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College Application cross country race

You're a runner. You're applying to college. You want to write your application essay about running.


Ask: Is what you're going to say about running different from what thousands of other applicants might write? Chances are, it's not.

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When I worked in undergraduate admissions at Duke University I read a whole bunch of essays about running.

Most of them were indistinguishable, even those that took place in the mind of a runner during a race.
But in the middle it seems to go on for a long, long time about the discipline that running requires. It is better if you can add a SECOND dimension to the essay's main theme... or... add a second theme. Make it so that the essay takes on a whole new dimension because you incorporate your main goal for the future as a secondary theme.

By the end of the essay, after far too much time in the prison-house of someone else's consciousness, I would be screaming to go for a run myself and would have learned no more about the writer than that he had won/lost/finished the race and that it was hard.
I kept running. The runner beside me was breathing heavily, and the sound of his feet crashing against the ground was intimidating. I, however, was not about to back down. As we passed the rocky, flat path, my mind started to drift away from the race, the screaming fans, and everything around me. I started to ask myself if this pain and agony would be worth it in the end. I went back to the beginning of the school year when I was debating if I should run.

Only one of those running essays stands out. It was by a kid who had been a soccer player and used to make fun of the runners with their itty-bitty shorts. After running a 2:10 800m as a freshman, he decided maybe there was something to running after all.

Running cross country in high school has taught me some very essential traits that will help me to be successful at Penn State. As I cross the finish line of my senior year, I look back on that race as a fantastic one and take what I learned from it with me. However, I immediately go for a warm down run and stretch because I know I have another big race coming up very soon. That big race is my freshman year of college.

He got a nickname, 2:10 Ren, and became a runner, happy to wear the shortest shorts he could find. The essay was smart, funny and self-deprecating. It made me want to get to know him.

When he showed up on campus, I tracked him down and we became friends, meeting for weekly breakfasts at a local diner.

I learned that Ren had run a 4:17 mile in high school.
Then, when everyone stopped playing tag and started playing sports, I played basketball for a bit. I was pretty good at running up and down the court. That was about it. In middle school I did cross country and track, both of which were coached by the teachers who were the biggest hippies. Since the sport was so laissez-faire back then, lots of kids did it simply because their parents wanted them to do an extra-curricular, and they didn’t want to suffer the intensity of a ball sport, or wrestling. Consequently, I spent about 50% of my time screwing around, giggling with my friends. 20% was actual running, which barely scratched the surface of what I could do, since there’s some rule about not making middle schoolers run more than six miles at time. The other 30% was spent mooning over my first crush, which I was pretty close to writing about in this essay, so count yourself lucky.

When I asked him about why he didn't write about that, he said he didn't want to seem like he was bragging. (I mentioned him in a column for Running Times called "Speed Goggles")

College admissions officers don't have a lot of time to spend on each application.

After a thousand or so, you feel like you're reading the same essay over and over.
Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. We suggest a limit of 500 words or fewer.

You're able to boil it down to a simple description (dead grandmother), an equation (running=life) or a word (violin).

When you teach creative writing, as I do, you hear from lots of people who say they love to write.

For the record, I do not love to write.
A group of us soon reached the second checkpoint where a teacher was waiting with bottled water. We slowed down, grabbed a bottle of water from her outstretched hands and rushed off. I soon lagged behind as I was starting to tire. We continued running and found ourselves pounding along a rather nice-looking path with trees on both sides. Suddenly, a sharp pain spread from my calves to the rest of my legs but I did not stop running. The soles of my shoes were as hot as fire as I pounded the pavement to catch up with the other girls ahead of me. Try as I could, I just could not catch up with them. I managed to reach the finishing line later, scoring only five points instead of seven. Those who came way after me got five points each for their houses.

