December 16, 2014 by scratchtype1
I’ve run this route enough times now to know where the pavement is smooth and where they only laid sharp small stone and a thin layer of tar to hold it together, where the river crossings are, and where I run alongside the rivers.
I also know where the mark is that will signal me to turn around and enter Hades. To do so, I must bargain with Charon in order to purchase the rare 2-way ticket. Of course, even if you seem to strike a favorable bargain with the various guardians and keepers of the underworld, there always lurks danger in the times and items there. Orpheus could not rescue Eurydice, Persephone ate the seeds. So we have songs of sorrow, so we have winter, spring, summer and fall. So we bury our dead, so we grieve.
So we are sometimes reborn, even if not as heroes because of all that we know and remember.
The watch’s GPS beeps. Time to turn around and enter Hades. Perhaps it is best to run fast through the underworld, before you might become entranced by the odd beauty of shadows and fog. In this mythology for today, it is so. Not only do I wish to run fast past the trees bare of leaves, I go to hunt.
I do not hunt a formidable prey like Roger Bannister did many years ago upon a cinder track, but my prey shares the same feature. Bannister’s prey was both at least twice the size of mine and much more, his prey was a nemesis for heroes, a minotaur that none had slain in the descents into the labyrinth known as the mile. Bannister was well served by his guides of Brasher and Chataway at Iffley Road.
I accelerate and have no one tangible to chase. I must hunt abstractedly and trust that all the miles this year have made these legs far more than they were ever before in my life. Much more than the naive legs of my youth when in a high school gym class I was one of the few who could not run a mile in less than 8 minutes, even if I weren’t overweight. Much more trained the legs of August 2008 when I tried to run a Galloway magic mile to get a measure of my fitness — still well short when I timed it at 8 minutes and 11 seconds, still some 40 to 50 yards short of a mile in 8 minutes or less.
So that’s the chase here. To finally be able to say that I have run a mile sometime in my life in less than 8 minutes. I vaguely wonder if it’s cheating some since this mile will be a net downhill, not terribly so, but some. There are also 3 short uphills to balance that out some and the third will be the steepest and longest.
To mitigate that, I just think to myself run fast and crush it so even if you adjust for all that, you’ll know that it would have been under 8 if flat and level. The first quarter mile or so is not so daunting, it’s just about establishing the fast rhythm of the legs and telling myself that when they begin to tire, I will not relent.
Now up a bit and crest a hill to catch some downhill before the next slight uphill.
Hey Charon, what happens if I fail? I know the deal. If I fail, I don’t get to leave. If I fail, I agree to go to the bridge under which the river Lethe flows and there I’ll immerse myself in its waters until I forget everything. Forget running, forget the ones I have loved and who have loved me, forget the crows, forget the nightmares, forget everything that is me and go on to wander in Asphodel Meadows, with no identity, with no stories to tell, and no ideas of even minor heroism.
The second quarter mile is ticking by and I sometimes steal glances at the pace on the GPS. What I see keeps me going, there is no room to let up. I will run straight and true, along the edge of the road and the winter meadows where above the crows go and in which the empty and forgotten souls have nothing to do but be almost nothing more than shadows.
The third quarter mile is upon me. I know the score. In that Galloway magic mile test of 2008, that was my slowest quarter. Not here, I can’t afford that. The breathing is becoming strained some finally. I try to relax the shoulders to let the chest open as wide as possible. Maybe that’ll make no difference or maybe it’ll make the difference between being able to use both sides of the ferryman’s ticket or not.
The final quarter and Ferryman’s Hill is before me. Just before its slope, I cross the Acheron and by now the legs are crying. Charon nods at me with pale and empty eyeballs. I feel a faint wind behind me, perhaps Orpheus sings to wish me luck and health and the desire to see someone win. Up this hill, while the legs realize full well how senseless I’m being, I do not falter. Hard hard and harder more. Still when I surmount it, I have no margin to slow down. Run hard until I hear the beep that signals the mile is done.
A large chariot thunders towards me. I still somehow wave to its driver. How much longer can this go? How much longer can a short amount of time feel? I really don’t know. Maybe I’m already drinking from the river of Lethe and I don’t quite realize it. I’m almost forgetting everything in this last gallop. This is the edge between life and death and perhaps it is here where I’m more alive than ever, even if I can’t think much of anything or about anything or whether now Charon has taken himself to be by the river Lethe and where he can smile mockingly when I arrive.
The beep. I close my eyes and continue to run although without the furious drive for the last 1760 yards. Then I blink them open and turn my arm and wrist up to look.
7:28. I smile. It was never so close that I had to worry about getting the sharp end of the deal with the Ferryman. But I had wanted to run hard the whole way and that was even more important than the result.
Still, there may come another day and another deal with Charon. And he won’t let me go both ways for such a paltry sum the next time.