Jul 14, 2003

Athlete's Foot Fault

"... and so I stood at the end of it all, taking a breather, letting my swirling thoughts settle down. But the knowledge that soon it would (sooner this time, later next time) begin all over again cannot be banished from the foreground.

I stood at the starting line, waiting for the gun to go off. Again. It is an endless cycle, it seems, but I can do something about it if I wanted. I could probably change the venue of the run, or may be if I created enough of a fuss, I might even change the starting point. But it is very difficult to see how I cannot run such a circuit given normal circumstances. I am not alone in the trot though, there are many doing it all the time, some with me.

I think I would be one of those who'd prefer each lap to be exactly identical, or as similar as possible: I usually learn with each iteration, and more importantly, improve as I run back to the beginning. Some others would argue for the opposite: they wouldn't mind the journey occasionally straying off into uncharted territory (which it often does), but unless I make it out safely, I wouldn't consider the adventure a success, the path not outscoring the result. For you see, in this race, I never have enough faith in my abilities: my stamina, my reflexes, my instincts, my technique all remain under suspicion. Therein, my friend, lies the difficulty in coming back to the starting line, and pushing off on another run. But there are some others that think my self-flagellating criticisms are baseless, because (and this is rather hilarious) I can jump higher and longer than most others. They naturally assume I'm a gifted athlete in every other athletic event, but why should I pay the price for someone else's assumptions?

I prefer it when I can run with someone I trust, trust to pick me up when self-doubt cramps the legs, trust to have a good shot at finding the way out when we're lost. I can be vice-captain of this track team, never cap'n. I can remember what I did on a near-previous visit to this tricky swamp area, and hence I can help new runners to avoid being sucked down when they choose to rest their weight on some unsupported tuft of grass, but I cannot believe I have the fortitude and imagination to hack the exit out myself. I have fallen a few times and been a little lucky not to drown yet, but do not doubt the fact that I have had to wipe the slush off my clothes, scars of the slips that were.

So why did I choose to run this race (Is it a race? Not for me, I should think. Do the planets race each other around the sun, like excitable kids? Guess not. It is their need to live their existence, to avoid being caught out by the invisible and powerful force that would otherwise suck them to their end, like moths and their fiery nemeses.) I could have run at other places, so I thought, but a lot of runners seemed to find this a good surface to try their legs on. Having also lost the ability to ponder on the destinations these cross-country exercise take their runners, I have no choice, at least for the moment, to make the cyclic journey.

Let me get specific! This time's run as a sample; not representative, but still a sample. This time's journey would be different because I had lost my pace-maker for ever, and had temporarily lost my radar and rosary. Which meant that beset by the devils of the track, I would have to make the play happen myself, with some rookies looking over my shoulder for a little direction. I ran with apprehension, but if someone had seen the start we got, they would've laughed my anxiety away. The run took us into a new area, yes, but this was verdant and peaceful, with the sparkle in the air that seems a little too artifical to be true. Instead of allaying the pins-and-needles in my feet, these happy surroundings seemed to heighten my fears.

It is the turns, the sharp corners, the ends of the bridges, the sudden drops in elevation that seem to be the best settings for surprise. But there was no question of being taken aback by that for imminence can be a feeling that makes "there-didn't-I-tell-you!"s the winner each time. The road got rough, there were hurdles of heights that I had never attempted before, and even a water jump! I don't like to get wet when I run outdoors, and especially if I haven't even crossed half the distance. The coach made an unexpected stopover at one of the rest-points to *instruct* us, when all I wanted was a gulp of glucose and vitamins instead of lectures on my technique and strategies that should've been someone else's work to theorize over. Take your pointing-stick somewhere else, I want to tell him. But the trouble with coaches is they run your races merely in their heads or in distant memories, whereas I have to do it in the now. By now I know I've dropped even the pretence of making a brave run. They all know the only thing I care about now is to drag my sorry self back to base. But have I given up too early? And is it not important not only to try and succeed, but to also *try*? J'accuse! I gave up too early!

If you keep running long enough (however slowly you do) in a track (however meandering it may seem) that's supposed to lead you back to the starting point, the sheer force of that inevitability can take you home (there are many ways of going home, All roads lead to Home!, but in different states of wear-and-tear). I did so too.

But even after the race, I was on my face. Tripped over the bloody finishing tape. When I thought I had put all my grief behind me and was looking forward to some rest, light training and a new start. But having been denied that luxury, it seems that I haven't really finished the circuit to look forward to the next attempt. Instead, it feels like the two races have coalesced into two laps of the same race. Drat.

I just caught an energy drink, not bothering to look at my times for the last attempt. I stood at the end (?) of it all, taking a breather, letting my thoughts settle down. But the knowledge that soon it would (later this time, sooner next time) begin all over again cannot be banished from the foreground..."

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