Like Dorothy Parker, I love to have written, but I find the work of putting those words on the page far more exhausting than running the gnarliest 50K. Writing requires discipline and patience and multiple revisions.
I remember debating to myself if I would be able to handle the hard work, pain, discipline, desire, and heart that was needed to be competitive at the sport. Everyday this repetitively played in my mind. I was full of mixed emotions. On one hand, I just wanted to relax and concentrate on my studies my freshman year of high school. On the other hand, I wanted to be part of a team to meet friends and to have fun. I wanted to be pushed every second of the race by the screaming fans. I wanted to feel that intense feeling of victory. I wanted to experience that wild, thrilling, orgasmic feeling as I crossed the finished line.

Pick up any running club newsletter or click on a friends blog and you will see hundreds, maybe thousands of words, but most of them are not arranged in a way that makes you want to read them.

In an essay, what matters is not the subject but what you make of it. If you did the Boston marathon as a bandit when you were sixteen, bully for you.

No matter how many people say it, the phrase "practice makes perfect" is not true; no one can achieve one hundred percent perfection in any area. However, the more practice a person performs, the closer they will come to perfection. During my cross country season this year, I practiced for approximately sixteen weeks. Throughout this time I performed an assortment of long runs, workouts, cross training, and weight lifting in order to build my strength for meets. I knew that if I did not put my utmost effort into practices, I would not build the core power I would need to accomplish my goals in my races. This is similar to the non-running world because a person must, no matter the subject he is applying himself to, gain strength through practice and multiple different contributions of hard work in order to gain success. Therefore this aspect of cross country reflects positively on my ability to succeed at Penn State because it shows that I know how to train myself and apply intense effort in order to achieve success in the end.

(Well, not really, since I don't approve of bandits) So what? What does that say about you? Why should I care? You ran the anchor leg of the 4 x 400m and you made up a huge time deficit so that your team could win the state championship? Big honking deal. I'd be more interested if you dropped the baton and lost, because that would give you something to think hard about. Winning doesn't afford that many opportunities for emotional growth.


We get the word essay from the 16th century French writer Montaigne.

His project was to essai, to try to figure out some things about himself and the world.
I glided back down the hill with very short, yet confident strides. I was on a flat surface again. It was now time to kick in the final push. I knew it would come down to the finish, and I was up for the challenge. I took a deep breath, and started sprinting toward the finish line as fast as my body would go. I looked to my side, and saw that the runner was still with me. With each one of our strides, we were moving faster. As we rounded the final stretch, both of us were neck and neck. I could hear him breathing heavily, and he could hear me doing the same. Our strides were of the same rhythmic pattern and were moving at the same rate. I could see the finish line in the distance and then picked up the pace. My heart was pounding rapidly. My body was extremely hot, worn down, and exhausted. We approached the finish line. The frantic, hysterical fans were screaming at us to go faster. Crossing the finish line was the only thing on my mind. For a second, I blocked off from the race again, and thought about all the hard work that went into the season. It gave me an even greater passion to be at the finish line. I had to cross it first, and was not about to back down. I was running at full speed. It was only a few feet ahead. The runner along side of me was grunting with pain. This made me push harder to the line. I took a few last strides and crossed. I was not sure who had won. It was so close.

That's your goal: The "personal statement" required by the college admissions process is an opportunity to explore who you are and where you fit into the world. If you can do that by writing about running, go for it. But understand that you are not writing about running you are writing something about yourself.
All my hard work in practices led up to my final race, and I knew my running speed was getting faster. It took time, and a lot of patience. Eventually the terrifying, life-changing day came. All of my Cross Country sisters (all the freshmen, the slow ones) were shaking with fright. With my toe directly behind the white line, I whispered good luck as I always did. Then to my closest friends on the team, I said, “We’re finishing this race as sisters.” They agreed. The crack of the gun made my ears pop, and we were off. My legs were so used to the movement and pain that they did exactly as they were told, without protest. Eventually us freshmen split apart. I led the way, and my friends were right on my feet. Halfway through the race, I remembered something Coach had said, “Find someone ahead of you, and beat them. After that, find another; push harder.” I did exactly as he told me to, feeling like a car in the left lane; I passed girl after girl. Each one took more time than the last, but I did it.

You don't have to answer big questions. In fact, once you start sounding like you have the answers, you're in danger of writing one of those mind-numbing "In society today" essays. Instead, you have only to pose an interesting question and wrestle with it.

