It was midmorning and the sun had been up for several hours before I finally rolled my body from the bed and out the front door. Generally speaking I find little, to no motivation for running—in fact I often loathe the very prospect. However, today was a day of resolution. Today I was determined to get back into shape; to terminate the growth of fat roll starting to ooze out the top of my jeans and the flab at my thighs. My running sneakers were gleaming bright white in the morning sunshine as I crouched on the bottom stair and did the laces. The shoes felt stiff and smelled like new, but I was not going to admit that was because I never used them—they were probably supposed to be firm to support my feet while running—right? With laces tied I straightened and stretched my calves before taking off at a steady trot.
As my ponytail swung back and forth I began to feel rather optimistic about this whole running thing. So far it wasn’t that bad. Granted, I had only run to the corner of my block, but I needed to stay optimistic. That and I desperately needed to be healthy. Several years ago I was a swimmer on the high school team and it taught me the importance of staying in shape. Ok, mainly it taught me that if I wanted to eat chocolate cake for dinner I had to exercise regularly. I would be swimming right now if my gym pass hadn’t expired last month and I would have purchased another pass if my job hadn’t expired last week.
Suddenly I broke into a sweat and could feel the sun’s rays beating hot against the back of my neck and calves. My sneakers pounded rhythmically against the asphalt and I felt my knee joints creak beneath the added weight of two weeks’ worth of junk food. So much for all the optimism. With each thumping footfall my sunglasses inched their way down the sweaty bridge of my nose and I felt like a poindexter every time I shoved them higher with my index finger and continued to run.
By the time I had reached about a mile, all of the positive thoughts had been left in the gutter to die a withering and agonizing death. My breathing came in ragged drafts, a sharp pain pinched somewhere near my left kidney, and a festering blister was forming on the arch of my right foot despite the two pairs of socks I had tugged on as protection. So I slowed my pace to catch my breath.
I had several running routes around my apartment; each a varying grade of difficulty and distance. Unfortunately for me, this morning I had chosen the three-mile route that ended with the Hill of Unending Doom. I always finish what I start thanks to my swim coach; therefore, quitting was not an option. I would either have to pass out, throw up, or die before I could even consider taking a break. It was far too wimpy, coping out after a measly mile. I gulped down several large breathes before shoving my glasses back up on my nose, picking up the pace, and continuing to press forward another half mile.
Finally I reached the halfway point of my run. I knew because it was marked by the mouth of a breezy canyon. Thankfully this is where the head wind changes to a tail wind and a small woodsy area shades the curving trail. As soon as I entered the trees the world was silenced around me. At first I thought the abrupt change was nice compared to the buzz of commuters, but then I started thinking, and that is never good.
I hadn’t seen anyone on the trail for quite a while, and this was odd for a Thursday morning. Usually I saw at least one runner with a rambunctious dog and some soccer mom pushing along a jogging stroller, but this morning there was no one. The rhythm of my laboring heart ratcheted up a notch, if that were even possible, and I craned my neck around. Nope, not a soul. Just me. Then I heard something. Not the usual foot falls followed by a woof, but a rustle off the paved path. I slowed and jerked my head around behind me trying to pinpoint the noise, but I still couldn’t see anyone. The rustling stopped. I turned back around, waited for a beat, and then resumed my pace.
I was still listening hard while I ran. Something about those noises had me on edge, the hairs on my arm prickling. No one knew where I was this morning. I never went running, all my friends know this. How would anyone find the dead body? These nightmares were shattered by a new sound. Someone was coming up the trail behind me now, their footfalls matching my pace. I stopped flat and the noise behind me also stopped. That was odd. I whipped around, but couldn’t see around the bend behind me. I started running again and the noise behind me also resumed. This time I didn’t dare stop, but broke into a full out sprint. My heart hammered and my breathing came in sharp gasps, but I couldn’t stop. Not until I reached the river and was back in public view alongside the street. When I could hear rush hour traffic once more I staggered out of the sprint and bent at the waist. Leaning on my knees I gulped down air trying to get a grip. This was madness. I am such a suspicious freak! I straightened and waited, watching for the unknown runner to come out of the trees behind me. They never came. I waited a longer, and when it was clear no one was following me I turned and continued following the river. I was probably just irrationally paranoid—again. Right?
...to be continued