The summer before my 8th grade year my mom challenged me to run my little town's annual 4th of July 5 mile run. I had never run before and showed up in K-Swiss boat shoes and those scratchy wool/cotton shorts that everyone wore for sports back in the 80's. Not exactly performance wear. However, I must admit I was pretty stylish in the K-swiss :)
Well, out of the blue I ran a 42:39 (isn't in amazing how I still remember that time after all these years - half the time I can't remember my own name anymore!) and caught the attention of the cross-country coach who was also at the race. He convinced me to go out for the team and I did.
So I started cross-country in the August before my eighth grade year. Up until then I had the trifecta of dorkiness going for me: 1. I was shy. 2. I got good grades. 3. I liked sports. Not exactly the stuff that puts you at the cool kids table at lunchtime. Especially in a small town where everyone has known everyone for all their life and stereotypes once-set are permanent.
However, on the cross-country team I found a bunch of other misfits and quickly found a comfort zone insulated from the ugly, cruel world of junior high politics. My confidence grew as I found out I had a knack for this running thing.
My first cross-country race was at middle school the next town over. I had no idea about pacing, race strategy or any of that other stuff I study religiously now. I just went out and ran to run. Ah, the innocence of youth :)
This meet was actually an invitational but for some reason they ran the boys and girls together. To this day that's the only race I ran with a combined field (the exception, of course, being road races). Anyways, because of the mixture of sexes I had no idea how I was doing. I just ran and ran until they told me to stop. Imagine my surprise when I found out that I was the top finisher among girls.
I received a tiny medal with no-engraving. I thought it was the best prize ever. I still have it. It looks pretty modest sitting next to trophies and marathon finishers medals but it probably still means the most out of all of them because it was the one that started it all...