Here's what I believe about writing: We write to make people fall in love with us. If you can't imagine someone reading your stuff, write a journal. College admissions officers are generally nice people, sometimes smart enough to have been admitted to the universities from which they are now rejecting thousands of applicants, who read huge numbers of files from identically-qualified students.

Upon entering high school, I was beaten up by the increased workload of the new running regime, but I liked the seriousness that the people had about running, coaches and athletes both. I met some skinny seniors that I felt I could actually look up to, as they were good people, and academically competent. Some runners from Post joined the competitors I had from Haller, and we had one weird transfer from Marysville. This nobody and several others, with whom I would become well acquainted throughout the following four years of pavement pounding, made up a pack of freshmen that stuck together and provided for one another something I call “group momentum.” Group momentum is where the hierarchy on the team is fluid, and we all compete for higher spots and higher times. The knowledge that one’s spot in a varsity team is impermanent causes runners to compete more fiercely and dig deeper, and edge closer to the guy that beats them consistently.

Its a human process. Much has to do with personal preference and the reality of the numbers. There's nothing you can do if the person on whose desk your file lands loves Eagle Scouts and student body presidents and hates poetry and you happen to be an anarchist poet who never goes outdoors.
I finally blocked myself out of that negative world and found myself in the ready position. My knees were bent, and I was ready for the gun to go off. The next few seconds were filled with nothing but complete silence. The whistle of the wind was the only thing that was heard throughout the whole park. I was completely concentrated on what I was going to do, and what had to be done. I let myself float off in my own little world. I was the only person in this world. The overwhelming white sky was above my head. There was nothing but white. It was everywhere. There were no people, no fans, and no other runners. I was in a zone. This happy, peaceful, tranquil place slowly let out all of the nervousness and pressure that was building up inside of me. I was ready to run my heart out. Then, the gun went off.

But that doesn't mean you can't write an essay that will show off who you are and why you would be someone they'd want to meet.

When I work as a college counselor with high school students, I ask them to come up with a list of 20 (yes, 20) possible topics.

Usually, at the top of the list is running, or something like it whatever their "thing" is. Then a few more easy and obvious ideas (being on the debate team; parents' divorce; death of a dog).
In order to achieve success in cross country running, a runner must be committed to the sport. The must be willing to sacrifice an immense amount of time for practices and meets. Also, a runner must be dedicated enough to not give up when the running gets painful or frustrating, And finally, runners must be able to put running as a priority and not risk hindering their performance with recreational activities like tackle football games with friends. Throughout my cross country seasons, I had to accept that I would have limited time for all of my out of school activities and schoolwork, for I would get home at 5:00 p.m. at the earliest every weekday, and that does not even include meets. There are always more average and bad races in my cross country season than good ones, but I never give up. Instead, I practice harder and apply myself as much as possible in order to be successful. This feature of cross country reflects positively on my ability to succeed at Penn State because it displays that I stay committed to everything I am involved in and do not give up no matter the hardship.

Then it gets hard, and I encourage them to think about small things that might say something about who they are and what they care about. What do you love? What makes you furious? That's usually when the list starts to get interesting, and items that they thought were discrete appear to have connections.
All of the runners started off at a very fast pace. I could feel the wet, grassy, solid ground beneath my feet. We started up a large, steep, inclining hill. The ground was slippery, and it was hard for my feet to maintain a solid grip against the surface. As I made my way up the hill, I could feel that my shins and my thighs were starting to burn. This tingly, burning sensation was getting worse, and I just wanted to stop running. I kept pushing though, even as the pain was building. I reached the top of the hill, and was now on flat land. I was now running on a narrow, gravel lane with screaming fans lined up on both sides of the pathway.

How is running related to the parents divorce and the death of a beloved dog?

Coming up with a good topic is hard. One of the things we say about my field "creative nonfiction" and the ways it's different from journalism is that its about something other than what its about. So while running may seem to be the focus, there's got to be something bigger, more universal, and also smaller, more specific, that the essay addresses.

