Warrior Words: My favorite race

“That is my favorite race,” I say to myself somewhat sarcastically every time I finish running in a dizzying circle around the Zeoli Fieldhouse track. In between heaving breaths, these words collapse into the sentence that sums up how I feel about running track in the simplest way possible. When the race ends, the words are somewhat ironic given the complete exhaustion I feel. But the words also ring true, because of the amazing feeling of accomplishment.

Track relays are unique events. They are an uncommon combination of individual and team competition. Your teammates are not on the track with you when you run, yet it is the combination of all four times that determine victory or defeat. There is a feeling of satisfaction of individual achievement coupled with the excitement of team camaraderie.

My most memorable “favorite race” was one I almost didn’t run. As a sophomore, I was asked to join the 4x400 relay team with a junior and two seniors, three of the fastest sprinters that have ever run at Wilton High School. Their goal was to break the school record. The words “scared” and “intimidated” fall short of describing the way I felt. I considered my options for getting out of the relay: faking an injury, suddenly becoming ill — all strong possibilities. I was afraid of letting my teammates down. If I ran a slow time or made a mistake with the baton handoff I would be responsible for the team not achieving its goals. But despite my fear of failure, quitting wasn’t an option.

The regional championships were at the Reggie Lewis Center in Boston, known in the running community as one of the fastest tracks in the world. This would be our opportunity to break the school record. Practices before the race were grueling and punishing. But with every lap I ran, I received so much encouragement and support from my teammates that I came to realize all they wanted out of me was my best effort. That was something I knew I could do and I hoped all of our best efforts combined would get us the record. I have never worked as hard as I did in the week leading up to the race.

The regional meet was unlike any sporting event I had ever participated in. Teams and thousands of fans from all over the Northeast packed the Reggie Lewis Center. I was running the third leg of the race, which gave me about two minutes after the starting gun to let the chaos consume me. Every possible scenario of something going wrong during the race filled my mind. I could run too slow, I could drop the baton, I could step out of the lane and get our team disqualified. I robotically stepped onto the track to run my leg of the relay, leaving my negativity behind me. The baton exchange became imminent as my teammate approached. The noise was muted and my vision tunneled; my environment was gone. The baton exchange was like a sewing machine engraving cloth with a stitch, fast and flawless. The voices and cheers of thousands disappeared, leaving only the sound of my feet rhythmically hitting the synthetic running surface. I soared around the track and successfully passed the baton to the anchor runner. Then, exhausted, I watched with my teammates as she finished the race and the results flashed on the scoreboard: 4:06:83. A new school record.

Running in the regional championships that day changed the way I view track. I now run every race with an aura of confidence knowing that if I give my best effort I have succeeded, regardless of the results. In some ways, it changed me off the track as well. I now have a new appreciation for taking on challenges and facing daunting situations. That is why, as I stand at the finish line feeling the juxtaposition of exhaustion and accomplishment, I am reminded why every race is my favorite race.

Julia Vitarelli is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.