Kerri Lindsey had never been good at math.
She stared blankly at the half-sheet of blue paper in front of her, covered in random clusters of numbers grouped into corners in no logical order, hoping if she looked at it long enough, it’d start to make sense, and she could answer the question she’d asked herself for the last hour.
If there are 9.85 laps in one mile, and I was able to run 24 laps out of 40, and my average lap is 1:12, then how long will it take me to do 26.2 miles?
She’d tried cross-multiplying, one of few mathematical operations she both understood and liked. The more she tried, the less logical the answers seemed. At one point, her math told her she could finish the Pasadena Marathon in forty-three minutes; at another, seventeen hours. Frustrated, she picked up the half-sheet of number-scrawled paper and wadded it into the tiniest ball her swollen hands would make. Didn’t matter how many times she tried to figure out if and how she’d finish the marathon, she knew her numbers wouldn’t scale to twenty-six miles. Of the four she’d ran that day, most of the running was at the front end. The farther she went, the more she had to walk. She knew that at the rate she was going, she’d be restricted to walking after the first seven, because her stupid knee wouldn’t cooperate.
She’d been seriously rocking it before her knee decided to be an asshole. It was a beautiful early summer day, just after a light rain and just before dusk the week she was scheduled to complete a long run of ten miles, the farthest she’d ever attempted. She’d gone all the way from her house at Walnut five miles straight down Los Robles right before I-10, had turned around at the halfway point, and stopped at Valley Boulevard to wait for the light to change. She was feeling good – really good. Then the light changed, she took off across the street, and felt like a shark bit her right in the side of her leg (what she surmised a shark bite would feel like, anyway). She’d tried to shake it off and keep running, but the harder she tried not to focus on it, the more it refused to be ignored. This wasn’t a stitch, or a cramp, or something else she could walk off. There was something seriously wrong.
Ever since then, her ability to run was sketchy. Some days, she could run four or five miles with no trouble. Other days, she couldn’t even run one lap around the track without feeling like a railroadman was driving a spike through the side of her knee. She kept trying to ignore the pain, just like she’d done before ten-mile Sunday, but after limping home five miles with no water and no cell phone, the pain wouldn’t be ignored. She’d told the story of ten-mile Sunday to three different doctors already, all of whom said she should be seeing some improvement by now. She was doing everything they told her to do: taking the Naproxen, taking breaks from running, taking time to stretch really well, warming up and cooling down. Nothing was helping.
She figured people were probably tired of hearing about it. It wasn’t their fault; they just didn’t understand. The marathon entry fee had been paid. The hotel was paid for. She’d requested the time off work. She’d bought new Cumulus 12s. She couldn’t look back now. She had to finish the marathon, even if she had to walk the whole damn thing, which was looking more and more likely every day. It didn’t happen to one of them; it happened to her, and it wasn’t fair. Why did it have to happen right before her training plan kicked into high gear?
As she tossed the rumpled ball of paper, a long run playlist song came on the radio in the bedroom. She closed her eyes and thought of how it felt to jog in a zigzag down a slow downhill slope with a cool breeze in her face, and felt her heart turn to lead and sink down into the pit of her stomach. She leaned into the wall and sank down to the cold tile floor, where she rested her head on her knees to sob comfortably – the fourth breakdown she’d had this week.
She didn’t even wanna go to the gym anymore. She’d see women in ill-fitting sports bras and worn-out shoes they’d mowed their lawns in jogging haphazardly around the track, and her lungs burned with jealousy. It wasn’t fair that they could run and she couldn’t. They weren’t training for a marathon that was seven weeks away. They were taking their ability to run for granted. They weren’t even enjoying it. She wanted to walk up and punch them all in the face, but instead, she walked with her head down so she didn’t have to see them and they couldn’t see the tears on her burning cheeks.
This was supposed to be her fourteen mile day, and she knew she couldn’t do it. Summer was getting hotter and more humid, and her marathon buddies were getting up at 4:30 AM to do their long runs. Even if she got up at 4:30, she wouldn’t be done until most of 9:00 – what was the point? She knew she wouldn’t be able to run more than a handful of the fourteen miles. Like the doctors said, she was supposed to be seeing improvement by now. The only improvement she saw was with her ability to hide her emotions in front of her friends, to tell the story of ten-mile Sunday with increasing accuracy and detail, to stomach anti-inflammatories with fewer carbs.
She wiped her eyes with her bare arm and rose from the floor. She ripped another day off the calendar on the kitchen counter, a page that read “58 days ‘til marathon,” followed by five exclamation points.
© Copyright 2011 Kelly I. Hitchcock. All rights reserved.
Kelly I. Hitchcock is a novelist, poet, and blogger from a poor stretch of the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri. A graduate of the creative writing program at Missouri State University, Kelly’s poems have been featured in Clackamas Literary Review and Foliate Oak Literary Journal. She also wrote “Manifesto of a Neglected Chipmunk” and “Ad Hominem” for this blog. She lives in Kansas City and is an avid volunteer and fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Learn more about the author and her work by visiting her website and following her on Twitter.