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Just One More Lap
by Robert Hooker
2/04/2011 / Short Stories
"Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark." (Philippians 3:13b, 14a)
"HEY, FREDDIE, WHAT'S the height?"
"5'6''? Let me try."
"Aw, Hook, I've got to warm up."
"C'mon, let me try, Fred."
"Okay. Hurry up."
Freddie was the high jumper for our high school's track team. He was never a great threat to competing schools in the big meets, but Freddie was very consistent and would usually place which brought us team points. I had already finished pole-vaulting, my "5'6''." only event in that day's indoor track meet, when I asked Freddie to let me try the high jump. He had been warming up for the high jump competition that was soon to be held. Suddenly, I heard my name being called.
"Come here!" It was my track coach, and he was not smiling. I thought he was upset with me because I was goofing around in the high jump area.
"Yes, sir?" I repeated.
"Spriggs is sick today."
"I need you to run the third leg of the two-mile relay. Can you do it?"
"Yes, sir," I said, swallowing hard. What was I saying? I had never run an 880-yard race before. Each leg of the two-mile relay team had to run 880 yards or the equivalent of a half-mile. I was anything but a distance runner. Many people feel that the half-mile is middle distance, not long distance; but, for me, anything more than 100 yards was long distance.
"Go talk to Atnip for instructions." Joe Atnip was the anchor or final runner of the two-mile relay team. Joe was also one of the top half-milers in the state. With those final instructions, Coach walked away. I went looking for Joe.
"Joe," I said when I found him, "Coach wants me to run the third leg. What do I do?"
"When you get the baton," Joe said, "you will probably be in the lead. Just don't let anyone pass you."
"Great, Joe," I smirked, "you're a big help." He just grinned.
Joe took a couple of minutes to show me how to take the baton from Buster, the second runner, how to hold the baton while running, then how to pass the baton to him when I had finished my leg of the race. "Robert, watch the lane that Buster is in when he comes out of the final curve, and move into that lane to take the baton."
"When Buster is a few yards away from you, face forward and begin to jog; run slowly at first and gradually pick up speed. Don't look back at Buster. Keep looking straight ahead, but hold your right hand behind you with your palm up. Let Buster place the baton in your hand. Don't reach for it."
"Okay, Joe." I was trying to take it all in. Joe and I practiced passing the baton several times.
"Joe, I'm nervous. I don't run the half-mile."
"You'll be okay. Just don't let anyone pass you, and I promise you, no one will pass me."
The next few minutes seemed like an eternity as I waited for the relay to begin. Stretching out with warm-up exercises, I tried to loosen every muscle I could. Then I heard Coach say, "Two-mile relay is the next event." I quickly stripped off the warm-up outfit I had been wearing and, with the other men on my team, prepared to run. We lined up on the finish line. Four-man teams from five schools were all pacing back and forth, shaking their legs and arms nervously as they tried to keep muscles loosened and ready for the grueling half-mile. The announcer signaled. It was time for the starting runners to take their positions.
"Stay loose, Hook."
"I'm okay, Joe."
"Give it all you've got, man. You can do it."
"I just wish I were the first leg. I hate this waiting."
The gun sounded. Craig, the first leg of our relay team, got a great start. Leading the pack of runners, Craig moved to the inside lane. I refused to watch much of Craig's run. It made me even more fidgety. I was already pacing back and forth trying to stay calm. People all around me were screaming. Spectators and team members' voices meshed into an undistinguishable roar.
"Robert, Craig is handing off."
"Already?" I turned just in time to watch Craig hand off to Buster, the second leg of our team. I moved closer to the track. As I stepped onto the edge of the course, I realized I had never run on an indoor track before. It seemed so small, much smaller than an outdoor track. Even now, I paid little attention to Buster. My whole concentration was on mentally preparing myself to run.
"I can't let these guys down," I thought. "We have one of the best two-mile relay teams in the state. I've got to stay ahead. We've got to win this one."
"Robert," Joe called, "get on the track. Buster's on his last lap."
"Okay," I replied. I moved onto the track, as did my opponents.
"Move to the inside lane now, Robert."
"I'll tell you when to go. Don't reach for the baton. Don't look back." I nodded my head in response. Man, was I tense! Would I take the baton cleanly? Would I drop it? Would I be able to run hard for a half-mile? All these questions were flying through my brain.
