Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Other Kingdom - Victor Price

[EXCERPT] “Jock looked at his watch and said: ‘Right, lads, now down to business. Sixteen two-twenties [220yds -> 200m] at thirty-one seconds a piece. Easy Stuff.’

They all knew what was coming. Physiologically stated, they would be expanding their circulo-respiratory efficiency; in human terms it meant forcing yourself to run when you were already exhausted and then running again. You pushed your body to the limits of what it could bear in order to make it a tool.

{Once,…Jock had told them a story: a famous runner, while still a schoolboy, ran twenty miles and finished in tears. When someone asked him what he was crying for he said: ‘It hurts so much.’ That he was free to stop had simply not occurred to him.}

In effect he [Colin Warnock] was not free, nor were they. Day after day, month after month, they would ignore the clamor of tissue for rest and force themselves to do what was impossible yesterday. …Each time they finished a schedule and stood there trembling…Jock would make light of it all with a quip. That would be their sole reward.

Thirty-one seconds for the first furlong (220yds) was child’s play. They ran it easily, then walked across the diameter of the track, back to the start.

The interval [rest] between the furlongs worked out at about a minute and a half. They would finish, hear the time from Jock, cross the width of the track and start again.

…The stitch was unbearable….Surely they would see the agony he was in? In fact they saw nothing. He finished, sprawling like a ragdoll. Turning slowly, he found them already on the way back to the start. Head down, he followed.

“Thirty-one flat. Not bad. Eight more to go.”

To Warnock each [repeat] seemed to last minutes longer than the one before. As they got up to nine, ten, eleven, the blood sang in his head and he thought he was going to faint. He managed to keep in contact with the others by [making] an effort that he thought would tear his body in two. He could hear nothing for the roaring in his ears, see nothing but the track at his feet. Each time they stopped he wandered blindly back to his position; should it kill him he would not keep them waiting, as Jock had taunted. He was running on a mixture of will-power and the memory of past races, the knowledge that the body is always capable of an extra ounce of effort. When it betrays, it betrays suddenly, in a faint. He knew he had to distrust the evidence of his senses, battered as they were and longing for peace.

They settled to their marks for the twelfth time. No words now; only the dry rasp of breathing. Foley’s eyes wore a dull gloss: this was what he loved and feared, the triumph of the spirit over the body, the burning away of matter in a self-inflicted purgatory.”

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