Prologue: The Race
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Announcement
Hello everyone! Welcome to the second (of two) of the series I'm currently writing. This is more of a return to my usual fare than the other currently running story; people who've been reading my stuff for a while will probably find it familiar.

And speaking of familiar, there is one thing to note: this story is a sequel to a previous story of mine, Alex; the setting is the same, and some familiar faces will show up. Reading Alex is not mandatory, this story will work just fine as a standalone tale, but it's reccommended to get the full experience, so to speak.

That's it for now! Enjoy :)

 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the official raise the gun; I adjusted my position on the starting block one last time.

“Get set!”

My muscles tightened.

Bang!

And I was off. Propelling myself forward with all the strength I had in my legs I plunged into the water, glided for a few moments, and immediately started swimming. One, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe. Concentrate on the movement. Push yourself forward with your arms, not just your legs; mostly with your arms in fact, you want to have fresh legs for the next phases of the race.

Here comes the first turn. Tuck, tumble, and push off the wall. Here we go again: one, two, three, breathe. One, two, three, breathe.

My lungs started aching; I was burning much more oxygen than I breathed in. Okay, let’s switch it up. Every two strokes now: one, two, breathe. One, two, breathe. Lose yourself in the movement, think about moving your body, nothing else.

Second turn. And then third, fourth, fifth… I honestly lost track of how many turns I made, but then I glimpsed my coach standing on the side of the pool, giving me the agreed-upon signal: I was on the last length. Had I really swum fifteen laps already? Never mind, I trusted him. I touched the wall, then taking care not to cut in front of any of the other racers I swam to the edge of the pool and lifted myself up out of the water; I was in first place.

“Time?” I asked, while heading towards the changing room at a light jog.

“Ten forty-seven,” the coach answered. “You’re doing great, Theo.”

I nodded, grabbed the towel he was offering me, and rushed through the door.

Transition one. Off came the goggles and swim cap, and I put on and fastened my bike helmet – pink, same as my swim cap: I liked the colour, it made me stand out from other racers. I towelled myself off as quickly as I could, being careful to dry my feet properly, I didn’t want to get blisters. Then socks and shoes, and out of the changing room; I didn’t need to change my clothes, my tri suit was designed so I could use it for the bike and run segments too: it covered both my legs and torso, and was much more comfortable than either trunks or briefs, I’d always been nervous in going bare-chested somehow. I climbed onto my bicycle, and I was off.

Feeling the wind through my moist hair I briefly wondered how it would feel if it was longer, to have it whip behind me as I rode; I pushed the thought from my mind, concentrating on the exercise as I started pedalling in earnest.

Twenty kilometres, four laps of a five-kilometre circuit. Deceptively simple, but I had to spare some energy – I would have to make one more lap on foot after I was done with the bike segment. Careful now, keep the race line.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw another bicycle approach me from behind. I knew who it was: Miles Redfield. We lived in the same city but went to different schools, and he was the only one in the state who was on my level, who could hope to defeat me. My eternal rival; we’d been trading first and second places in all the races we’d taken part in for a couple years, neither of us able to get a definite win over the other. He was a nice guy. I really liked him, and enjoyed racing against him.

He put himself into position and let me break the wind resistance for him. He’d always been clever like that – he knew the bike segment was his weakest one, so he tried to use everything possible to his advantage. Not that it was illegal, mind, and it wouldn’t matter anyway: I’d trained long and hard for this day, the final race of my high school triathlon career. I was going to set the state record for sure today. No one would be able to stop me.

A little less than half an hour later I crossed the finish line for the segment, slightly ahead of Miles. I racked my bike, then ran to the second changing room, him hot on my heels.

Transition two. As I quickly removed my bike shoes and put on my running shoes, I shot a quip at my rival. “Working hard today, Miles?” I asked.

“Sure thing, Parker,” he answered, tightening his laces with a grin on his face. “This is the last time we face off against each other after all, I’m not going to let you win.”

I returned the grin. “We’ll see about that,” I said, and all but leapt to my feet and out of the transition zone, onto the course again.

Again, I was careful to pace myself. This was the final stretch, but if I wasn’t careful I risked hitting the wall – that’s sport slang for “run out of energy” – before the finish line, and I wanted to avoid that at all costs. Behind me I could hear Redfield’s footsteps and heavy breathing: he was pacing himself against me, he was probably going to go all out in the final half kilometre. I smiled to myself. Fine by me, let’s see who’s the fastest and who has more energy.

He was still with me as we were approaching the last turn before the final stretch; we were running on the right side of the road, while the other athletes, who were far behind us, were riding their bikes on the left side. The spectators were cheering the two of us on: I always enjoyed the deafening roar of the crowd, it gave me an adrenaline rush. Just what I needed to finish the race.

As I rounded the final corner, Miles made his move: he stepped up the pace, and tried to pass me on the outside. It would’ve worked too, but as he left the racing line he hit an uneven spot in the road. His foot landed weirdly, and he stumbled; I heard the crowd gasp in unison, and someone shout “Look out!”

I turned my head just in time to see him tumble to the ground, crouching as he went down, arms up to protect his face; he landed heavily on the pavement, and tumbled and skidded for a few yards, his body gathering several scrapes and bruises as he did so.

I stopped and looked at him, just laying there; the fall hadn’t seemed that bad, surely he could finish the race? He tried to stand up, but as soon as he tried to put weight on his right foot, he grimaced and crouched back down.

“You alright?” I called.

“I think it’s sprained,” he replied. He looked up at me, a bitter smile on his lips. “Guess you win,” he said, and sighed. “No state record for me today. Go on.” He nodded towards the finish line, a mere two hundred metres away, and then his head and shoulders slumped.

I took a few steps towards the finish line, then hesitated.

I wondered how I would have felt, had I been in Miles’ place. A Did Not Finish, in the final race of my high school career? And not because of something that was my fault, but because of a random accident? Just as I was about to maybe set a new state record?

It would feel terrible.

I turned around and ran back to Miles, crouched next to him, grabbed his arm, and draped it over my shoulders.

He gave me a bewildered stare. “What the hell are you doing?” he asked. “There’s still time, go for the record!”

“Like hell,” I replied, and pulled him up. “We’re going to finish this race together.”

He looked at me, disbelief evident in his eyes, then shook his head. “I always knew you were an idiot,” he said. “I just didn’t realise how big of an idiot you were until now.”

The crowd had realised what was happening, and started to cheer us on, even louder than before. Slowly, unsteadily, Redfield hobbling on one leg while being supported by me, we made our way down the final stretch, and crossed the finish line.

We both collapsed to the ground: my rival because of his ankle injury, and me in exhaustion – carrying someone after such an intense race had drained all the energy I had. The race officials rushed over, but I waved them away, explaining that I just needed to catch my breath and asking them to look after Redfield instead.

I looked up at the official timing clock: ten minutes forty-seven seconds for the swim, thirty-one minutes flat for the ride, and twenty-one minutes eleven seconds for the run, totalling up sixty-two minutes fifty-eight seconds. Not a bad time at all, but way short of the state record.

Ah well, there was always college.

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