Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chapter 44: Treadmill

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  This chapter chronicles one boy's run on a treadmill.  I think it is one of the best in the whole novel.  What do you think?

When a priest gives a sermon, he can proselytize for fifteen minutes but a member of the congregation may only take with him one sentiment, one phrase, one word. Sometimes that aphorism is taken in context; sometimes it is not.
Ryan Jenkins heard that he wasn't running because the uneven terrain of a cross country course would jeopardize the healing of the ankle. Only a slight twist could put the susceptible ankle back into ice baths. He got to thinking that if today's race was on a mondo track that he'd be racing. He didn't hear the other things the priest had to say and in his defense Hartman could have been more forthcoming with the full platform of reasons as to why the star pupil was being withheld.
So he broke into the Dank Tank. Avoiding the school police was the breeze he knew it would be and he didn't have to worry about tripping any alarms. The tank had nary a motion detector nor security camera. The only thing he had to concern himself with was the actual entrance. Doors were locked but the bunker style windows were open. Del-like, he got in. It took him six minutes and he nearly reinjured his ankle due to his awkward landing but in another dozen he was on the treadmill.
He thought like his coach. He had one objective: make it hurt. Over a week had elapsed from his last good running sweat and to him that was unacceptable. Yes he did the bike and swam the pool workouts but like the boss said, There's no substitute for running—another maxim taken slightly out of context.
He wanted eight hard miles. He told himself to make it a progression run that started at 8.5 mph and ended at the mill's top speed. He didn't know what that speed was but he wanted that belt smoking by the end of it. He visualized himself as David Sommers from American Flyers, a movie he'd seen a hundred times, and told himself it was his time to work like that, to push it to the brink. Edge city man, edge city.
Three old machines stood in front of a wall of glass. The mirror had several small spider cracks and a longer diagonal one that distorted the reflecting image. On the left side a wooden shelf lay even with the bunker sills and supported an old boombox. On this boombox Smitty played his music at six in the morning. Jenkins decided not to turn it on. He didn't turn any lights on either. Didn't want any pigs sniffing around his workout. He wouldn't realize it until years later but that extra adrenaline rush of doing something that he wasn't suppose to do aided his workout tremendously and enabled him to kick the treadmill's ass.
He took the first mile easy. He had to test the ankle and make sure it could handle the load. He let the sweat form and roll off slowly. He often ran with a hat but today sans headcover he could feel the beads of sweat sprout on his crown and weave down through his hair. Two times he told himself to wait until he hit mile one to increase the speed but it was of no use. The ankle barely bothered him at all. Once or twice he even had to remind himself which ankle he sprained. He could have run today. He was repaired.
The odometer recorded a mile and he hit the up arrow until the mph number reached 9.0. 6:40 pace and still feeling as slow as molasses. He could feel himself entering the zone—easing into it like one does a hot bath—the only thing preventing complete immersion was his keeping an ear out for the school security cops.
That didn't last long. By four miles, he was running at ten miles per hour and inserted his earbuds. The music made him feel invincible. The speed was hard yet easy and the ankle held up fine. His reflection looked back at him in triplicate and he studied it from all three angles. A side mirror offered him a profile of his arm and leg swing. He tried to lift his knees higher and swing his arms more efficiently. The beat of the music helped him attain a steady rhythm of opposite arm-leg propulsion. So tuned in was he that he landed one step on the port sideboard of the treadmill. He totally forgot he was on the thing. He nearly fell off and broke the other ankle. Enough of that, he thought, and looked at himself dead on. He corrected himself as to stop his forearms from carrying across his body. He was sweating heavily at 4.5 and tactfully pulled off his “per aspera ad astra.” First he removed his left