By mile 10, Gregory Fishbourne’s legs had lost their bounce; it was all turning into a bit of a struggle. A glance at his phone told him he was doing 9:15 minute miles – slower than the 8:30 he had set out at and not the 9 minutes that he was aiming for. He was beginning to wish he had done some proper training. At this point he surfaced from his thought bubble and became aware that another runner was matching him pace for pace. The face was familiar.
“Is that Fishy? Sorry…Greg Fishbourne?”
That narrowed the field a bit, Fishy was a nickname he had not heard since school. This was obviously one of the little people who had looked up to him.
“How you doing?” He mustered up the old assertiveness that had made him top dog. His legs ached though, and that took the edge off.
“Not bad mate, just getting into my stride.”
They ran on together in silence.
Greg remembered the face – Lozel the loser. Slightly portly, rubbish at games, the type who got Participation Awards. Greg couldn’t actually remember him being involved in anything competitive. He was the worst kind of loser, one that wouldn’t even compete. He remembered his gang shutting Lozel in a wheely bin. His mind was drifting – better than thinking about aching legs.
This Lozel was slimmer and more athletic, but people don’t change really. A little competition was what Greg needed; he always did his best when he was competing, and losers like Lozel crumbled.
“Let’s step it up,” he challenged.
“Negative splits, good plan, if you’ve got it in you?”
Greg upped his pace, it was hard though, his legs developed new muscles just for hurting. Ahead there was a table and a little gathering of people hovering. Lozel started to wave at a couple of types at the table.
It was obvious he was going to stop, like the sad little loser he was. No staying power. As Greg predicted, Lozel was crumbling. Even after all these years, still a loser. He glanced at Greg as if to say: Stop, forget the competition! Enjoy the run, make some friends.
“You’re alright…I’ll crack on.”
“Sure…? I’ll catch you up!”
As the Loser stopped Gregory did his best to put on a burst of speed, humiliate him just like the good old days and then Lozel was gone.
A look at the phone told him his pace was 9:20. How could this be? His legs were burning as if in overdrive and he still needed to make some ground up. That prick wasn’t going to catch him.
Fuck did it hurt.
With no distraction, his whole world was consumed by the pain of running. Every step forced, knowing he was slowing down again. What made him think he could even do this? God how he hated running, how could anything hurt more? If only he could stop, but he was a winner and now he had someone to beat.
Other runners started to glide past; some looking fresh and others in little worlds of pain. A couple even tried to engage in conversation – encouraging, supporting or just expressing their loathing of marathons. Greg cut them dead. He still couldn’t understand how he had got rail roaded into this. OK, so Greg’s main competition at work had run a marathon and made him look bad. That didn’t mean he had to go through 26.2 miles of sheer bloody torture just to save face did it?
Back outside his head, full of misery, he could hear feet bounding up behind him, and all of a sudden Lozel was by his shoulder again. It would be wrong to say that he looked fresh, but this loser certainly did not seem to be suffering.
“Still going Fishy? I’ll keep you company.”
This was not fair. Checking the phone again, Greg noted he was now on mile 21 and his pace was 10:33. How was this possible? There was nothing more there! He tried to tell Lozel to fuck off but all he could manage was a kind of grunting noise and it looked like the prick was about to start talking at him.
“You were such a cunt at school – made my life misery with your uber competitive crap. Not your fault really – teachers encouraged that shit. Told Tyrwood once and he just told me life was hard.”
All Fishy could do was manage another grunt. Even his own private marathon hell was better than this lecture from a loser. His calf exploded into pain. His right leg stopped moving and down he went.
Suddenly Lozel was checking him over, all the while Greg could do nothing but sit and breathe through the hurt. As he was helped to his feet, he caught Lozel saying, “…and slow down if you want to reach the end, there are 3 miles left. I don’t know but I think you may have pulled something and if you try and speed up you may never run again. There is no competition here, just getting to the end is enough.”
As the end appeared in the distance, Lozel was still by his side. Greg knew he still had a chance to win – tactics. A last minute sprint to the line. He felt a bit better, leg still painful and tight, making him run awkwardly but he knew he could take the pain if he could win. There was a lamp post just before the end and in his head he marked it as the start of his final push. Bracing himself, he launched a last attack.
The ground rushed up to meet him and as the world turned black, he knew the finish line was forever out of reach.
Lozel took him to the ambulance. “You prick! What were you trying to do? Beat me!? Never going to happen, the only competition is yourself and you, you managed to be the loser.”