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Go

Ready.

I breathe slowly and do some quick stretches. I kick out a couple times to loosen the kinks in my legs and feel the strength in them, reminding myself of my capabilities. I can do this.

Set.

I crouch low, every muscle tight and coiled, locked and loaded. Focus.

Go!

The word is a scream in my head, like an angry slash of red paint across my mind. It reverberates through my veins down to my toes. I lurch and shoot forward like a comet. But not too fast'I have to save my energy. It takes a moment to find my stride and fall into a smooth, easy step. It feels good so far, a much needed stretch. I inhale deeply, savoring it while I can. Just keep breathing and you'll be fine. Don't think about what comes after that'

The give of the ground against the pounding rhythm of my feet is solid and reassuring, the only thought tethering me to earth. If not for that, I could be flying. I could be bounding on swift gazelle hooves. I'm numb, deaf, and blind to my surroundings. The world is only the ground under my sneakers, the buzzing of my nerves, and the roar in my head, reminding me not to cross my arms, to keep my head straight, to take longer strides, to be light and bouncy on the balls of my feet, to DON'T STOP DON'T YOU DARE STOP. JUST GO!

I don't shift my eyes from the place at the end of the trail, before the bend in the road, where I'll allow myself to stop. I watch it creep toward me, bouncing with each step.

Now that ache is starting to close in, making my legs heavy and my elbows creek. I try to keep breathing evenly but it's getting harder, and I find myself taking ragged gasps of air that sear my lungs and throat on their way down. I can feel droplets of sweat trickling down my forehead, down my back between my shoulder blades.

With each step it becomes harder to breathe and harder to lift my foot, like I'm being filled with sand. Every cell in my body is crying for me to stop and catch my breath, and it takes all I have not to listen. I'll never forgive myself if I do. Ignore it. Keep going. I push past that cold, gray wall of weariness. It would be so easy to just quit now' But I don't stop. I pump my legs even faster instead, though I don't feel so nimble and strong anymore. I set my jaw.

I am so close'

Five more yards'

My muscles are burning.

One more yard'

My lungs are about to burst.

One last step'

Can't'

And I finally stop, dust settling around me. The trembling, leaden weakness has fully caught up to me, cementing my bones and shackling my legs. I'm sweating but cold, like I have the flu. It feels like something is compressing my chest. But, pushing sweat and hair from my face, I check the stopwatch hanging around my neck and I can't hold back the grin that pulls at my tired mouth; it's a personal record.

The only witnesses are the road, the blue sky overhead, and the mesquite trees; the breeze rattling the hard, red bean pods is the only applause I need.





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