Book 2 chapter 4 section 5 Race day and Sunday Tales of Dead Armadillo a Novel about crosscountry Running by Esteban Erik Stipnieks all rights reserved.
The cadence was familar somewhat but each passing week brought district closer and times had to be shortened with a factor for the course. Saturday morning in the Athletic parking lot a bus was waiting its destination was Seguin. Stephen King was early as usual Amanda Cook had beaten him to the bus. French Fries followed person by person they hung out and then boarded the school bus bound for Seguin.
Tara asked briefly about the course. Stephen King replied, "Like Plano but it has a hill on it and it is beside a river for a section and is more of a rounded triangle." Stephen put in No Kinda Dancer realizing he needed to get some lightness in his step. The song was about learning one had wings. Stephen was honest about his talent but he was finding speed. The bus went down Loop 337 and slowly slid off the cusp of the Edwards Plateau and headed not the black clay and plains that was East Texas. The bus went down highway 46 East bound and paralleled the Guadalupe River finally jutting off into Seguin near the fairground downtown convention center and horse arena of the Gaudalupe County fair grounds and Starke Park. The meet itself was a mile loop. The park was just the other side of Starke Park and was called River View. Robert Earl Keen was camp music, which now had a bittersweet flavor to it.
Tara looked still getting a feel for the area and still feeling new and in honest moments a bit unnerved by this forceful place. She was in the eye or so it seemed in the eye of a hurricane. She saw New Braunfels trying to ignore the changes that were already occurring. Every bit of ignorance seemed to have caused tension. She knew that the welcome she had received was less then open. She had heard of the parties and saw the contradiction. The team had many elements Stephen had described. The bus ate the miles to a town that looked like Denton with a river running through it. Instead of TWU and a park there was a river and park down the park dominated downtown.
Coach Bob said "Simple course many of you remember it. Tara I want you to Walk it with Amanda she will point what you need to know." He continued, "Anna side bets are two Way Street you cost JV boys a title your freshman year you are a senior do not repeat past mistakes." Coach Bob had a sly grin on his face. Noel Scott had not known about it. He continued "Ace review the course keep earning your new name.....everybody else we are not in the best of position UTSA was not our best meet but lets return to what we can do today" They left the bus and headed out for a shady spot on the inner loop.
Being a senior has had it perks. Aero now French Fries and Raul while being the fastest runners were stuck carrying the Exceed. Stephen Slung his bag with CDs and Exceed. The group found their traditional spot to hang out on the grass.
Stephen looked over the course as it was marked. Bo and Tom were with him. The course loop was a bloated triangle with a simple fixed-point start finish line mile marker. Ace walked the course made note of the hill and the upper section of the loop. The steep section was still steep not much pace adjusting on this one compared to other courses no pretty course angles playing this was almost running track the hill could be his only pair, which was a weak hand to play. The course at Hinman Island and UTSA had their own advantages for Stephen. Coach Noel Scott looked at Stephen "Don't whine do." Bo looked at Stephen "He cut you off." Serg simply said, "He saved me from doing it." The two guys got a laugh Stephen replied,” Scary he knows me too well." Dennis then said "Just do me a favor remind yourself you cost us here your freshman year this only opportunity to live it down.” Bo chuckled a couple a bit with that. Ace's face turned a bit red. Serg replied, "Yeah just do it not her." Stephen responded "will do." The jokes were among friends. Ace was where he wanted to be with he wanted to be seriously considering something he wanted....district glory and realizing it was closer then he had dared hope.
Tara walked the course with her eyes. Like Plano except for the hill. She walked it she could see houses and she walked down the other side of it. This course was straightforward surge cruise cannon ball at one section. The course had some minor rolls to it but it was extraordinarily ordinary. The JV girls would go first so she got to a spot where she could cheer on her teamates.
Julie had not bothered walking the course. She knew it and knew it well two laps. Do everything you do as unto the Lord echoed in Julie's head. She walked to the starting line. She had listened to techno. Kimber walked with her. Brandy pulled a shocking line for everybody..."Anna any side bets with Raul?" Lezlee then said "15 will get you 20." Anna giggled. Julie looked in disgust. Kimber was not happy with the line. Allison was indifferent. They went to the box did some warm ups and loosed up soon the starter gave the instructions. With the sound of the gun they were off.
