On Your Mark
When our bus pulled up at Brookside Elementary, I saw teachers waving and grooving between bright signs: “Go the Distance.” “Ready, Set, Race.” Even with the windows closed, I could hear party music blaring from speakers. They were pumping us up for the Brookside Fun Run that was happening in two weeks.
Every year, we run laps around the carpool loop. Ten equals a mile. Kyla, Gabi, and RJ ran the most laps in our class last time. My score was somewhere in the middle. This time, I wanted to make the top five. Fast as a cheetah. Swift as a sailfish. Quick as lightning.
That’s what I tell myself when I’m in a race. Arms pumping, legs flying, I see myself crossing the finish line like a track star. Usually that gets me going, and I’m proud of how I do.
But when I have to run for a long time, it’s like my legs do the opposite. First, they’re zooming, and then they’re slow as a car about to run out of gas.
“Yes!” my best friend RJ said as he jammed to the music. “I’m definitely getting the most laps this year.”
Kyla, who was sitting in front of us, turned and smirked.
“We’ll see about that,” she said.
RJ and I laughed. This was supposed to be all about fun, but for some kids, it was all about bragging rights. People sponsor us, and we raise money for the school. Classes with the most laps win pizza parties. Kids who bring in the most money can earn passes to cool activities like mini golf and movies. Everyone slurps on Popsicles when they finish running.
As we got off the bus, my heart pounded at the excitement. But why did I have butterflies, too? It’s not like it’s a big track meet, but I wanted to do better than I did last time. Trying to achieve your best is a big deal in my family. I didn’t want to let them and myself down.
In Miss Taylor’s room, I tucked my backpack in my cubby and headed to my seat. She passed out flyers for the Fun Run. We slipped them into our take-home folders.
“This year’s theme is Laps for Laptops,” Miss Taylor said. “The more we raise, the more new laptops we get for the school.”
And we sure needed them. I was in the technology club—the computers we had looked like they were from my parents’ day.
Some friends chattered and smiled as they talked about the run, but I saw Carson frowning as he looked the flyer over. He can double Dutch almost as good as Simone, but running is not his thing. The last time we had the Fun Run, he got the least laps in.
Miss Taylor hit the chime to signal the morning meeting. Chirr! Chirr!
it sang, and the talking ended like someone pulled the plug on a TV.
“Okay, class, it’s time to get started,” she said. We joined her on the orange-and-blue rug.
“The Fun Run is just in time for our science unit on vitamins, minerals, and exercise. We’re going to talk about what we’re putting into our bodies, how food gives us energy, and how to live healthier lifestyles. Think about it. What could you do better?”
“Eat less junk food,” Jada said.
“Walk more,” Gabi added.
I get lots of exercise playing basketball, hockey, and riding my bike, but I get tired out too quickly. I raised my hand.
“What about lasting longer when we run or exercise?”
“Great point,” Miss Taylor said. “That’s called endurance.”
As she filled us in on what we’d be covering, a smile spread across my face. What if I came up with my own set of exercises, something that was guaranteed to make me fast as a flash and last as long as a battery? When the Fun Run came, I’d be ready.
I thought about the run all day and on the bus ride home. After I finished my math homework, I looked at the yellow flyer again.
“You coming, Miles?” Nana asked as she tied her sneakers. I’d promised to go with her on a walk around the neighborhood. Time to put my plan into action.
We stretched before getting started. I copied Nana’s moves, rolling my head and shoulders, lunging to each side, reaching as high as I could and then touching my toes.
“I feel nice and warmed up,” she said. “How about you?”
“Okey doke, let’s go the long way this time.”
The long way? Uh-oh. I knew the route Nana was talking about. It’s all the way around the neighborhood, down to the grocery store and back. I took a breath and breathed out slowly. No turning back now.
When we started walking, I did okay. I kept up with her, no problem. But then Nana picked up the pace. She was speed-walking, her locs swishing as she zipped down the sidewalk. I huffed and struggled to match her stride.
“You’re too young to conk out so quickly,” she said, slowing down. “You should come walking with me more.”
As I panted and tried to catch my breath, I knew she was right. I had a lot of work to do. If I got tired out walking with Nana, what chance did I have at the Fun Run?
Copyright © 2023 by Kelly Starling Lyons: Illustrated by Wayne Spencer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.