I weaken with each voice that sings | by Ryan Pfeil | Oct, 2021

It’s not shortness of breath or any other kind of physical fatigue I’m familiar with. That would have been manageable. That can be tamed with mental acuity, with telling yourself to sack up and shut up and keep going. Knowing you are pain’s master and not the other way around is literally why you’re here.

“The real purpose of running isn’t to win a race,” the great Bill Bowerman once said. “It’s to test the limits of the human heart.”

Dub that quote over on repeat over a filthy Slayer riff and stick the resulting track on my Get Up And Flow playlist and I will run through a concrete wall.


Today’s affliction is one I’ve never encountered before, centered in my hands and legs, specifically. It’s not pain. Again, you’re meant to try and murder pain in this capacity, meant to try and curb stomp it into gore-drenched oblivion and laugh maniacally while you do it.

But forget about pain for a second. What about when you can’t feel anything at all?

It’s quite the plot twist when you’re used to dealing with agony and you, instead, suddenly start to experience something akin to paralysis. My legs go first, completely numb from the thighs down to my toes. My hands follow, collateral damage from invisible shrapnel that results in the same sensation as a limb that’s fallen asleep. They feel sliced and pricked by ghostly shards and syringes, each fingertip humming together in an opus of incubating, painful heartbeats.

My mouth goes cottony, feels fresh off a gargle with broken glass and sand.

The attitude trot I’ve come to know and love these last two miles downshifts in a hard, feverish ka-chunk. It’s less of a run and more of a stumble away from an explosion I’ve somehow survived.

I’m one massive short circuit, my body begging for calories, for electrolytes. I think of chocolate milk, of swimming in it and enduring windblown torrents of chocolatey rain. This must be how new vampires feel when that first blood craving sets in.

I think of stopping, of quitting. It’s a fleeting thing that comes and goes, but it’s there, and loud enough to where I have to use a mental stun gun on it and send it sprawling. Because I am finishing this damn race.

The stumble-walk-jog hybrid continues until the finish line. Twice I feel muscles threatening to pull, twitching angrily.

They’re empty threats. I cross the finish line, passing beneath another inflatable rainbow of purple and green.

I see my family again. They’ve relocated and are waiting for me with cheers and encouragement. What a thing, to have your people support you in insane endeavors.

I stumble and sit on a concrete bench and down two sports drinks, a banana and half a chocolate muffin. The intake evaporates in my internal furnace, practically every nutrient utilized.

About 20 minutes later, sensation has returned. Now there’s just pain. And as mentioned previously, I can deal with pain.

My time: 2 hours, 24 minutes, six minutes below my ballpark goal time. So slow. So do not care. Finishing was the main purpose here, and I did that on legs made of vapor.

Oh, also: my bib number was 224.

So, 224 went 2:24. I’ll leave that one to those more well-versed in prophecy than I am.

My dad hugs me. He starts talking data, mile splits and other pacing-related science my brain isn’t ready to converse about yet.

I also can’t stop marveling about the fact that he’s here. Later, I’ll remember going on a run back when I thought he was headed for the exit and thinking that, when he reached it, I’d run a race to honor him. You know, make an in memoriam shirt with some quote of his. “Run happy,” probably. He loves that one.

I’m glad I didn’t have to do that. This is way better.

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