My feet are glued to the starting line. My back arched, my arms held stiffly in front of me. I look to both sides and see a long line of people in my pose, like soldiers in form. We are stones, stuck in this position, motionless, but in a few seconds we will explode forward like speeding bullets, a cattle on charge after the same red flag. Before that happens, though, the trigger needs to be pulled.
The gunshot will be quick, loud and deafening. A strong, reverberating signal that commands us to run, to speed forward with all our might. Yet it does not happen immediately. We have to wait, here at the starting line, poised in these stiff positions; our hearts pound slowly and hard, like loud bass drums.
Waiting for the gunshot, the beginning of the race, can be more exhausting than the race itself. While I line up at the starting line, I am both ignorant and meticulous of my surroundings. I try to ignore all distractions and focus on preserving energy for the long journey ahead. Yet at the same time, I survey my environment, and my competitors, to prepare for the challenge.
I realize that what follows is an endless rampage through damp dark woods, flat fluorescent fields and steep hillsides that hug the sun. I know that during the race, my heart will beat faster than a drum roll and my breath will become hot and stale. My feet will slam the ground; I will feel gravity hammering my knees. My arms will catapult from my sides, while my head collapses upon my shoulders.
After a while, it becomes easier. I form a consistent pace. My legs are caught in a continuous graceful motion. They follow the trail they are meant to stick to and I am able to use less work to drive them forward, as they have been stretched and used; they have been charged with the task of running. They become a wheel, my mind a passenger. At this point I no longer drive. Instead, I ride.
During this ride, I am able to appreciate the beautiful settings around me. I peer through the forest, taking in the golden beams of sunlight shining through the trees’ dusty brown autumn leaves. I run across bridges over small silver streams of cool water, and I think of how I would like to swim in them right now. I jump over logs, run up and down hills, over mud and dry grass, and sprint across open fields, taking in all that Mother Nature has to offer.
Simultaneously, I ensure my legs keep form, sticking to the trail of the race. I make sure they are moving, running with all their might, keeping me focused on the goal of crossing that finish line. To some degree I am competing with other racers, but to a larger degree I am racing simply for myself.
I run along other racers; or I run past them, or fall behind them. It does not matter in the long run. We become divided during the race, but from the beginning, at the starting line, we are all horses chasing after a carrot, and in the end we all end up taking the carrot home with us in some shape or form, whether it be a champion’s medal, or simply the satisfaction of finishing the race itself.
During the race, it is inevitable I will become tired. The sun may burn my skin. The rain may tear at my face. The wind may whisk me off my feet. Yet I will continue running, because passing the finish line makes it all worthwhile. Seeing that line while racing is like finding land while lost at sea. There are few sensations more satisfying than regaining balance after a long and strenuous struggle.
Yet here I still am, on the starting line, with the rest of the crew, still waiting, still poised, like soldiers in form. But we know that, thankfully, this nightmare will not last much longer. After the gunshot, the hardest part of the race will be over. We will all be caught in the graceful motion of running.
And then it happens. The trigger is pulled, and the gun explodes in a puff of smoke, banging like cymbals in my ear. I awake.