Julie enjoyed being short she accelerated her smaller body mass with its muscle was like Bo a nice combination. The course was for a time reasonably straight and level she soon found herself at a comfortable pace and the traffic was light enough so she could make the left turn that would take the course along the river on the inside she would make her first real pass on the wide base of the rounded triangle. Things were going to plan so far about 200 yards into the race. The shade on the course made it nice but unlike UTSA there was some breeze going. Everybody strung out around the course so the cheering was there. She made the pass about one third down the base and kept trucking. Amanda cheered her on along with Bo. French and Raul along with Linda have gotten into the act as well. This meet was smaller She made the next turn of the course hanging on the inside. In the short distance the leg of the triangle peaked out with a huge hill. She heard steps coming one third into the race she focused on running her race. Julie was becoming disciplined she could play with speed later but right now she did not want go roaring deep beyond the lactic acid threshold. The hill came and she shortened her stride made it up the five steps of the steep hill were made she set up another turn on the inside of the course made a pass by keeping just a bit of extra strength on to accelerate again through the hill. Coach Noel was shouting "Way to go Julie! Keep running your race. She then accelerated down the hill picking off a freshman in the process. As she closed in she saw the girl that had passed her. She had a mile to set that up. Julie's first mile time was good. She was now feeling free to accelerate a bit. The rate of closure on the gal who passed was now going on her favor. Now it was 1600 yards to put the pass done. She carried speed and accelerated now the game was being played out She made the turn less then fifty yards. Down the base of the triangle she continued making ground. Once again a tighter turn happened. She was gaining near the other turn she was less then 10 yards. The race was now on every one knew it. The cheers grew louder. Finally Julie made the pass short of hill. She now knew she had to keep it the last hard section. Coach Noel shouted "Keep it strong you can do it!" Julie made the turn hard on the inside and went to fill power before the steep descent she knew she was now the hunted not the hunter. She cannon balled the hill barely avoiding a fall but picking up a mountain of speed at the base she forced her stride out and fast nearly instantly. She heard the cheers the line was getting closer so was the runner behind finally she crossed it she felt a push the girl tried to cut in front of her making the pass before the official placement she lifted her elbow it did not happen. Coach Bob shouted "Way to go.
Stephen King handed her a cup of Exceed. That was welcome. Julie smiled. The boys were congratulating the girls. Bo congratulated Kimber who was on JV today. Raul and French Fries congratulated Lezlee and Anna. The team had cheered on its runners and welcomed its runner. Coach Bob thought that the girls might have secured first place. The performance was solid and the team was indeed still in a place of glory. They would find out at the end of the morning.
Stephen Ray and Troy started their warming up for their race. The two had played soccer together and in some respects still maintained a friendship. Thomas was there. Troy mentally prepared himself as he started his warming up. He wondered when he would stop regretting the beer he had stopped drinking three weeks previous. Now it was finally showing in his runs. They stretched did starts and went to the box and soon the starting instructions were given and the run began. Stephen Ray was big and tall Troy was short.
