This piece was written by Max Greczyn.
The sounds of a freight train are the first noises I hear on the morning of July 26, 2018. John DeCelle, a senior varsity cross country runner for Bishop O'Connell High School, has invited me to follow him through his final full day at Blue Ridge Running Camp.
It's a bleak and foggy day, but DeCelle is already awake. I follow him down to the Eastern Mennonite University track, where stretches are followed by a shakeout run, all before 7 AM.
The highlight of the day, the culmination of a week of grueling workouts, is a five-mile run up to Reddish Knob, a local landmark and lookout. The course is infamous at the camp⏤a popular item in the camp store are "I Conquered Reddish Knob" tees.
"I've only gone up once before, last summer, but that experience taught me all I need to know about the run," DeCelle tells me. "It's a brutal teacher⏤you need to trust in your ability, be patient, and use the other runners going up as encouragement. The comradery of the climb, and the camp in general, is what really makes it unique."
DeCelle goes on to tell me of his freshman year race at the Oatlands Invitational, of walking part of the race.
"I'll never forget it. It's always in the back of my head, reminding me of how I let myself down when I gave up that day. Ever since then, I simply shut out any thoughts of quitting."
Sure enough, as I trail DeCelle up the nearly half-mile vertical climb, not once does he falter. We reach the top, breathing heavily, and gaze at the landscape.
"Always remember that pain is temporary. But this?" he says, pointing at the view, "this lasts forever."