Runners overcome exhaustion, adversity to experience exhilaration of crossing finish line in grueling race

Divyana Bose | Staff Writer

 When senior Erica Fennimore hears the sound of the starter’s gun she knows she’s about to go through what is considered one of the most gruelling races in high school track and field. 

Eight laps around the track. Two miles of heart pounding, throbbing pain from the neck down, screaming ankles, aching feet, and legs that feel like fifty pounds weights are anchored to them in the race’s final few laps. 

The 3200 meter race is no cake walk. It requires the runner to exercise mental discipline while also enduring the physical discomforts of the event. The runner will employ breathing techniques, running form adjustments, and mental gymnastics while they focus on the goal of not just finishing, but finishing first. 

After the blast of the starting pistol, the runners work their way into a groove, part of their personally tailored strategies that they have perfected throughout their hundreds of hours of preparation. 

Senior Erica Fennimore is currently tied for the first time in the GMC in the girls 3200, at 11:34

There are many pitfalls for the distance runner. They are tempted to get out fast, set the pace, or try to keep up with the runner who they feel is their biggest competitor. 

Fennimore, along with teammate Manuela Capiello, has turned in the top time among Greater Miami Conference runners so far this season with a time of 11:34. When she runs the grueling event, the physical pain doesn’t usually set in until half-way through the race. Fennimore said she must deal with the physical pain while also having the mental stamina to dig deep when the sensation of pain sets in, signalling the time when she must find the internal fortitude to perform at a high level in the race’s stretch run. 

“Staying with that one person ahead or behind you is what gets me further, even if it physically hurts me,” Fennimore said. “Get in a good position, settle in, and maintain your set focus on the finish line.”

The fifth lap, indicating that runners still have one more mile to run, can be the most unnerving for the runners. For Fennimore, time begins to slow as her body struggles to keep going. Although the crowd may be cheering, the pounding of her feet on the track reverberates through her head while she still tries to focus on her breathing and her competitive mindset. Fennimore said that as the pain slowly gets worse and exhaustion kicks in, it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand. 

“Once the lactic acid in your leg starts kicking in, you know you don’t have much time left,” Fennimore said. “It feels like you’re walking in slow motion, my hamstrings and quads lock up, and it makes my legs go numb.” 

Junior Aiden Amshoff knows that as the race progresses, it is essential to his success that he controls the way he overcomes the mental and physical challenge of laps five and six. As the countdown to the final lap approaches and the struggle to breathe becomes more challenging, Amshoff relies on a personal sense of accountability to his teammates to finish as strong as possible. 

Junior Alex DeRoussel currently has the fourth best time in the GMC in the boys 3200, at 9:58

“The fifth and sixth lap are the worst to overcome,” Armshoff said. “Everything in your body is telling you to quit but your head is telling you to keep going for the team.”

That sense of accountability also stems from mental toughness. Amshoff understands that he isn’t the only runner on the track whose legs are in desperation mode. In order to still be faster than everyone else, maintaining a positive mentality is essential as the finish line nears. 

“Track is more of a mental sport instead of physical one,” Amshoff said. “If I’m screaming in my head saying ‘I can’t keep going’, then I’m not going to cross that finish line.” 

Amshoff, who currently has the top 3200 meter time among GMC runners with a time of 9:36.35, relies on his passion for running and the exhilaration he feels competing in this gruelling race. 

“When I’m running through cramps and pain, all I need to do is remember the excitement and it overpowers my nerves,” Amshoff said. “My adrenaline pumps so hard that I forget about the aching and shooting pains that I feel throughout the race.” 

Junior Alex DeRoussel has the fourth best time among GMC runners this season, clocking in at 9:58. DeRoussel says he trains daily for the first 3100 meters of this race. However, as the finish line closes in and runners turn the corner of the eighth and final lap, sometimes just split-seconds can be the difference between winning and losing. DeRoussel has had his share of dramatic finishes, and in this “moment of truth,” training goes out the window. At this point in the race it’s time to ignore the pain, aching feet, and doubt. 

For DeRoussel, there is one simple key. 

“It’s not about how fast you are, it’s about who wants it the most.”

Photos by Abby Waechter