Bang the gun went off Troy shorter stature accelerated faster and went to cruise. There were runners ahead of him. Steadily he ran the race was young and he was not about to do something stupid as he headed into the first turn. The course had a couple dips and rolls Troy without thinking adjusted to them this course was familar to him. The dips he had seen the adjustments occurred without a conscious thought. Coach Bob shouted smart start keep going. Troy was near the front he was being passed some but the made the next turn one ninth. Troy saw the hill up ahead. Troy was stuck on the outside having to make a pass. Well not everything could go according to plan. He did not have the leg strength others and his upper body was slowly coming he dropped back into first gear and stepped on the gas. Tara was near the base of the hill "Come one Troy attack the hill." Amanda Cook his freshman year had attended a camp. The technique for keeping the power on after the crest to resume the speed was a drill as he got back to cruise speed. Coach Noel Scott cheered him on he made another turn and he adjusted he got the crest and he quickly accelerated He saw the first mile mark ahead 6:05 first mile. He had gained a place in the process. This was almost like track. He saw a couple passes about to open up. Julie, Kimber and Ace were shouting way to go. He went hard on the inside of the turn and then began his acceleration. He made the two passes and was passed by a Seguin runner. He was up one. Traffic ahead and traffic behind it was him on the course slowly gaining he made the turn and he was once again on the leg that would take him to the top of a hill. He accelerated a bit wanting to take more momentum this time into the hill. As he did he made a pass and used the crest to open the gap a bit on a stupid freshman. With the next crest and down he got his second mile time 12:05. The last mile was now show time. The course was noisy as others cheered on their team someone was that Troy was going to make a pass on them. As he accelerated he felt stronger. He had heard the warning been given them. They were powerless to stop it they had crossed the lactic acid threshold hard at the start now it was time for them today. He saw a couple victims he came up on the faster he could see them fading. They surged in a feeble attempt to hold off the inevitable. As he made the turn he made the pass hard on the inside. There was another straight. Troy was now the aggressor he was threading his way. There was a pass a head he was one third through the last mile patience he thought as we went down the base of the triangular course that was beside the Guadalupe river. The next turn he saw the gain and "NOW!” He thought he went to 800 speed full bore he made the pass at the base of the hill he exploded up the hill. Noel was saying one more pass. Troy was barreling down and he could Stephen Ray pass a runner from Canyon. In between them The Cougar was grappeld with a shove off the hill downward he made the pass and as the weight was transferred on the level section of the course he went full bore leaving the cougar behind and his final mile 17:50 on the time. Troy’s heart was racing his legs were on fire but he had finished well the top section of the race. Stephen Ray congratulated him "Good job on the dry out." Thomas had been number #2 the front end of the race had been dominated by Unicorns...that was a good start.
Linda felt at ease. The varsity girls team was warming up. The course was familiar. Tara said "This is simple." Amanda replied "Yeah get a good start and stay ahead" They did some warm up strides. Linda could free an absence of tension each of the girls had their own race plan. Kathrine was perfectly cool a slightly slower start she could pick off and then advance. Linda had been angry at what had happened at UTSA. She knew this race was different. The instructions were given and the gun went off.
Linda's legs were strong and her body had had very little deadweight. She may have attended parties but she did not drink during the season. Amanda was slightly ahead. The turn was coming up. She made it reflexively. Her brother, Bo, French Fries, and the team cheered her on. As the long base leg of the triangular course was played it with a slight dip she ran at a good clip no sound behind that were closing in. Ok hot and somewhat boring. That was the course quirk. She adjust her pace and with the dip and turn at the end of the leg continued what had been run more then a few times it was her last time on this course. She did not want to make mistakes. So far so good as the hill loomed ahead filling view. She was sweating already her legs were warm and loose. All this hills in the past transformed it. Her Air Pegasus hit the grass covered black clay and the laws of physics played out she was driven up it with the force each stride hit the ground with. Coach Noel Scott the California dude was cheering her on. So far so good. She made the turn seeing residential houses and then she cannonball the hill downward. At the base of it her brother, Coach West, Brett and the rest of the team's voices filled her ears. Poise control was the word her first mile time was where she wanted it. This was fun she was also serious about it. She added more speed other team mates Troy,Stephen,Allison cheered. She accelerated hearing there was a couple runners behind Tara that were trying to make a pass. She had energy left over so she went beyond the lactic acid threshold not giving too much of a thought about it she simply knew it was kick time. The small burning sensation in her legs would soon get much worse as her heart leapt pumping. Same thing with Amanda ahead they had played the race right. The speed increased She made the next turn this time she was going to go full kick. Linda assaulted the hill. Literally two seconds after Amanda did. She made the next turn. Both girls were going full force sweat in the eyes legs burning the distance peeling off at a greater rate. The two were not going to be passed. The race was playing out the way she wanted as she went down the hill at full kick. She crossed the line with a time that was one of her best.