There’s also certain goat-like grace to being able to move seamlessly over large rocks and awkward roots. When I would go to Grand Coulee to visit my cousins, climbing the hills of volcanic basalt was like a big, rugged playground. And when climbing up a side of the river valley in Grand Coulee, the view is always spectacular. I have been up a couple small mountains since, and my favorite thing by far is running up them, and down them. Especially when the trail is sketchy.

Understanding that an essay has to be about something is hard; figuring out what that aboutness is can be painful. Often we get there by writing.

In your closet you have 15 different pairs of running shoes.

What does this say? Are you the girl who is afraid of missing out and who, once she finds something she likes, will stockpile many boxes of the same kind of shoe? Or are you that guy who is always trying something new, and so has shoes that are minimalist, pimped out with LED lights, and bundled up in Gore-Tex? A look into the closet can be a look into the soul.
Throughout Cross Country, I’ve learned so much about running, life, and myself. With time, I became stronger, as an athlete and person. The races were scary, simple as that, but Coach said encouraging words that didn’t just make you believe you could do better, but actually made you better. “No matter what speed you go, it’s going to hurt, so ignore the pain. Prove that you can do it, that you’re not afraid.” A fire inside of me wanted to do better, needed to do better, so I listened. My goal was always to beat thirty minutes and once I did, my personal record diminished slowly.

You can write that essay if you use details that are vivid and specific, if everything you tell us could only be coming from you.


In a personal essay, getting the tone right is a challenge.

Often first drafts are stiff and stuffy, where the writer seems to be wearing someone else's clothes and looks uncomfortable, maybe even a little fraudulent.
I slowly brought myself back into reality and back into the race. I looked out in front of me and saw one last hill before the finish line. My legs kept moving. My arms were pacing back and forth, but it took more and more effort to move my them with every stride I took. My shoulders were starting to feel week, and felt like they were going to collapse in my body. I needed and wanted a drink so badly that I was trying to lick the sweat from the side of my face. With all of this pain and agony, I kept pressing harder and moving forward. I approached the hill along with the runner besides me. I thought my legs were going to give out from underneath me. I looked to the top of the hill, and it was not far away. The excitement from this helped me take a few extra long strides. I stumbled a little, but regained my composure. I was at the top. All that was left was the final turn, and then the straightaway.

I ask my students to write their first drafts in the form of an email to me. Tell me a story, I say. This exercise can help shake off some of the writerly pretentions they find appealing and that make me, as a reader, want to retch.
I then drifted from my debating period to the actual training period. I remember some of our practices that were complete torture. It was absolute pain and hard work. Every day at practice I would taste the sweat that came pouring down from my forehead onto the top of my dry, chapped lips. Some practices my legs felt so tired and felt like they just were going to collapse. Other practices I couldn’t even feel my legs. Other practices they felt as light as a feather, and it just felt so easy to move and to run. No matter how my body felt, it somehow kept going. Some days, we ran through rain, and others we ran in the bitter cold. I just kept running.

Instead, they tend to write in ways that are more honest and more direct.

One of the best pieces of advice about writing an essay Ive ever heard is from Montana writer William Kittredge. He says: "Tell a story. Have some thoughts." That's what an essay is narrative and reflection, layered like lasagna or tiramisu.

Tell me a story. That part is usually easy. Then we have to figure out what the story is about.

At that moment I knew I had won. I accomplished everything that I wanted, and then some. I started to cry. The tears that ran down my face were tears of happiness and completeness. I felt this wholesomeness inside of me because I finally reached and surpassed my goal: to be a good runner. I felt faintish from the race, but I did not care. I was felt so happy. A sudden rush of anxiety darted up through my body. I had the chills. I was excited, but could not fully enjoy this ecstatic feeling because I still was a little disoriented from the race. I was dehydrated and my mouth was dry. I still managed to continually smile. I had everything to smile about. I felt like a royal king with complete control and power. After a short while, the moment eventually faded, but the lesson I experience from the race and the whole season will stay with me forever.