"Go, Robert!" I took off quickly, then realized I had to slow down a bit or Buster wouldn't be able to reach me. Holding my right hand back with my palm up, thumb pointed toward me, I
kept moving until I felt Buster slap the baton into my hand. I had it!
"Go! Go! Go, Hook! Go!" Joe yelled, and I ran with all my might. An indoor track is made of wood and covered with a rubberized material. Unlike an outdoor track on which very little sound can be heard, the hollow "whop! whop! whop!" sound of footsteps is unmistakable on an indoor track. It is a unique sound and can be unnerving when an opponent is close on your heels.
At first, I could hear only myself running. Then, suddenly, I could hear a multitude of footsteps behind me. The sound was loud. Four other runners were all pounding the track simultaneously. The closer they came, the harder I ran. I couldn't let anyone pass me. Just then, a horrible thought came into my mind. I didn't know how many laps I had to run. On an outdoor track, two laps were equivalent to a half-mile. But on an indoor track? It was tiny compared to an outdoor one. I felt like I was running almost constantly in one continuous curve. In fact, the curves were so small and tight that the track was made with a built-in bank, or incline, at either end of its oblong shape. The curves were graded slightly upward so the runner could achieve his maximum running potential without having to slow down due to the bending of the course. This incline helped the runner lean into the curve and not lose control as he went around it.
I couldn't believe I hadn't found out how many laps I had to run. I didn't know how to pace myself or how much farther I had to run! Joe had only told me to stay ahead; he had said not to let anyone pass me. "What a great coach he is," I thought grimly.
One lap. I was leading. Two laps. I was leading. Three laps. I was still leading. Four laps. Five laps. When I started my sixth lap, I was still out front, but my side was beginning to hurt and I felt winded. "How much strength do I have left?" I wondered. "I must be close to the end." I reasoned that if it was two laps on an outdoor track, then it should be about six laps on an indoor one. I was excited. I just knew I had to be almost done, and I was still ahead.
I leaned into the near curve. Whop! Whop! Whop! "Push," I thought, "push!" Now I was at the far curve. Whop! Whop! Whop!
"I'm still leading. I'm okay." Assuming that it must be time for Joe to start moving out onto the track to take the baton from me, I looked down the straightaway to see if he was getting into position. Joe made no movement toward the track. As I ran past him, I yelled, "Hey, Joe, how many?"
Joe yelled back, "Just one more, Hook!" Just one more lap!
Wow! Just one more lap! "Man," I thought, "I must be a natural for the half-mile. My first race and I'm winning!"
Toward the end of a race, a runner gives what is known as a finishing kick. That is when he digs deep down inside and uses everything he has left for the remainder of the race. He runs all out until he crosses the finish line. Well, I kicked! I was going to blow away those guys behind me. I was more of a sprinter anyway.
Flying around the near curve, the tempo of that steady whop, whop sound came much more quickly this time. It seemed that it had almost become one continuous slap of the floor. Down the far straightaway I ran, stretching out as far as I could, digging for every ounce of strength and every bit of speed I could get. I approached the far curve and felt like I was gliding. It was almost over. The race was almost over! I was ecstatic.
Out of the final curve, I came sprinting down the straight-away. But, wait! What was going on? Joe was not coming out! What was he doing? I was approaching the spot where Joe was to take the hand-off, but Joe wasn't coming out. I looked over at Joe. He was smiling! Joe had buck teeth and always appeared to be smiling anyway. But this time, he really looked like he was enjoying himself.
The crowd was roaring. My teammates were screaming.
"Go, Hook! Go! You've got it, man, go!"
As I passed my teammates, I yelled in desperation, "Joe!" I can still see his face with that perturbing smile. He held up his index finger and yelled, "Just one more, Hook. Just one more!"
"I'll kill him!" I thought. "I'm gonna kill that guy! He knew I had two laps left and told me one. He lied to me. I ought to stop running right now!" But I couldn't quit. I had never quit a race.
Besides, it seemed that the whole world was watching. I hated losing anything, especially in front of the whole world! But how could I kick now? I had just used up everything I had on what I thought was the final lap. "It's a really short track." I thought. "All I have to do is gut it out." I kicked again, although my kick didn't have quite the push it had before. Reaching down deep inside again, I found a little more strength. "Can't let them pass me," I said to myself.
"Can't let them pass me. Push. Push. Just a little more."
