Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #3 // Running is a Kind of Drowning

by Jonathan Crowl

I was sixteen, I crossed the line third. I was so exhausted I shit myself.

I kept sprinting past the finish line, tripping over a rope that funneled runners into a long chute. My best friend’s mother, a nurse, helped bring me back to the team tent. A teammate said “Oh” and pointed behind me: My white jersey had come out of my shorts, stained in brown. I tucked in the shirt. We haven’t talked about it since.


This was not as bad as when my friend collapsed from heat exhaustion, and while receiving treatment on the ground grew an erection.


When I pooped myself, I’d just run the race of my life. The experience taught me something I wouldn’t have admitted, and probably didn’t realize: I no longer wanted to try my hardest.

I didn’t want to purge my body of its oxygen, a kind of drowning performed on dry land. I didn’t want to shit my pants ever again. Toughness became a mere affectation--something to project, rather than possess.


My senior year, we were not a great team. Mostly, we were smart-asses who didn’t take things seriously. We valued endurance as a balance to stupidity: Friday nights after races or a practice, we would spend the night at someone’s house, going out past midnight with members of the girls team. Saturday mornings we would go to practice, sleepless and unshowered, and run seven miles around a lake, our bodies at their limits.

The season began, and we were losing races our school normally won. To fix this, we embraced a brand of scrawny-limbed violence. Inside a sprinting mass of bodies set free by the starting gun, we would shove and elbow for position. Some people fell, but never our team. My friend with the erection threw a punch in the back of an All-State runner.

Out alone on the course, I nudged people into trees. I sent one person into a ditch; I never saw him again.

We continued to lose.


When we didn’t qualify for state that year, everyone was shattered. People cried; someone threw his water jug into a lake. To celebrate the season’s end, we held a backyard boxing tournament. I landed a strong left hook before my opponent jabbed his way to victory.


That night, my girlfriend came over. My face was intact, but badly swollen. I’d been studying myself in the bathroom mirror, enamored with my toughness and grit. The pain would be worth her admiration.

When I opened the door, she laughed.

Jonathan Crowl's fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Guernica, Day One, Midway Journal, Front Porch Journal, and other publications. Raised in Nebraska, he lives in Saint Paul. Find him at www.jonathancrowl.com. And for more great sports writing buy our Winter Sports issue or become a subscriber today.