It’s hot here now. The sun blares and the air is thick. Insects buzz at fever pitch. The breeze stirs, but doesn’t cool.
I ran shirtless, trying to overcome some latent modesty. There is no moisture-wicking fabric than can shed sweat fast enough to keep up with me on a day like this one.
I started fast because I’ve been running less, and running less makes me want to run faster than I should. It felt good to push into the heat a little and find my rhythm. At some point though, I tipped over. My lungs couldn’t wring enough air from the air. My heart rate ramped up and refused to settle again.
To my left some animal screeched suddenly and I jerked my head to try to see what was happening. I caught a toe and went down, my sweaty hands now coated in fine sand. The flash anger of falling helped me overcome whatever weaknesses were rising in the back of my mind.
I pushed on like that, deeply in the orange but not quite red, willing myself to settle. But I was beyond the border, that physical demarcation where the body can find ecstatic homeostasis, that high-revved balance you want.
Past that you are only ever running out of time.
I tried to remain philosophical. How long could I stay here, on the other side of the line? Is it even possible to drag the line forward, to force it to meet you instead of retreating again yourself?
I passed some other runners, sitting in a spot of shade, and my ego forced me to clean up my form and push the pace just a little, to tell them the lie that I was well within my comfort. I knew it was a lie, but a useful one I thought. They bought me a quarter mile beyond the border.
Then I turned to math. How much farther did I have to go? How much trail behind me already? It’s hard to do math in this state, slightly hypoxic, struggling to stay on the balls of your feet, where the roots and rocks can’t pull you down. I am resigned to falling once. I’m too fragile to hit the ground a second time.
A mountain biker came fast around a corner and scared me. I apologized. Pushed on.
The car is coming. My car. Where I parked it near the trail head. This is also sort of a lie, but it becomes a reasonable one at some point, just believable enough to keep you going, the last mind trick you have to play on yourself.
I staggered to a stop a few feet short of the car and walked up the sun bleached road a ways. Every pore in my body streaming. I looped lazily back and retrieved my water bottle, a towel. I sat in the shade of a small tree and let everything come to rest again.