It’s early. A watery sun struggles to rise and the birds have subdued their noisy dawn clamour. The road that runs along the other side of the fence is empty of all but the lightest of traffic. Seagulls dance around the grass in the centre of the running track. They scatter as I approach.
The bench is wet with dark patches of cold water on the wooden planks. I shrug my fleece from my shoulders. Goosebumps pickle my skin. I lean down to check the laces of my running shoes and fold my socks down neatly. I inhale the smell of wet grass and damp tarmac.
I follow through my usual sequence of warm up exercises, shoulder, arms and torso. Swinging arms, twisting at the waist, I lean left, walking my hand down the outside of my leg. Then I lean right. I step forward. Left leg straight, heel flat against the ground, I hold the pose for the count of ten then swap legs. Lifting first one heel behind, then the next, I feel the stretch of muscles.
The running blocks are fixed in place. I ease my feet into their starting positions. Fingertips rest lightly on the red tarmac. I lift my frame ready to spring forward.
In my mind I hear the crack of the gun and launch myself forward. Arms and legs move in carefully trained harmony as my breathing slips into a familiar pattern. I run for a while, ease down to a gentle trot, come to a stop and turn back to the running blocks to go through the motion again.
I think about next week and the Olympic trials. No empty race track there, but every move will be tracked by cameras, cheered on by a crowd of thousands as I race against my opponents. Past titles and the season’s best times will be polished off and paraded out. Old heroes will sit on soft sofas and dissect my current form and speculate about my mental state. Re-runs of recent races will flash on large screens.
They expect me to win. They anticipate a gold medal, the flag draped around my shoulders and the national anthem playing as I stand on the rostrum, clutching flowers and waving. They will comment on my smile, how hard I have worked and how much I deserve this prize. If I should loose, the camera will show close-ups of my tears and the commentary will drip with sympathy.
But they don’t expect me to lose.
What separates me from my rivals will be measured, not in inches or yards, but in hundredths of a second, a head dipped or a chest thrust forward through the finishing line.
As I practice my starts, and as I clock my speed around the track, I think about the other race I am running. There are no titles and no season’s best times to flaunt for this race. There are no medals or rostrums, and I cannot hear the roar of the crowd, the witnesses in heaven that stand to applaud my victories.
No anthem sounds. There is but one single voice, a voice like thunder that shakes the earth.
“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
That’s the race I aim to win.
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