arm from its sleeve then the right. He had to reconfigure the headphone cord draping from his ear and tucked it into his wristband, which he was now wearing between elbow and shoulder. In this movement he thought of how he naturally slowed down on the road if he ever had to make an adjustment. Not on a treadmill. The machine was oblivious to any such human whim or fancy. It kept its speed. It did not falter. Jenkins admired this infallibility and became determined first to match it then to beat it. Both arms now desleeved, he tucked his head out of the neckhole and threw the shirt on a nearby nautilus apparatus. It landed right on a handbar; it did not touch the floor. He now looked at his pale svelte torso and it motivated him. His hairless pectorals were cut. A hundred fifty pushups a day will do that to a boy. Nobody knew how defined he was except him and a few x-c guys. His abs were equally chiseled No remnants of babyfat on this runner's stomach. With each step his ab skin zigzagged. Slant to the left. Slant to the right. Eight square blocks pressing up from under his skin. Runnels of sweat streamed down across his front and ephemerally pooled into the divot at his navel. Then the beads encroached into his coolmax waistband and dissipated into hot vapor. The headbob. Watch the headbob. A silent acknowledgment that would stay with him. Keep that head on a line. Didn't see it on SpringVale but he could see it now. Tamp it. Keep it in check. When he pressed the button to 11.5 he felt a twinge which he promptly ignored. It disintegrated as quickly as it was born. Fuck the pain, and he was referring to multiple discomforts now. The music made him say it. “Rearview Mirror” came through the wires and that last line made him increase the tempo yet again. This time as he pressed down he caught a shadowy image of himself of the treadmill's console. Just the shoulder and the top of his chest. He stared at it. His eyes moved from digital numbers to the shoulder and he made it just so he could see both simultaneously. He couldn't take his eyes of this image. What was wrong with him? In the solitary privacy of the dank he let himself become one with this narcissistic inclination. He thought what he was doing was badass. He thought this workout was badass. Something out of a Prefontaine movie. Nobody in the state was working as hard as him right now and he was going to relish that. Nobody can run with me. Nobody works as hard as me. He pumped his elbows and knees and kept his head perfectly still. Oh yeah, he cried, and flexed out his hands as though he were slapping those of spectators on Boylston Street.
At 7.1 miles Smitty's song came on the mp3 player. “It's a long way to the top,” Bon Scott sang. Damn right, Jenks said and hit the speed button once again. But it didn't go. He tried again but the number stayed at 12.0. He looked at the elapsed time but instead a message scrolled: “MAX SPEED ATTAINED.” What the fuck, he thought as he tried to run faster. He ran up into the frontbar of the machine. He wanted more but the machine could give no more. He raced passed the eight mile mark and kept pounding to the music. If I can't run faster, I'll run longer. Actually drove his legs harder into the treadmill's belt. Drove harder and harder and worked on perfect form and economy. I'm the machine, he told it.
Two songs later and Jenkins was still punishing it. Well over nine miles now and he was bumping into the frontbar again. He looked at the triplicate images. He was giving himself still more power. He ran on the front plastic casing at the top end of the belt. He looked at the orange numbers. His legs did something funny. For a second time a message scrolled on the console, a new message: CANNOT MAINTAIN REQUESTED SPEED...CANNOT MAINTAIN REQUESTED SPEED…

Ryan Jenkins' Treadmill Playlist

Rearview Mirror by Pearl Jam
Idioteque by Radiohead
Only by Nine Inch Nails
Double Vision by The Ponys
Underdog by The Dirtbombs
Black Jack Davey by The White Stripes
California Rolling by Kings of Leon
Clamp Down by The Clash
I’m Shipping up to Boston by Dropkick Murphys
Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin
And Begin by The Mooney Suzuki
Nine Milli Bros. by Ghostfaced Killa
Over and Over by Hot Chip
Elevation by U2


Glenn said...

Great chapter!!!

Glenn said...

Have a great school year too!

Muddy Puddin' said...

Nice one. Teachin' ain't easy but somebody gotta do it!

Muddy Puddin' said...

When will this commence again? I'm ready!

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