.
"All right, we'll have some of the JV guys and parents set up the tent so you guys can leave your bags here." Coach went into instruction mode as we stood beside the long row of cars across the street from Penrose. "Just one easy mile for everyone except Baxter, got it?"
Rather than jog along the course like everyone else we set out along the path that meandered west, away from the noise. We ran along in silence - all too nervous to even crack a joke. We knew what was stake. This was all now lights out time.
I lagged near the back, something I had no intention of doing once the gun shot out. Within seven minutes we were back at the tent, and I went out alone. With everyone gone now I went back into myself, back to the usual scan. And it didn't come back good.
My legs, which felt great on the morning shakeout, were now heavy and full of lead. My arms felt like I just done 100 push-ups. I felt as though I went from my 130 pounds of bone to double that of -- fear?
My mind nervously raced. Every bad horror of a possibility stormed as the blue sky turned dark inside me. I felt heavy and negative, and I tried to kick it all with a few quick strides.
I forced myself to shift gears, feeling impervious to injury at this point, but I needed to get the junk out of my legs. I needed to jolt the system awake.
Two strides in -- nothing.
In panic mode now, I decided to hammer two more. A slap in the face. Perhaps a gut-punch. Go full Fight Club on myself just to snap out of it.
By the final twenty meters of the third stride I could feel a release, as if the anxiety like a toxin was finally seeping out, and I could get back to feeling fresh.
The fourth stride felt better than the third, and I jogged back to the tent still a little worried about feeling heavy.
"Let's get going, guys," Coach said, standing over the seven of us. "Fifteen minutes. Time to head to the line."
You could hear the nervous tick in his voice. If he could race for us, he would have. He clearly had the energy for it.
I pulled my spikes that still had some grass stains from the Standley Lake race on the sides, not so white anymore, and double-laced them up.
"Thirteen minutes, guys," Coach said, circling around us, clipboard in hand. "Time to go."
Parents stood around the tent, eyeing us. Their children going off to battle. Too fearful to talk, to joke. They could feel the mood, the tension in the air. And we could feel their worry. But now there was nothing anyone could do. It was purely up to us now to execute what we had trained for all season.
We loosely said goodbye to our crew and headed toward the line, Coach herding us all the way, our general leading us into battle.
We passed a slew of curious onlookers, entertained by our bluish hair as we made our way to the starting line one last time.
Coach paused for a moment before we slid through the final gate to check in. This is where we would part ways.
He stopped and put his hand on my shoulder, brown eyes darting around at all the colors and then on to me.
"Remember the plan," he said.
I nodded along, staring out at the vast open space beyond the starting line.
"Get out good that first point-one," he said. "And then start kicking."
The last part stopped me in me tracks. What did he just say?
Confused, I looked over at him. He cracked a smile then chuckled.
He always knew what to say and when to say it. At the most intense moment of our relationship, he found a way to ease the tension in the air.
"I got it," I said, nervously laughing.
"You know what to do," he said, patting me on the back. "Good luck."
And with that, I was off.
I tried not to look for anyone on the starting line, even though I wanted to know where Grant Hemingway was. I did my best to avoid eye contact and remained within myself, where I needed to be, where I belonged.
Here. In this moment.
A few strides out in the starting area the world began to slow its turn. Sounds muted, and the scent of freshly cut grass was all I noticed. Alongside the starting area were throngs of people, but they meshed into one color, one sound.
I stood in the starting line beside my teammates as the world waited for the starter to send us all in a spin again.
I eased my breathing and found a few yawns which settled my mind. Each exhale released the anxiety of the morning, the week, and the season. Nothing before mattered, and nothing after would.
I stood tall with a light lean, knowing that I'd still need to get out but not too screaming out of the gates only to die later. This would take patience, and I had waited long enough for this moment.
"Racers take your marks," the starter screamed from 100 meters in front of us. "Set -"
I must've hesitated for a second, because I saw the white smoke from his gun drift in tiny curls into the air before my legs got moving.
Editor's Note: For those of you who have been reading my work since 2018, you might have noticed that the above scene is familiar -- this is a piece of the original version, which was published as The Runner's Rite: A Short Story on October 26, 2018.