As some of you may know I am currently hard at work training for my first ever 10k run in September when I am taking part in the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow. An unexpected bonus of the running has been time to let my mind generate ideas and mull over bits of unfinished writing while I put one foot in front of the other.
This week I was out doing a run and I had a mile left to go, my left knee was hurting but I was determined I was going to finish when the phrase, ‘this last mile is going to be a bitch,’ flew though my frontal lobes. ‘The Last Mile,’ I thought, ‘I like that – that sounds like a great title right there.’ By the time I finished the run I had the bones of a story taking shape. I sat down later thay night, still reeking of Deep Heat and put pen to paper and sketched out the first couple of hundred words and the notion of “hitting the wall” had wormed its way into the story. Last night I typed up what I had and before I knew it the time was 3 in the morning and I had a finished first draft. I’ve done a little tidying tonight and present it for your perusal. I will most likely come back and do a proper second draft after a few weeks to give me time to get a little distance from it. I may also change the title since hitting the wall has become the focus of the story The Last Mile doesn’t have quite the same resonance as before.
I am currently reviewing posting complete stories here as I am noticing an increasing number of writing competitions stipulating that they won’t accept stories that you have published on your blog – seems a bit harsh but there you go! I figure early drafts are ok so long as they differ a bit from the version you submit but I’d hate to miss out on a technicality.
Anyway, below you can see (for the moment at least) The Last Mile and if you would like to sponsor me for the 10k you can do that on my fundraising page.
The Last Mile
Dawson was concentrating on the man in the green vest about. He was about ten feet away with the rest of the pack strung out in front of him. His eyes bored deep into the man’s back like an X-ray. The crowd lining the route were just smears of colour in his peripheral vision as he ran past. He was biding his time, allowing Mr Green to set the pace, saving his strength for the right moment. He sensed that the moment was almost upon him and readied his body to step up a gear for the final push. It was ironic really, at school Dawson had loathed PE – actively avoided it in fact. As a teenager he had been more interested in music and having a crafty fag around the back of the school with his mates and yet here he was running a marathon.
It was funny how these things happened. He’d been talked into signing up for a 10k run by some of the other lads in the office to raise money for a local hospice and the bug had bitten hard. He found that he loved the self-discipline of training, the physical and mental stamina needed to complete the distance – going for a run was like a mental enema, it cleared your head and left only you and the road.
‘Don’t you get bored Dad? His son had asked.
‘But you don’t even take your ipod with you when you go out – isn’t it a bit, y’know, dull?’
Adam raised his eyebrows in disbelief. Dawson pressed on.
‘When I’m running it’s a little bit like stepping outside my body. You know that video game you and your mates play all the time – the shoot ‘em up one?’
‘Call of Duty? I don’t get it – how’s that like running?’
‘Well, you’re seeing the game from your character’s point of view but you’re not really in the game world are you? You’re just viewing the world through their eyes. That’s what it’s like when I run.’
‘I never thought of it like that before.’
After a while 10k wasn’t enough. He’d progressed to half marathons and now the time had come for the big daddy, a marathon all 26 miles and 385 yards of it, the ultimate endurance challenge.
He closed in on Mr Green, picking up the pace. There was no great secret to marathon running he had discovered it was simply a question of putting one foot in front of the other, grinding out the miles, oblivious to everything except the sound of his breathing and the slap of his running shoes on the damp tarmac. He pulled alongside Mr Green, matching him stride for stride for a few moments then pushed on past him.
So long Mr Green, he thought. Be seeing you. He settled back into his normal pace and set his sights on the next runner in front.
‘What’s the worst thing about running?’
Dawson didn’t even need to think before answering. ‘Hitting the wall.’
‘What’s that mean?’
‘It’s when you’ve burned off all your energy before you get to the end of the race – a lot of marathon runners get it at one time or another – even ones that have run lots of races.’ He’d watched clips of runners crashing into the wall on YouTube, leg buckling beneath them, faces contorted with effort, collapsing in exhausted heaps by the side of the road. Hardly any made it out the other side to finish their races.
‘What do you do when it happens?’
Dawson shrugged. ‘You either tough it out or you quit.’
His first indication that something was wrong was when he noticed shadows creeping into the corners of his eyes, now and then he would see shapes dart out in front of him causing him to interrupt his stride. He would whip his head round looking for the intruders, thinking someone had jumped the barriers to interfere with the runners and see no one there. With his concentration broken he struggled to regain his momentum. He could feel panic begin to set in. The air grew thicker, holding him back in a sticky embrace. His feet flapped against the road as if he was wearing flippers, both legs suddenly filled with concrete. His arms were dead-weights hanging slack at his side and with each new step the notion of stopping and lying down on the ground grew in his mind until he could think of nothing else. He became sure that if he could just be still for five minutes and rest he would be ok to get up again and finish the race. His head sunk lower, eyes fixed on the ground in front of him; he realised he could rake up some leaves from the side of the road and make a cosy pillow for his head…
Dawson dragged his head up watched as Mr Green strode past him without so much as a backwards glance.
He needed to regain his focus. His mental defences were down and the outside world was crashing in all around him. He remembered reading about the wall in various running magazines, soaking up all the details on what to eat to keep your glycogen levels up and how to train yourself to beat it when you hit. One particular nugget of information floated to the top of his mind as he dredged desperately for a solution. ‘When you slam into the bricks,’ the article had said, ‘you need to find a way to distract yourself from the here and now until you come out the other side. You have to fill your head with anything but running.’
Dawson closed his eyes for a second and breathed from his diaphragm. His heart thudded in his ears, pumping blood through his aching muscles. Still his feet kept moving. He visualised one of the CD racks dotted around his house.
AC/DC, he thought. Arcade Fire, Bad Brains, Bad Manners, Bad Religion. He concentrated hard. What came next? The Clash? No, Booker T and the MGs! He felt his pace quicken once more. Should Elvis Costello go under E for Elvis or C for Costello? Dawson felt the panic leave him. He was outside himself again, dispassionate observer of events. Mr Green was still ahead but closer than he had been a few minutes before. Faith No More, Fallout Boy. He was onto the second shelf by now and gaining ground again. By mile 25 he was done with one stack and onto the next. The finish line was just visible at the end of the last mile. His socks were wet with broken blisters, the raw skin underneath itched maddeningly but still he pushed on. He didn’t care about catching Mr Green now, there was only the line at the end of the mile surrounded by cheering spectators and race Marshalls in their high-viz vests. Above the line a giant digital clock ticked off the seconds as each runner passed beneath it. It still looked so far away, as if he was seeing it through the wrong end of a telescope. LCD Sound system, The Lemonheads, Lou Reed, Lush.
He crossed the line as the clock ticked off 3 hours and 26 minutes. Mr Green finished just ahead of him but Dawson found he no longer cared. A Marshall tried to put an arm around him and guide him to the side of the road. Dawson shrugged him aside. He was only up to the Velvet Underground. I reckon I can do another mile before I get to ZZ Top, he told himself and kept running.
- Young in Midland: Runners cross off marathon from their bucket lists (mywesttexas.com)
- Ignoring the fear (foot4ward.co.uk)