I ask questions. It will be clear to the writer why what she included was important. It may not, however, be clear to the reader. Connections and implications need stitching, and sometimes unstitching.

Starting with a Quote
Beginning writers want to reach out and grab the reader by the throat.
With 200 meters left and I ran the hardest I ran all season. I remember the pain in my throat and chest, my numb arms, my melting legs, and then, it was over. Nausea came over me. I pushed myself to accomplish something I was incapable of doing, or so I thought. I hadn’t been able to look at the clock. My dad came up to me and told me I had gotten about 27 minutes. I had taken a minute and thirty off my last time. Right then, I realized that if I could finish the race, I could do anything.

This can be, for the reader, kind of unpleasant. Beginning writers do it because they don't trust the reader to be interested, and they don't trust their own skills to bring her in. So they resort to tricks. But starting with a disembodied line of dialogue without context is usually confusing, disorienting, and just plain annoying.
That connection to my fellow runners was something that I would always appreciate about my sport. However much fun I make of how easygoing my fellow runners are, that’s one of the biggest reasons I kept coming back. I didn’t return to basketball because I couldn’t relate to anyone on my team. Cross country is a lot more diverse, even among the varsity runners, so there are good odds you’ll make some friends. Although, it’s not hard for an XC team of sixty to be more diverse than a basketball team of ten.

Its a gimmick, and it looks like a gimmick.

Find ways to bring the reader in by being honest and reflective and self-critical. Work hard to come up with a good first line, but don't make it scream.

Using the Present Tense
I know graduate professors of creative writing who will reject any applicant who sends in an essay written in the present tense.

Beginning writers believe that the present tense can bring a sense of immediacy.
Most people believe that the hardest part about running is the physical pain. However, cross country running is just as much mentally difficult. During a race, a runner feels an intense amount of pain throughout their whole body. The mental toughness is an internal battle the runner faces where they must refuse to give in and continue to run through the pain. Since cross country races are much longer than a short sprint, runners need to be able to keep this mental strength the entire race. The runner must stay focused on their race the entire time and cannot let their mind wander for then their mental will may start to succumb to the pain. This parallels to my ability to succeed at Penn State because it illustrates how I have the ability to stay mentally focused and strong throughout all of my years at Penn State, and will not just start slacking off after a semester or two.

It can, in fact, create a hyperventilating sense of YOU ARE THERE, but that's not what your goal should be.

In an essay, the action is less important than the reflection. It's not the race, its knowing how to feel about it afterward.
When I was younger, about eight years old, I and the kids of my block would play a game of guerilla warfare. Because of the conspicuous lack of fences between our four adjacent yards, which were encircled by the street, they made ideal battlegrounds. In this game, we won by staying alive and keeping the rest of our team that way. One got killed if a combatant saw them, raised their plastic gun and said “Bang” before they did the same to them. Things got confusing when four six-to-eight-year-olds were screaming at each other about who shot first, so the best thing to do was to erase all doubt by completely ambushing your opponents. The surest way for me to do that was to run, right out of the gate, so that I could cover more ground, establish where my enemy was, and set my team up in an adequate ambush. The wider of a curve I took to get around where I thought they would be, and the faster I went, the less likely it was that I would be spotted.

William Wordsworth defined poetry as the "spontaneous overflow of emotion recollected in tranquility." In fact, if the topic is hot something that is difficult or painful to write about the most effective tone will be cool. Don't tell the reader what to feel, just let her feel it. The past tense allows you to show yourself as a person who thinks, understands, criticizes, reflects.
And regardless of how much I like my teammates, a large amount of the joy I get from running happens when I go the distance alone. When I’m out on a trail or a road by myself, I feel free of everyone else and their opinions, their problems, and the pressure to keep up or wait up or whatever. I’m like a sailboat: independent, self-sufficient, and graceful. I can chuckle to myself or sing or curse myself or others and no one will care.

Too much dialogue
What is easy to read was hard to write. Many people don't realize that dialogue requires art and craft to do well and that in real life (which is, after all, what an essay is trying to capture), people don't say what they mean and often speak at cross-purposes.

