Only Now. Only Forward.

Photo: Jenny Thorsen @luoyunghwa

The following excerpt appears in Hard Prairie Volume 1, available now! To purchase your copy, please click the link on our homepage!

Ask a BFC first-timer what their biggest fear is come race day and a fair share will likely namedrop Rat Jaw, the infamous mile-long stretch of saw briars. For me, it's Chimney Top, a true killer of dreams, a steep, merciless uphill march that I’d happily trade for the inconvenience of snagging briars. Last night, huddled over my map, I tapped the trail blaze with my fingers, frowning up at my husband. My race has ended here twice, I said. 

He reminds me how hard I’ve worked this year and that I’m stronger. He would know: He has tolerated my before-dawn alarms and increasingly longer runs and tended tirelessly to my nutrition and routines. Once a day, every day, we talk about Frozen Head. I think about it twice as often. 

They say it gets into your blood, this race, and they’re right.

For the moment, however, I’m pleasantly surprised. None of the pain I’m feeling is unexpected or unmanageable. From my pack, I eat beef jerky and a chocolate-covered Payday. When my forward mantra falters, I treat myself to a packet of applesauce, enjoying the mild, cool sweetness. Beyond my immediate needs, I try not to worry or wonder. My spirits are high. 

Behind me, a pair of runners have fallen into step, their conversation breaks the silence. No, insists one of them, I’m sure of it. Marathon runners won't have to face Meth or Testicle today. Just Rat. Just the prison

I try to imagine what that course might look like, and the reasons Lazarus Lake might have for deliberately making things easier–how silly that idea seems. But I choose not to argue, she's as certain about being right as I am that she's wrong. 

We'll find out soon enough. 

As the path carves its way up through the trees, her voice grows closer. Louder. How far to the next aid station? she says. 

Forever, I think. Until it’s over

Out loud, I say: I don't know

How many minutes, then? she persists. 

I shake my head. My watch is strapped to the back of my pack. I’ve long since sweat away my Sharpied list of aid stations. Neither matters. Time is a cage that exists in that world away from here. What use does the mountain have for minutes? 

Behind me: "So the 50k finishers get a Croix; the marathon is dogtags. Do you get something for a DNF?" 

And this time, I laugh. Gruffly. The memories, I say.

Words: Laura Presley @ltepresley

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