Tara was behind her Leisha behind Kathrine next. Steven Ray was there with a cup of Exceed. The girls were tired. They walked out of the chute their cards handed she was second Tara was third Leisha fourth Kathrine fifth. There was a runner form Seguin, Heights, and Canyon between the next runner. She was tired but victory was going to be sweet after the bobble of the previous week.
Congratulating the girls had been done quickly. As Ace started warming up anger and frustration at this course rolled up. It occurred to him that the adrenaline dump for this race was unneeded. For Bo he noticed. Tom was near the line. Bo quipped "We do not need to get you ready for this one after you cost us a place JV your freshman year." Tom knew what was happening. It worked. Stephen knew Stephen was aware of his senior year and he was varsity. Adrenaline boost set full. Race plan finalized 5:45 first mile 11:30 second hack the 5:35 aka Anna mile was to be run the last 16:05. The instructions were given.
As the gun went off the group took off. A freshman from Heights too much in a hurry got too close from a runner Seguin slip first 75 yards restart. Since Stephen had been in the second row and was at that point 65 yards in the race he got a good view of it and he heard the second shot restart. Tom was behind him "Pays to play it cool.” The guys were back at their boxes again someone in the crowd muttered stupid freshman. Bo looked at Aero and Raul don't trip me or anybody else. Bo looked at Aero and Raul remember everybody is in the same boat but do not go by time. Tom said "you got an extra lactic acid in you legs adjust the planned times accordingly place does matter!' The gun went off a second time. The plan was still locked in place just a little extra lactic acid was in the legs to complicate life a bit. So it goes.
Stephen basically redid his early start he was near the back of the pack which had its advantages it allowed him to make the race line he wanted to in the first turn and as he saw the whole pack spread between him and Raul he had lots of options open and he made his first clump of passes including the freshman who had been stupid. He had once been that freshman. He was forced to go on the outside of the course for another pass. Steven Ray was beckoning him to make a pass ahead he slid wide on the turn and made the pass. He looked at the hill he was closing in two Heights runners. He exploded on the outside of the hill they were burned. The legs were long hot and sweaty. The jersey was sticking to him. As Coach Noel saw the pass "Good job! run your race Stephen.” He made the turn at the top of the triangle. He saw a shirt from Lubbock a head. The long legs pushed off against the hill and Ace had used the hill for what it was worth. 5:40 first mile he had five seconds to play with if he had a side stitch. He had runners head slowly coming in range. He had put some runners behind he made the turn. Slowly it seemed they were coming. His ears heard a variety of voices cheering him on. He made one pass he was halfway into the race and only a quarter way in the back. He was passed. He saw a runner from Heights and Canyon he decided to try to the inside line and use the hill to turn them into sitting ducks. He was going to use this hill for everything it was worth. The set up was good. The execution paid off. Coach Noel "Yes Stephen way to use what you got chase that mule ahead." As he made the turn he saw him. The two had raced before and they knew each other. Stephen was just to the outside he was aggressive on the cannon ball. He made the pass at the base of the hill. He was looking at the clock 11:25. Stephen felt strong. With just a touch to stride rate there was another runner from Heights ahead. The runner was slightly accelerating. Payback was coming though. He had passed one of the guys who embarrassed him on this course 1990. He rolled through the mini dip and he could see a bit of a fade and a Seguin runner was going to get caught up in the battle for position that was coming. Stephen played cool for 3 yards and then began a harder surge he darted to the inside using some of the change surges he had allotted himself this allowed him to make the turn on the inside go wide and set the best angle for the hill ahead. The Seguin runner was surprised at what had happened as Stephen exploded behind and passed him and passed him despite the attempts at a surge before the hill. Stephen saw a cougar ahead hapless. Stephen made the pass. One runner from Heights he went full bore made the pass right at the top of the hill and then exploded off it. The ferocity of his attack on the hill had put him in the position. While the runner from Alamo Heights did have more speed he was regaining what had been lost on the hill. It came down to using the course Stephen had to play out a slight advantage in one area. The junior from Alamo Heights was dealing with a lack of knowledge. He had to put ground for the footrace. As he cannon balled down hill using near perfect form he built up some insurance space. The team beckoned him on the short 100 yards of level terrain he was going full kick. Stephen knew what was going on he stopped looking at the time. As he crossed the line he felt a bump against him but he avoided a fall and was handed a card. He turned it in. Coach Bob was smiling.
