Having executed a good variety of sprints, high knees, and exaggerated long strides between mailboxes and telephone poles the last few miles or so would consist of nothing in particular. She would allow her mind to shut down completely, sitting back to enjoy the ride that her legs knew by heart. For a while now her breath had been fixed to a deep and effortless rhythm. Inhales lasted for about four strides and exhales required five. But again, no one was counting.
The past hour had taken an observable toll. Her drenched hair seemed to be 3 shades darker. Tips and entire strands clung tightly to her neck. Her shirt and shorts had greyer greys and blacker blacks in all the likely places. Beneath her sunglasses were redder eyes. Like always the water-proof, sweat-proof sunscreen had somehow managed to make its way into them. She also displayed the subtler signs of a tired runner- softer expressions, heavily lidded eyes and hands fixed in a decrepit position. One could easily tell that just the thought of succumbing to her tired legs with a walking pace was tempting.
Her right hand made a fist. Then, from left to right, she swiped her chin with the groove between her first and second knuckle. This, as it always did, produced a perfect bead of sweat which would roll from the back of her fist to her wrist. Then wind down her forearm and fall from her elbow to the pitted gravel road below. One of many.
When she rounded the corner her strides became more pronounced and her pulse quickened accordingly. The sight of her parked car triggered the same innate response that all finish lines did, “You’re almost there. This is when it really counts,” and what was that phrase?- “You can do anything for one minute.” Because that’s all it was going to take. Going hard enough anyway.
She closed her eyes determinedly and the entire world melted away. Concentrating on not what she had already given, but what she had left to give. What energy had she left to give? Strides that were once, “left…right…left…” sped up to the pace of a sprinter, “right.left.right.left.right.” With the promise of a near end and the imagery competition at her heals, sheer adrenaline took over. Her shoes began making contact with the ground as if each step were too painful to bear. Her lungs felt as if they would burst. When at last she reached the finish her fingertips tapped the hood of her car as if to say, “end time.” Then after allowing her legs to slow down drastically she turned around without hesitation and walked the 23 steps back to her car. Exhaling a well-deserved, “Yessss” she sunk into the driver’s seat and drove away. Although completely exhausted, she was not.