I breathe heavy. My feet are shuffling fast as I push myself along the wet corridor of the running track. My heart is pounding in my chest and I feel heat waves permeating through my wet clothes. The daylight has already made way for darkness, and whatever warmth there could've been in this late day of October has been replaced with cold and dampness. It's raining.
The heavy music pumping in my ears is insufficient to cover the sound of my effort. It resonates in my skull and accentuates the beat of my blood hitting my temples. My mind is gone. I am an animal. A roaring beast unleashed on an empty track in the cold and the pouring rain, gripping my feet like claws against the ground only to push harder against the wind that whips my face.
I clench my jaws. My open hands fold to fists as my elbows squeeze tighter and my back straightens. A group of track runners are attempting a fast loop just as I’m passing by. They are tall, fit and fast. Cheetahs.
As I reach them, some spread apart to make room for me. I am side-by-side with the first two runners, breathing heavy but ready to give it all. I accelerate slightly, anxious to feel their reaction. They keep up, but don’t pass me. I’m going to give this a shot.
100 meters. The runners behind me are now a couple seconds away and the front pack is steadily distancing them. This is going to be a three man thing.
200 meters. It seems everyone is trying to keep as close together as possible. The runners are much taller than me and I feel unnerved by their presence so close. I must resist a strong urge to accelerate. Stay steady.
300 meters. The stride is lengthening, the speed is rising and the tension of the last stretch is approaching. I give up to my instinct and push harder, knowing full well I might be burning the energy needed for a last sprint if my opponents decide to dash for the finish line. Fuck it, too late now.
One last straight line opens up as I exit the curve. I’ve come ahead of the closest runner. I feel like my whole body is about to explode. I’ve passed the point of controlling my breath or my movements, my legs are frantic. I have no soul. I rage forward, out of pure emptiness. I can’t feel the world around anymore, only the stomping of my feet and the pinching rain crashing against me.
As my last stride pushes me beyond the finish line, I feel like screaming but can’t find enough air. I let my body decelerate to a jog and spend half of the next lap running with closed eyes, exhausted, exhilarated.
When I open my eyes again, I have regained control and balance and my breathing has slowed down to a normal effort. The cheetahs are gone. All I see ahead is a black silhouette, alone under the white light of the high flood beams hovering above the track. Regular puffs of pale steam pushing on each side of his head. A lone runner.
Steady, he has the upright posture of barefooters and a solid stride. His hair is dripping from a mix of sweat and cold rain, but he looks unbothered. As I close in, I can’t help but smile. He’s wearing a black hoodie with an inscription that reads “Conviction” in the back. You sure need a whole lot of it to be out here tonight, I think to myself.
I change tracks to get closer. He notices and turns his head, both wrinkling in effort and sporting an indescribable smile all at once. In a heartbeat, I raise both my arms at him, clench my fingers into claws and let out a loud roar. I don’t need to talk. He knows precisely what I mean.
I complete one last lap to cool down from my rage run, just in time for the lone black runner to reach me again. He’s also exhausted, but shining with joy. He lifts his soggy head, smiles and asks if I’m done.
Daniel Roy is delightedly satisfied and ready to call it a night, and so am I.