It was his third time around the track, and he was starting to feel ill. He sucked in sharp cool air through dry lips in long rapid breaths, willing his body to keep moving, willing nausea to pass, cramps to loosen. The pain was palpable, resonating from a dozen different areas all competing for dominance. His lungs felt heavy and cold in his chest, his diaphragm ached with each contraction forcefully pressing air into and out of his chest and yet he laboured on. Each step landed painfully on swollen ankles, the impact being absorbed through trembling thighs eager to give out. 'This was only the third lap', he thought bitterly. Only the third.
Really, why shouldn't he give up? It was late, no one was watching, judging. So what if he was weak and fat and old, and so what if he did get into shape? Would anyone notice? Would anyone say: "Mark, you look so fit! Why you look like you could run in a large circle for half an hour without resting!" Of course they wouldn't. People would treat him with the same general indifference they always did. He could lose ten pounds, or gain thirty and no one was likely to notice or - even if they did - no one was likely to care.
Accepting this presumed fact, he could only rationalize that he was doing this for himself. For his health, for his sense of well being, for his longevity, or any other perfectly good reason to get and stay in shape. Or maybe, just maybe he was doing this because he thought it would make him happy, improve his self esteem. 'No one likes a fatso, right?' He asked himself. 'Right?' Maybe people would take him more seriously if he was just a bit thinner. Maybe if he was happier and more self assured people would respond to him better, enjoy his company more, want good things for him and help him achieve them. Maybe being a bit overweight had been holding him back and he only had to lose a few more pounds, learn to run a few more laps, and then things would be better.
But this was all seeming less and less likely. He had lost weight. He thought he looked pretty good, but so far nothing was changing. He still felt exactly the same every day, and people still responded to him in exactly the same way: With polite indifference.
It was his sixth lap, he thought. It was hard to keep count after five. At some point in the last ten minutes his body had relented. It was now moving along as if the limbs had died and were being rotated by his torso with levers and wires. No pain, just running. The same forward movements over and over, the same large circle again and again. His face had solidified into some kind of tribal death mask, hard as dry wood. His mouth acted only as a crusted hole allowing the passage of air and fluid, like old faithful dutifully moving pressure back and forth without end. His eyes saw nothing but two white lines that his feet must always land between.
He did not give up, he kept running. At some point, he did not know when, but at some point he stopped being Mark, middle aged, slightly chubby Mark. Instead he became something else. A creature designed with singular purpose. To defy pain, to defy logic, to run unending without purpose or reason.