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Rated: E · Fiction · Sports · #2091111
A look into the mind of an ultra runner in the midst of the toughest race in the World.
It was midnight in the town of Squaw Valley, California. The roads were a barren wasteland, and its citizens were sound asleep under the warmth of their linen blankets. Flashing street signs and chirping crickets were the only signs of life. An amalgamated scent of dew, rainwater and moist gravel wafted throughout the city into the mountains of the Strawberry Range. The name, as mellow as it may sound was home to many cougars and black bears, mules and antelopes, beavers and minks—all creatures of habit possessing their own ways of countering the harsh realism of the wild.

The tall trees and crumbly dirt were also home to the nighthawk, a crepuscular being who slips around like a thief in the night, who perches from trees and preys with might. Its flattened head and large eyes are symbols of its superiority. Its cryptic coloration and intricate patterns are side effects of its incredible stealth. They huddled together in groups and hanged on maple tree branches. With never shutting eyes and timeless patience, they were poker players with acing cards, ready to sweep preys at a moment’s notice.

Tonight, however, would be different.

The sounds of the woods were disarranged by another, more man-made sound. It came in radicals of soft thumps—soft knocks on the doors of the wild. As time ticked by the knocks grew closer and closer, louder and louder. The animals and trees froze and watched. What is this sound? The smell of dew and rain then collided with a piquant aroma—a scent far too alien for a night in the woods. In a blink of an eye—a shake of a lamb’s tail—the cause of this disturbance revealed itself, before vanishing moments later. A few observant creatures caught its figure; an animal toned with muscle and a lanky build with sprouting hair all over its chin and parts of its cheeks. Its body was soaked in sweat with traces of steam evaporating off its pale skin. Its pupils were dark and brown and dilated, as if it was on an adrenaline rush. It did not take a long time for them to conclude that it was in fact, a mad orangutan.

They were wrong.
It was Wes Bascomb, ultrarunner.

Like a phantom shrouded by the shadows of the night, his presence was merely an estimated suggestion than a calculated reality. He flew past everyone and everything; burning all 8 cylinders, leaving nothing but a hint of cool downdrafts and broken twigs and fleeing nighthawks. His legs moved like a unicycle—endless in motion. At a dismaying pace of 8 minutes a mile, Wes strained his eyes to look at the trail in front of him with nothing but subtle moonlight illuminating the path. His brain signaled him to slow down, but his heart demanded the speed. His breathing was precise clockwork and his cadence was an eternal pendulum. He was a machine inhaling the gelid air of October and exhaling the humid vapor of July.

The orangutan, although seemingly alone in his journey was in fact part of a pack of 100 selected runners. The finest of them all. All chosen to participate in the toughest race in the World. A race in which over 60% of the starters do not finish. A race in which an 18,000 feet ascent is included in the journey to the finish. A race where your body is pushed to the limits of absolute endurance. A race where the heat and the cold may result in the destruction of your very own mind and souls.

The Western States 100 Miler.

The majestically deadly attraction of the event has been a particular life goal for this different breed of humans. Over thousands have tried and failed to conquer the mountains that lay between Squaw Valley and Auburn to conquer this trial of miles. Finishing the run is a remarkable achievement, while finishing under 24 hours is a glorious victory. It gave you the prestigious Western States Medal—the one and only Medal of Honor in the running community.
Wes was a mere underdog in the field of elites. The 19 year old was still grieving overxpu the death of his mother after a battle with a golf-ball sized tumor in her left brain. Running was his alcohol. His way of forgetting. His freedom. His tranquility. Western States was the memorial run for his late mother. A final ‘Thank You’.

Unfortunately, he was hurting.

Wes was a fine man and an excellent runner, but anyone who had the guts to take on one of the toughest endurance races would face the harsh terrain and high altitude which worked together to produce absolute nightmares for those brave souls. Each step up the rocky surface was another sting in Wes’ blister-ridden limbs. The cold and misty atmosphere resulted in fatigue and low visibility, making him crave the warmth of the sun. The air was difficult to breathe, fostering immediate disorientation and migraines to form in their already crushed bodies. Many had already dropped out due to a conundrum of reasons ranging from fatigue to frostbite. Wes, on the other hand, had a much larger problem to deal with.

Just a few hours beforehand, Wes Bascomb was on top of the world. With his nutrition on-point, muscles ever so slightly taut and a lot of gas left in the tank, the quest had so far been a successful, perhaps even an enjoyable one. It was then when he went ahead of himself and picked up the pace. Despite receiving numerous warnings from the folks at the previous aid station, his uppity mind decided it was best for him to speed up.

The thought went through his head like lightning and an instant later, the command was sent to the rest of his body. He adjusted his lean forward to gain more momentum. His bony pistons wielded more pressure off the ground as his motion accelerated. The whole process wasn’t sudden nor arrhythmic. It was finely tuned, precise and smooth. It was like pushing the throttles of a jet—slow and surely, expelling loads of power yet spooling in near silence, before launching off into the heavens.

Wes’ contrails was so immense that it frightened off the nighthawks. They have all fled from their branches—scurrying away from the steaming exhaust of the jet. Wes loved this. He pleasurably savored the agility, the velocity, the whole idea of wheezing animals away with nothing but his own tailwind.

