Bret gives Ryan a run for his money!

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Bret had a narrow lead.

Ryan sat alone in the empty high-jump area. The asphalt surface felt warm and rough against his bare thighs. He grasped his ankles and leaned forward, his nose touching his knees. The minty smell of athletic ointment stung his nostrils.

A light breeze rustled his hair and reminded him that he would be running into the wind for the 110-meter high-hurdle event. Conditions weren’t great, but the wind would be in Bret Rogers’s face, too. Ryan still felt the sting of the last time he had raced Bret. Bret had left him in the dust.

Ryan stood up and walked toward the track, the spikes on his shoes clicking on the asphalt. The runners were in the starting blocks for the 100-meter dash.

“Come on, Mike! Let’s go, Bob!” he yelled, cheering his teammates as the starter’s gun sounded. But he could see that the runner from West Junior High was too fast. Soon it was over. Bob took second, and Mike took third.

“OK, I’m up next,” he thought. His throat felt dry, and he fought down a wave of nausea. “Why do I do this to myself?” he wondered.

The track was the old cinder type. He felt a crunch with each step as he ran at half speed to the starting line.

Bret Rogers was already there. They nodded to each other. The wind carried clanking sounds as the managers placed hurdles on the track.

Ryan gazed ahead at the sea of hurdles between the athletes and the finish line. Each of the six lanes had ten white hurdles spaced evenly over the 110 meters between the starting and finish lines. Ryan swallowed nervously.

“Hurdlers, get in your lanes,” the starter commanded. Ryan was assigned to lane three. Bret had lane four.

Ryan braced his feet against the starting blocks, then pushed off to test them.

The starter stepped forward. “Runners, take your mark.”

Ryan put his feet against the blocks. He placed his left thumb and forefinger against the starting line, then his right. He was crouched and ready. The nausea was gone.

“Now set.”

Ryan extended his legs and raised his back. He was positioned for maximum speed. He could hear Bret breathing beside him.

Bang! The gun sounded.

Ryan bolted forward. His feet pounded the cinders as he approached the first hurdle. Ryan glided over quickly, but Bret was in the lead. There was no time for Ryan to think. After hours of practice, his movements were automatic.

Only three strides were needed between each of the remaining hurdles. Ryan’s right foot led him over the second hurdle, then his left thigh whipped over. He heard a thud as a runner fell.

Ryan’s left foot stung as it slammed the fifth hurdle. But his right foot landed firmly, and his stride remained unbroken. Bret was still slightly ahead.

Going over the seventh hurdle, Ryan felt his right arm graze Bret’s arm. They were even.

They were still even over the tenth and final hurdle. Their arms pumped and their feet pounded as each strained to win.

A chest-high string marked the finish line. Fans yelled. Ryan threw himself forward. He didn’t feel the string.They would race again soon.

Ryan’s momentum carried him forward another twenty meters. He gasped and leaned forward, hands on his knees, chest heaving. Sweat ran down his face and dripped on the ground. “Close, but I didn’t win,” he thought.

He felt a hand on his back. “Nice race,” said Bret, panting.

“Thanks,” said Ryan. “You, too.” They shook hands.

Ryan walked a few steps and noticed that his foot was sore. He must have slammed that hurdle harder than he had thought.

“Ryan, great job!”

Ryan looked toward the voice in the stands. His coach was smiling, holding up his stopwatch. “You ran it in 18.4 seconds!” Coach shouted. “That’s your best time ever!”

Ryan broke into a grin. He waved.

He began jogging. His foot was better already. “Got to stay loose,” he said to himself. “Bret and I have to run the 300-meter hurdles in less than an hour.”