The Exceed was nice. Raul was with Bo. Dennis was there with a smile on his face "Good job." As Steven drank he had hoped that he had done enough. Tom hoped he had done enough to make the difference. 2nd place would be nice. The team gathered near the speaker for the award ceremony. Girls JV the Unicorns had won. Varsity girls had won. The boys JV race did not matter but Mike had gotten an individual honor which meant something for the team. Boys varsity 2nd place New Braunfels they were beat by 1 5A schools. Raul, Aero and Bo had finished 1, 2 and 3 in the race. District glory now loomed as a possibility. Serg’s strength helped secure with the right pass to get it done. Tom and Mike had done enough Stephen King's finish was the icing on the cake.
Coach Bob took the front of the bus. "Ok we have the girls who have rediscovered their groove we lost key people but Serg you found something, Mike you found something and Stephen King you surprised yourself. Girls let’s hear it for the guys who are meeting your challenge….for once.” The group walked out of the bus. The female voices on the bus got loud. Brett and Dennis had followed the bus. Victory was sweet they had vanquished a couple district rivals. They held their own against a couple bigger schools as well.
Tara smiled "Way to earn the nickname again Ace.” A long line of tables was set up for the team to sit at. Mike was congratulated "Good one man thanks for making that pass that you did." Mike replied "I could not let down the crazy gringos down." The team was one by one paying Serg was snickered. Stephen replied "Gringo medio Mike you know better." Thomas exclaimed "Viva La Raza!" Bo seemed surprised. Dennis laughed.
Stephen had a grin on his face and was laughing about it all. Once it was paid for the buffet table was assaulted and football players were put to shame but the volume of food consumed. Tara had a couple large slices of Cheese and mushroom pizza. The pattern was talk shove food down talk again grab more food. Tom re ran his race a couple times. Coach Bob commented "You do not have your rivalry with Alamo Heights anymore Stephen but you always find a way to pass them when they can't do too much about it." After he took a long drag of the sweetened carbonated water he replied "I learned that from less talk Scott." Julie heard the laughter and the back handed compliment. Leisha then spoke up "We got some good Denton imports" Coach Bob said "I got well coached Denton imports." He looked at Coach Noel... Coach Noel replied "I got a well trained Unicorn with good worth ethic from you." The group ate talking replaying the meet in detail.
Amanda could not resist "I thought you hated this course Ace." Stephen King replied "Yeah but I had some business with it." Anna quipped "Hey I 'all take you out toothpick. Ace had a smile but said "I ain't he anymore." Anna was beautiful but she was a non believer. He cared about the beautiful teammate but dating her would be a betrayal. The statement was no longer surprising.
Amanda then said "Yeah the joke about his church and the navs is they are Green Berets." She continued "I know he would like it in one respect but he does not want to date a non believer." Amanda did the explanation. Coach Bob was surprised he could sense change. Kimber listened. Mike talked about his pass on the runner from Heights that had made the difference. Coach Noel asked "so this guy would beat Ace when Ace was a freshman?" Bo replied "Smoked him imagine what you saw today backwards." The assitant coach nodded Ace caught the grin off his former Coach's head face. Tara, Julie, and Kimber caught the subtle elbow and a pit of pink on the face of Ace. Coach Bob caught it "I hope that punch line continues through district and I doubt Ace minds"
French Fries was fast no doubt about it. Stephen then said, “Hey we got a couple freshmen who made the blue and white finish at the top. Linda had helped reel her brother in. Stephen Ray and Ace joked some as they ate. “So you enjoying having your sister on the team?” Ace replied "Gotta keep me straight.” Allison talked to him about upcoming debate season. She was working on her oratory." Amanda indicated she would go with Tara to church. Stephen would have his insurance check ride in the airplane tomorrow.