The thumping of dirt sprouted in amplitude and became more recurrent like impatient door knocking. The bushes around him began to produce a crisp sound as if rattlesnakes and rodents were tracking him from behind. Everything but Wes himself was aware of this reckless, sub-6:00 pace commotion. As the pace got faster and faster, Wes paid even less attention to where his legs were heading. As long as there were no furrows nor holes nor fallen tree barks, Wes recklessly roamed the woods while loosely making sure he was still within trail limits. On previous training days, he would unknowingly ram into thin tree branches and trip over small rocks. These rams and trips would send him on a set of quivering strides, but once he was back to his normal, languid stride the pace persisted the same way it was before. On these days, it was normal for him to complete the run with a partially torn shirt, or if he opted not wearing a shirt at all, a tiny amount of warm blood would be splattered across his upper body. Not that it matters. He didn’t care at all. In his mind, he was the greatest ultrarunner in the world. But who could’ve thought a hole, an area the size of a football, could threaten Wes’ courageous attempt.

All was well right before the tall trees camouflaged the moon and its light. The fog then descended at an alarming rate, and it was thicker than the type he was accustomed to back home at Kansas. It strained his eyes to the max, causing his vision to be nothing more than a 50 year old suffering from cataract. The Official Guidebook recommended every runner to carry at least 2 headlamps in case one of them died mid-run, something Wes did not anticipate to happen. His $10 headlamp from Target failed at the 86th mile and moments later, his left foot stepped into a lurking hole in the ground as his body lunged forward in a jerking motion towards the coarse terrain. A slight crack followed, and when Wes pushed his cheeks off the dirt to assess the damage, it was clear that he had sprained his ankle as a violet clump began to form on the surface of his skin. The nearest checkpoint was 4 miles away, and there was no way of contacting anyone for help. He had to walk 4 grueling miles on a swollen ankle.

Wes was forced to search deep within himself as he completed the 90th mile and arrived at the final checkpoint. There were only 10 miles left in this race, but that godforsaken hole resulted in the chiseling of his sanity out of his mind. His rotten legs were sweet with pure relief. His heart eventually has a chance to recuperate from continuous anguish. A poor mind and soul’s cravings for hope and joy were finally fulfilled.

As Wes sat down on a stool, stuffing anything he could find into his dry mouth ranging from shots of energy gels to cans of hot soup, a few medical personnel attended to his swollen ankle and gave it a thorough check to make sure Wes wouldn’t come home an amputee as he finally had a chance to gaze at the spectacular view all around him.

The alluring greenery was glowing with life as thin layers of sunlight fell from the heavens. Day was fast approaching. The trees around him waved harmoniously with the wind, perfectly in sync. The distant frozen mountain caps started to melt, forming gracious haze around the peaks which dripped down the boundless sky, icing twigs and grit subtended down below. This was truly God’s canvas right before his eyes.

The faint calling of a cuckoo could be heard from the distance, its repetitive yet graceful sound poured a kaleidoscope of relief on Wes’ eardrums. They listened carefully to the rustling of the leaves and cracking of twigs circling him, signaling that the residents of the forest had begun their morning activities. As the clock strikes 6 and the orange orb slowly ascends above the mountains, the sky lights up with splashes of orange and magenta. Light was all around him.

A little fawn appeared out of nowhere, accompanying it was its mother. They both strolled along the woods side by side with amazing harmony. The fawn had an adorable pair of puny ears and seemed like a creature full of curiosity and joy. It ran circles around its mother while occasionally chasing off birds and insects that populated the woods. The mother was a graceful doe, its white dots looked like they were painted by Picasso himself and her eyes bore a warm, loving gaze. The sheer beauty of this sight made Wes recall similar moments with his mother. She wasn’t the perfect, caring mother who made pancakes with maple syrup and kissed him goodbye to school every morning. She was the type that would work extra shifts at the local diner and extend that mental and physical limit of hers day by day just to keep her son in school and provide enough food on the table. Nothing was the same after his father left for some cheap co-worker, but nevertheless they were a happy family, or at least they tried to be.

This mere sparkle of nostalgic memories and hope inspired him to continue. Wes Bascomb rose up and launched himself into the final leg of the journey.

The victory was short-lived. In no time, his body had exhausted all its resources and was running on fumes again in the midst of the ascent. Eternal doom haunted him like a dark cloud on a gloomy day. Each stride made a creaking sound in his joints, and the burning sensation—a common phenomenon—had made its place in his system. His swollen ankle quivered and thighs tensed up with each step. 3 miles to go. Wes gave his ankle another glance. The violet clump was rapidly expanding. The voices in his head began shouting at this unfortunate being.
The voices though, were not imaginary. They were real. They were the sounds of the citizens of Auburn. The finish line was in sight!

His heart pounded. His mind entered a state of reverie. Endorphins filled his body to the wildest of dreams. He sprinted towards the line of relief and elation! Just half a mile to go! The cheering grew louder and warmer with each stride he took. 23:59:10! Hell, he might even break the 24 hour mark! Go Wes Go! Chase the clock down!

“Daddy, are you ready?”
The little voice revealed a boy no more than the young age of 9.
“Yes son. Let’s get started. Let’s go for 2 miles okay?”
“Nah daddy, let’s go for 3. I want to beat all the bigger boys in the mile next week. Coach said he’ll get me ice cream if I win my meet.”
A middle aged man rushed out of the door of a wooden lodge. He then caught up with his son who had sprinted up the trail ahead of his father.
“Okay champ. Just don’t go too fast now or I’m gonna have trouble catching up with ya! By the way, you might wanna skip the ice cream part when you tell your ma.” the father gave out a warm chuckle as they both started on their morning ritual.
Both of them had similar running form: a fast cadence, decent stride, arms held up against their chests and a straight posture, although the father seemed to have an awkward limp every time his left foot pounded the dirt. It was probably the scar of a long, tiresome battle against himself. Both of them dressed alike. A white shirt, blue shorts and matching shoes.
Hanging down the boy’s neck—however—was a Western States Medal.

© Copyright 2016 Timothy Sam (timx1 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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