Summarizing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, we have to be motivated and work hard to achieve our goals. Nothing will just be handed over to us. The only thing we get out of life is what we put into it. I have now learned this through experience. As I try to shadow and use these inspiring words to achieve my goals, I realize that we must have courage. Through running, I have learned that we must explore the world and what it offers us. Once we start exploring, then we open the door towards much success and happiness in the future.

Fiction writers know that dialogue must do something beyond give facts. It characterizes and captures, it highlights and reveals. In a 500-word essay, you can use it like seasoning: Too much will be overwhelming, but a little bit, a little zest, a little zing, can help.
When your legs, stomach, arms, chest, and head hurt, and you feel like you are going to die, then you know what it's all about. Cross Country is not like other sports who get those timeouts or even get to switch players between rounds, it's an all out two miles and there are no rounds so you have no rest or stops. No matter how much it hurts, you have to finish because then you get the satisfaction of completing it. That's why I don't think we get the recognition that we should receive, going out in the cold or heat and running 3 to 5 miles no matter how your feeling you still have to run even if you are sore or tired, it doesn't matter.

When you're writing in the first person, you don't add much by quoting yourself. You're already telling us what you think, so unless you said something shocking, you can report it rather than putting it in quotes.
A cross country race is exhilarating. In a cross country race, the feeling is pretty much a feeling of death, and I think to myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?” Then I remember that running is fantastic. Running a 5k race is the most amazing yet horrible feeling in the world. Some people walk during a race and that's painful to watch because I’m still running, and pushing my muscles to keep going. My muscles will burn with power as I run; they will flex on an uphill, while my knees lock on the downhill. That's when concentration becomes the key, reminding myself to loosen up and to push with an intense need to go faster, to beat the next person in front of me. In a race I feel free.While telling myself that I can beat anyone (or that I will sure as hell will try to), I must try to beat everyone.

And while were on dialogue, I might as well remind you that all you need is "he said", or "she said". These are called "dialogue tags", and we read right over them. We get stuck, however, when the writer calls attention to them: "He whined." "She squealed." And we can become derailed when the verbs have nothing to do with speech. "'You're hot,' he leered." "She smirked." Or when burdensome adverbs are added. "'You're fat,' he said, cheekily."

Word choice
Adverbs are not your friends.

They, like exclamation points and clichés and the use of italics for emphasis, are the refuge of the weak and the lazy.
It was so satisfying to see my friends/enemies drop to the ground in frustration after hearing me yell from an unseen location, “Bang, got you Jack!” And later, when we got foam swords, running was no way to escape the the graceful, long-limbed arcs of my “blade.” And let’s not even talk about tag. Or hide-and-go-seek-tag.

Write with strong nouns and verbs. Beginning writers tend to overdo it: Too many adverbs, too many adjectives, too many words. And not only that, too many fancy words. Step away from the thesaurus. Don't use a word unless you have spoken it in daily life. And don't use phrases you use all the time. You know what I mean: clichés. Its a fast way to get ideas on the page, to express them in language that comes readily to mind and fingertips. If you must, go ahead and write the clichés on your first draft.
That's what it takes to see what your really made of, to see how much guts you actually have. Cross Country is an amazing sport and you won't forget that first feeling of working hard and knowing that you achieved something that many people haven't, that in it self is an accomplishment!...

Then revise them out with images that are fresher and more specific.

Be aware that often writing can go bad when it looks like creative writing; when you see the effort of reaching for description, all you see is effort. Like running, the best make the work invisible.
My head is exploding, my stomach is ripping, my legs are starting to ache, and the competitor is about to appose, this is what Cross Country is. The competition, the family, and out-lasting the pain are some minor details of running.

Be clear, be honest, be natural.

To be Not to be
Any student of history should know about the dangers of the passive voice. If you say that the buffalo disappeared from the plains, or the war was started, you risk letting the bad guys off the hook and not giving credit to the heroes.

If I’m going to explain why I run, I may as well start at the beginning, before it was a habit and my body and mind actually needed it to feel good.

