It shouldn’t be hard. But it is. 600 metres of sprinting along a dirt and gravel path rendered soggy from the day’s sultry deluges. The air is still pregnant with damp. The skies an ominous shade of charcoal.
400 metres in, we reach a clearing in the woods. The dirt, gravel and mud now yield to a steep hill of small stones. The stones are slippery and in the most unpredictable and heinous of manners, they give way beneath you. So that the fatigue of the uphill sprint is augmented by the crushing realization that you’re losing precious ground. Your heart scrabbles all the more to recover your lost footing and propel you ever onward to the rocky summit.
We set out, the 5 of us. At first clinging to slender dry ridges of path and then finally launching full flight through puddles large enough to sustain aquatic life. The hard truth realized after 5 exhausting repeats — to go around is far more debilitating than it is to go through.
At the rock face incline, I am in 3rd, where I have been for the most part all session. The leader is already half way up the hill. But second place is much closer than he has been all evening.
I try to navigate a path that allows me to threaten 2nd. The bold move is risky along the vastly slick outside. And announcing myself like I do means only one thing — I better make good on my threat.
It’s the last repeat of the evening. My reserves are on nil. I grunt and sputter with effort. But I decide to gun it.
My stride is aggressive if ungainly. Agility never having been my strong suit. There’s a pause of panic as the man I’ve supplanted begins to mount a counter-attack. Like a kid who has angered his big brother, I need to stay ahead of my pursuer. He can’t hurt me if he can’t catch me.
I flail away with 100 extremely long metres to go. My lungs are burning. Reaching the top, a primal cry I hardly recognize as my own escapes repeatedly from my depths. My last repeat a full 8 seconds (14 seconds/km) faster than anything I had so far been able to muster.
Though I manage to hold onto second, these are not cries of triumph. In training that would appear disrespectful. The cries rather, are ones of thorough and complete exhaustion.
I have left all of me out there in my maddening attempt to push myself, to be better.
It should have been easy. 6x 600 metre hill repeats. But it wasn’t. In no small way, the last hour forced me to confront my own limitations, my own frailties, my own insecurities. And, though punch-drunk and staggering, I somehow arrived both literally and figuratively, on top.