The ride home in the bus was sleep time for the team. Amanda decided that she would go to church with Stephen. It was good thirty minute nap for Stephen with more hardware. Saturday took on a sleepy tune after homework was done. Pizza Hut was shocked by the volume of Pizza consumed. A manager who had run crosscountry made the comment now you guys will not doubt me about crosscountry teams on Saturdays. He had run he had made the point.
That Saturday night by in the neighborhood near Lone Star primary something was going on. Raul and Linda arrived. The word had gotten around. There was music playing Selena was belting out her hits from CD player and a house party was going on. The teens drank and partied. Raul was the hero Thomas and Mike talked. Steven had not been told about the party. Raul did not have sex. He was enjoying his growing status. He sipped on more then a couple Coronas jammed out and relaxed with friends.
Coach Noel Scott worked on lesson plans and grading papers. The team had talent on the younger end. Raul seemed undisciplined and he could be a much better runner. Linda had more discipline. Mike had been drug into a good performance. Tom made more use of talent then practically every other guy except for Stephen King who had reclaimed the nickname Ace. Coach Noel Scott's ability to pick up on Spanish and the fact he did have a bilingual certification unused allowed him to realize there was a party that night. He wondered if it would be busted. He smiled he broke up a pity party with Ace before it had gotten out of hand. Stephen had shown he finally gave up running wild. Raul ran aggressively at times Ace appeared at a couple times to have ice water in his veins making passes where he was strongest. Coach Noel Scott called Keith in Denton and simply said "The Denton Bible Youth Group and your efforts are being felt in New Braunfels.” Keith got the details of what was happening. Coach Noel Scott talked brother to brother and in doing so was obedient. Julie was flowering and Kuk's echo had been growing with what had been small. Tara may have been playing rhythm but Kimber was picking up lead and Amanda seemed to be joining in. Steven was attacking what he had hated by more action then word. The replay of argument with his mom was discussed. Noel made it clear "Keith you taught him well" Keith put down phone. He talked to his wife who had mentored Julie and Tara some. The news was encouragement those who had labored in the Lord had not labored in vain and faith in little things was shaking things up elsewhere. It was encouraging to hear that seemingly minor conversations were having dramatic effects.
Sunday came and Amanda went with Tara early that morning to drive to San Antonio. They talked about the race. They talked about New Braunfels and drinking in the hour it took to get from New Braunfels to the church in far northwest San Antonio. The two girls talked a whole lot. Denton had lost its innocence and Tara was forced. Her father talked that New Braunfels was in the same boat in many respects but failed to accept it. Tara got Amanda to talking as the car was going down loop 410. Tara started asking Amanda about her background.
Stephen King made the drive calmly listening to KZEP 104.5. He would boot out to Boerne after for the checkout in the Comanche at an airport near Boerne. It was in the confines of his car while enjoying the victory he was grieving for his friend who had been murdered. The drive though was a relief from the tension of his house he did not talk school politics evolution or anything else much in his house lest he get shouted down. He had won victory about varsity and JV policy for NBHS in that house the team had found out about it but the tension he was living under was an irritation. That week promised opportunities to not raise it.
For them church was a place to focus. Amanda felt something awakening she had accepted Christ in middle school yet she had hung on tradition. The Sunday school lesson was about rebuilding walls from Nehamiah. The sermon was about abiding Christ. The Sunday school cut to the quick it discussed what was going on at Clark high school and their football team and New Braunfels crosscountry was mentioned. It was all practical.
Stephen spent an hour and a half in the Comanche he would have to pay a share of insurance on the airplane and add to kitty himself. The guy writing the policy could see a conservative calm deliberate focused pilot eager to learn. While Stephen did not have the hottest hands his mind and attitudes spoke volumes to his credit. The Comanche would be a tool that next week. It was doing to be used for General Aviation's best use. Stephen's dad congratulated him on the check out and Stephen King headed back home via highway 46. He had reading to do that night after a huge meal. There was another meal then bed time the following day would be long slow distance and negatives he had to work with.
Back to Tales of Dead Armadillo Index