My stomach fluttered with excitement as I jumped up and down to shake off the pre-race jitters. After a spritz of lemon juice (to save my mouth from that dry, cotton-like sensation), my teammates and I locked eyes on the 5-kilometer course that lay ahead; all noises from the world were contained somehow in a vacuum by the fact that the next several minutes would take us to our limit. We embraced it and lined up proudly outfitted in Pirate blue and red.

Gunfire!

At the sound, as if all touched by lighting, we burst into the thick of the road flooded with fall colors. Mud, gravel, grass, the surface didn’t matter as long we were running.

For several years growing up, fall meant cross county: chilly morning jogs, pasta parties, pick-up Frisbee games and pushing myself to the limit. Looking back, there was nothing like the steady sound of a race, the flash of the herd of flying feet, flailing elbows and the glory of crossing that finish line in your personal record time.

As I returned to writing some sports this fall, including cross country, it brought me back to much simpler times when running was as much a part of my life as breathing. As a Phoenix Pirate in the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon, our girls team finished very well at districts, but I was no sub-20 minute runner (I cleared 22 minutes at best), but I kept up with the some of the best. While the feeling of the race was always a thrill, there’s nothing particularly inviting about the one-mile, two-mile or three-mile marker on the course. Each mile asks for more of you, and that runner in front of you keeps you focused on the finish line. Often it’s just you and the clock on the open road and a decision: Keep going or stop. But you don’t, if you’re hungry for a challenge.

The Hermiston High cross country team is such a team of harriers who are out to improve every race. Earlier this week, head coach Jake Puzey invited the community to come check out some of the fastest runners in Bulldog history like Katie Markwick and Alejandro Cisneros at Sandstone this Saturday for Runner Soul XC Fest.

It may not be like watching the Bulldogs’ first snap on Friday night (my dad used to sit in the car and listen to the Ducks’ game while I ran), but watch the runners as they kick it into high gear around the last stretch.

Steve Prefontaine once said a race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.

Look for the art in the race because while it’s as much about speed as it is determination, running reveals the heart of people.

Look for those who are taking it to the limit.

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