I’m travelling at approximately nine miles per hour and gaining altitude at nearly three feet per second. A signal is coming from my frontal lobe, travelling down into my cerebellum. It is transferred to the spinal cord, soon to exit through a series of ventral roots. The signal is arriving at my legs and forcing them to run as fast as they fucking can.
They said that I had to push myself in order to improve. Then they said that I was pushing myself too hard. Sprinting until you collapse will accomplish nothing. You’ll only exhaust yourself and cause more pain than benefit. Why did I even decide to go for a run? I’ll never need to run again in my life unless I’m catching a bus. What benefit could there possibly be to all of this?
My designated route is a little over three miles, somewhere around five kilometers. The path runs around the perimeter of Mt. Tabor City Park on the east side of Portland, Oregon. The route is considered one of the more challenging on Tabor, consisting of varying levels of steepness, starting with a set of two hundred and eighty-two stairs leading from the base of SE Tabor Drive.
But I’m not following the route that I had planned. I’m just climbing up and down the stairs, over and over. Up. Down. Skip one stair each step up. Skip two stairs each leap down. They told me that I was going to get dehydrated. They told me that I was going to puke if I kept pushing myself. They told me that I needed to stop. They’re asking me if I brought a water bottle. They’re worrying about me. I understand. I’m worrying about myself too.
My muscles are giving off energy in the form of heat. The heat is detected in my brain, which decides that I’m overheating. Another electrical signal is fired off, this time towards the hypothalamus, which alerts the rest of my body of the increased temperature. My eccrine glands are working in overdrive. Water gathered in small ducts beneath my skin start to excrete in the form of sweat.
Why am I on the high school running team? They said that exercise made you feel better. I’m not feeling better. I feel like I’m torturing myself. I am receiving no benefit out of this other than an unquenchable thirst and the feeling that I’m wasting my time. This is hardly exercising. This is some sort of survival training. I could outrun a tsunami if I kept this up. I could sprint across a battlefield to avoid enemy fire. I could race a goddamn cheetah. They said that exercise made you feel better. I guess I’m not running fast enough.
Due to my handedness, my right foot falls with slightly more pressure than my left. My right toes hit the ground hard, rubbing against the inside of my sock, which is rubbing against the inside of my shoe. Friction is created on the bottom of the foot, irritating the skin. A tear is created within the top layers of my skin. The rest of my body receives a signal from my sensory system. A fluid is sent into the tear as instructed by the motor response. A blister is forming on the big toe of my right foot.
There is no reason to be running this fast. There is no reason to be trying this hard. I haven’t stopped for twenty minutes, but I can’t stop. As I charge down the staircase, the momentum in my legs keeps me falling down the entire eastern side of Mt. Tabor. As I sprint up the staircase, the momentum in my head keeps me climbing back up. You’re doing this to yourself. You’re doing this because you have to. You’re doing this to make up for your mistakes. You’re doing this to punish yourself. You’re doing this to make the guilty voice in the back of your head to dissolve into a buzz of agony.
Information regarding my repetitive leg movement has notified my hypothalamus that I must be in some sort of danger. The alert of overheating and belief of peril is sent to my occipital lobe. Any sign of trouble means that hyperawareness would be beneficial. My eyes start to dilate in an attempt to take in more light. The assumption of danger makes my brain decide that leg function is more pertinent than clear thinking. The blood rushes from my head and is sent to my extremities. I’ve gotten pale.
Time is up. It’s time for us to pile back into the van and get back to school. They say I look like I’m dying. They say I look like I’m about to faint. Two of them hand me their own water bottles. I drain each of them. The blood returns to my face. I can breathe again. The angry voice in the back of my head returns to the foreground. I close my eyes and wish that I had passed out.