It can also lead to flat, dead prose. You can spiff up your writing by limiting use of the form of the verb to be. Is, am, are, was, were you know. Finding ways around it will force you to use stronger verbs.
Most of us forced our legs to run fast, overtaking some slow students, ignoring their jeers and cheers. Having played the fool during the practice sessions, most of us felt our hearts pounding like a thousand drums. A group of girls overtook me. Despite the muscle ache, I increased my stride and managed to match their paces.

And it will make the writing tighter.

Too long
My favorite quote, from Pascal, says, "I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn't have the time." Write long and then cut, cut, cut. You do not have a captive audience. Whether it's a 500-word personal statement, a magazine article, or a book, no one has to finish reading.
Intra-team competition is laid most bare during races, where we are the least afraid of working to the limit. But it extends to the workouts, which build our success in races. Nobody wants to be a mile behind the man that they want to stick with in a race, even when the run is thirteen miles long. The last interval of a speed workout may as well be the finish line of a race, for the competition you see. The feeling at the end of these workouts, and at the end of a race, is one of the best feelings I get from anything. Even if I don’t do particularly well, I feel literally radiant as the excess heat departs my body in an infrared glow. It’s like the heat of a car engine, back from a long drive on the highway. Languid, like a lover recently satiated.

Your job involves keeping the reader in mind. Every paragraph, sentence, and word has to earn its keep by doing some useful work. Once you get a draft down, cut it by 20 to 30 percent. You can discover the same joy in cutting your work as you can in shaving seconds off your 5K time.
Mrs. Lee, our school principal then made her way to the front of the line. Preet !! And we were off. The first group of students to run were the class B students -- the first, second and third formers. Then it was the turn of the class A students -- the fourth and fifth formers. We ran from the school, cut across a hill where there was a stream and passed a housing estate with nice bungalows. The route was scenic but the actual running was a real killer.

No one likes flab.

After you have a draft of your essay, set it aside. When you spend a lot of time reading and rereading what you've come up with, you run the risk of memorizing your sentences, lending them the ring of inevitability. You want to let it sit long enough to be able to see it with fresh eyes. Then read it out loud to someone else who has a copy of her own. Listen to where it hitches. Let her point out where you have spoken words you did not write and then go back and fix them.
A burning sensation fills my lungs. My muscles are at the point of shutting down. Almost every voice in my head tells me to give up and surrender to the pain. But there is one voice that reminds me why I even got myself into this mess. It calls to attention that in this moment, like many other moments in life, I must overcome pain and struggle in order to achieve success and reward in the end. Thus cross country is beneficial to my life because it emphasizes hard work and effort in order to gain strength, the necessity of commitment, and pushing through struggles to gain success.

Make sure she can hear your voice coming through.

A bad essay won't keep you out of college but a good essay could help you get in. More important, it's a chance to learn how to write about something you love in a way that makes other people understand why you do what you do and who you are.
We found a shady area under a big oak tree and sat there to stretch. As every other race, we positioned ourselves in a circle to show our team unity. I started to stretch and could feel how sore and tight my muscles were. It actually hurt when I tried to touch my feet.


Orwell Rules (from “Politics and the English Language” — a must-read essay for everyone)
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print.

- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Rules to ignore
- Never begin a sentence with “But” or “And.
The competition is extreme, each race you are going against about 150 other competitors. This year for the girl's team, Salem has been our biggest competition. Running is definitely nothing but a gut sport; hopefully you have a lot of it because you do need it. Determination is a key fact when going against a number of other girls or you just might get left in the dust, literally!

- Never use contractions.
- Never refer to the reader as you.
- Never use the first-person pronoun “I.”
- Never end a sentence with a preposition.
- Never split an infinitive.
- Never write a paragraph consisting of a single sentence.

Every high school student should read Strunk and White's The Elements of Style and many will enjoy and learn from Stephen King's On Writing.
Back in elementary school, running was a means to an end. But it was a happy means. It felt good to to be able to overcome distances and obstacles faster than others, and to be able to keep going when they tired.

Rachel Toor, author of Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running, teaches writing at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.

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