Breath ragged, sweat dripping from his temple, every movement forward was ushered in with a pant. His cheeks were flushed and the rush of wind from his breathing puffed them out in time with the slap of his feet on the pavement. His pace was steady, long legs swaying in time with the music in his ears.
He rounded a bend in his path and glanced ahead. A traffic light and crosswalk signal burned in front of him. The light green, the signal counting down from eight. Quickly measuring the distance between him and the white paint, he ground his teeth and woke his legs from their rhythm. Pushing each muscle to move faster, fluidly rocking each lift higher and coming down faster to the pavement. His foot was on the first line: two second. His knees were propelling his body into the air: one second. The slap of his soles on the ramp of the next sidewalk: zero.
He breathed deeply. Unconsciously he had held his breath during his sprint. Now, as he slowed and wiped off his sweat, he struggled to bring his intake back in line with the pulse of his feet. He counted to himself, timing exhales to the meeting of shoe and ground, and steadied into a four second interval. Out four, in four. Out four, in four. His heartbeat thudded in his ears.
A fork in the road ahead within sight, he began contemplating his next move. Left or right? The path to his right wound around the park and switched from concrete to wooden planks as it skirted the waterfront. To his left, the road gave way to gravel, dirt, and then a shaded tree lined segment before winding towards the beach. Both routes led him to water, and he'd likely take whichever he didn't choose now on his return, but he mulled the decision as he swayed.
Making his way around the circular path he weaved between families and lovers walking along the docks. It wasn't long before he was huffing and puffing back towards the lights he had sprinted at. The slight incline becoming steeper as he got closer to the lights. At last he rounded the corner and got the full view of his nemesis.
The hill ahead of him rose sharply, the slant of the road challenging him to keep going. Daring the singular runner to try to face him. His lungs burning as each step brought him higher, closer to his goal. Halfway up and eyes staring straight ahead, he spit out the bile accumulating in his mouth. The only prize that met him at the top of the hill was exhaustion and a brief moment of respite before he continued. The stitch in his side ebbed stabbed his ribs and begged him to stop. But he kept moving forward.