You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m not. Maybe I never will be. I close my eyes. I breathe. I count out my breaths in my head; each inhalation and each exhalation. One, two, three, four. Pause between each. Slow the breathing. Concentrate on your heart. Feel it thumping in your chest. Feel the air tickling your neck. One, two, three, four. Slower still. Let the thump fade. Concentrate. Open your eyes. Sight your target. Wait for it. Breath. Thump. Click. Crack! Target down. Thump. Next. Click Crack! Target down. Thump. Next. Click Crack! Again. Click Crack! Again! Click Crack. Five down. “Get up you lazy bitch!” my brain screams “Get the fuck up!”
My hearing returns as the world fades in once more. I’m on my skis again. Pushing. Gliding. Pushing. Gliding. The thump in my chest moves to my ears. I can the familiar metallic taste of effort glints over my tongue. Push. Glide. Push. Glide. Two more laps to go. The finish line is coming closer with each effort and yet with each push I can feel my legs wanting to seize up. My heart is pounding. My lungs are burning. And yet I push. And I push. And I push.
The sound of the air rushing across my ears is all I can hear now. The crunch of the snow beneath my skis is less of a sound and more of a feeling. I can see her in front of me now. Her bib flapping in the wind. Am I gaining? Push harder. Push. Harder. Beyond her there is the crowd. The cheering. The accolades. “Push god damn it!” my brain screams. But my body screams back, “We’re done.”
I can feel my legs lose their connection to my body. I feel wobbly. Woozy. My vision is getting narrower and narrower. All I can see is her bib. She’s not getting closer. I’m stuck in this tug of war. “Push god damn it push!” I hear the rapid drumming of my pulse in my ears. My heart feels like it’s going to explode out of my chest. My fingers buzzing, my lungs burning, my eyes watering. This feels like death. This feels like the end.
Then in an instant the pain is gone. I can’t feel a thing. I can’t hear a thing. I see my own body from some distant perspective. The agony on my face is not mine. The pain in my eyes is not mine. It’s some husk of a human pushing and gliding. I can see she’s going to lose. Still she pushes on. She strives to reach the finish. To reach the bib on the woman in front of her. She’s across the finish line now, and has collapsed into a heap next to her rival. I close my eyes and shake my head. So close.
Once I open them again the pain is fresh once more. I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck and left to die by the side of the road. Dull aches and sharp stabs are everywhere. My body is heaving as I gulp in great chunks of air. It’s stinging my lungs as I only now realize how cold it is outside. The feeling slowly returns to my fingers, and they ache. I can feel my legs once more but they refuse to react to my commands to get up. I lie here instead, like a puddle of flesh and bones, staring at her bib. I hate her. I hate her with all my being. Every agony I am suffering is her fault. I want to scream at her. Voice my frustrations. My desperate anguish churns in my throat cutting off the precious air I crave. Tears stream down my face and I hear myself sob like a toddler. I hate her for beating me. I hate her so god damn much.
She turns to me and smiles, “Great race.”
…and all is forgiven.