Amazingly, I had more strength and energy than I had thought possible. I was going farther and faster than I believed I could. In a few moments, I was rounding the final curve for the second time, and I was still in front of the pack. "Now, hit that straightaway. Drive! Push!" I was commanding my body. "Come on, just a little more." I looked for Joe. The lane was empty. Where was Joe? He wasn't coming out on the track. He was standing with the rest of the team. He wasn't moving. The team was screaming, cheering, jumping up and down. But why didn't Joe move out? "Joe!" It was my turn to scream.
"Go, Hook! Keep going!"
"Just one more lap, buddy. Just one more."
"Just wait until this race is over!" I panted to myself. "Just wait 'til I get my hands on that guy! I'm gonna kill him!" Again I ran with all my might, but I had begun to slow considerably. No longer did my footsteps sound as one. They were distinctly separate, slow and separate. I finished that ninth lap still in the lead, but, believe it or not, Joe still did not come out. You guessed it. He just smiled as I passed and yelled "One more lap, Hook."
The tenth lap passed, and I received the same performance. By the time I started lap eleven, I had lost my desire to kill Joe. I just wanted to survive. I felt like my chest was going to burst. I was gasping for air. My legs felt like twenty-pound lead weights were attached to them. I wouldn't quit, though. I kept pounding that track as fast as I could. My footsteps were sounding a tedious but deliberate whop, whop, whop. Out of the curve and into the back stretch I treaded. No longer could I even think of sprinting but, miraculously, I was still in the lead.
The far curve approached. "Survive," I thought. "One foot in front of the other. Just survive." I leaned into the curve and almost stumbled. It was a close brush with disaster!
As I came out of the curve, I looked up and couldn't believe what I saw. Joe was actually on the track! He was in my lane! "Yes! Yes!" I mumbled. I couldn't believe it. He was waving me on. Joe was ready to take the baton. Seeing him on the track gave me a renewed strength. With fifty yards left, I kicked one last time. My legs were a little lighter. I didn't care if I was breathless or not. Joe was on the track. I wasn't going to lose!
Closer and closer I came. Joe started moving. Normally, the runner passing the baton tells the runner receiving the baton when to go, but Joe knew I didn't know what to do and probably couldn't speak if I did. He moved out on his own and was careful not to pull away too fast. He threw back his arm. I extended mine, baton in hand, and stretched it toward his upturned palm. Slap! We connected!
He grasped the baton in a good, clean hand-off, and Joe took off like he had been shot out of a cannon. I stumbled off of the track and collapsed on the ground exhausted, but exhilarated.
I had done it! I had done it! They hadn't passed me! We were still in the lead! I had done it!
People came from everywhere to congratulate me. "Great run, Hook. Great run." I made no response. I couldn't. I was so breathless that I couldn't waste any air on words. It seemed like no time before Joe was crossing the finish line. The roar of the crowd was deafening. Joe had finished his half-mile in 1:58. He had run 880 yards in less than two minutes, and we had won.
"Yes, Coach," I gasped, still struggling for breath.
"Want to know your time on your leg of the race?"
"Yes, sir. I guess so."
"Is that okay, Coach?"
"As good as our normal third leg." A big smile came across my face as I realized I had succeeded. I had done my best, and it was pretty good.
It was some years later before I realized the wisdom behind Joe Atnip and his "just-one-more-lap" philosophy. Many things challenge us. If we look too far ahead, we can become discouraged.
Joe knew that I was already tired and winded after the sixth lap. If he had said, "Just five more laps, Hook," I would have tried to pace myself, for I was already hurting. By saying, "Just one more lap," Joe kept me from looking too far ahead. I would never have thought I could kick for five laps, but I did. You are supposed to use up everything in that finishing kick, and I had given it everything I had five times. I found that I can usually do more than I think I can.
Life, I have found, is the same as that two-mile relay race. We get tired and weary in the battles of life, and we often want the victory immediately. Children want to be teens, and teens want to be adults, and adults want prosperity and success. Few want to fight the daily battles of life that must be fought before true victory is obtained.
I found that when I'm impatient, I must take one lap at a time. When weary, when hurting, when broken-hearted and unable to see how I can go on, I can go just one more lap. I cannot run tomorrow's race today. I can only run today's lap today.
Eventually, I will finish my race if I run just one more lap!
Watch the music video for this song at http://www.hookpublications.com/2011/03/04/i-will-be-true-music-video/
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