The darkness of what once seemed to be an endless night was fading fast. It was the 83rd kilometre and circa 5:45am. The air was still stubbornly cold but the sky was blushing pink; it was a matter of time before the sun found its way up the sky and roasted the land again. We were soon reaching the 24-hour mark since the start of Stage 5 of the race and I was beyond exhausted.
Have you ever tried staring at a word and reciting it over and over again, only to find that as you do so, the word as you know it appears to unravel before your very eyes and no longer seems like a real word? Sure, you still recognise the letters that make up the word. But through the act of verbal repetition, the word seems to lose coherence, and though you’ve been staring at the word and the letters clearly haven’t reorganised themselves under your watchful gaze, you’re just not as sure if the word’s spelt correctly anymore. It’s a disconnect between the word’s form and semantics.
At this point in the race, I was experiencing that very disconnect between body and mind. My legs were moving as they had been for the last 24 hours or so, but the mind was no longer processing any of this. It was as if the endless repetition of putting one foot in front of the other had stripped all meaning from the act. The mind was detached from the body, just loosely bobbing along like a balloon trapped in the fist of a dashing toddler.
It would have almost seemed like a cool out-of-body experience, except I don’t think I was compos mentis enough at the time to even have that occur to me.
In the home stretch of the Long Stage, it simply felt like I was dragging a corpse-that-may-or-may-not-have-been-myself through the sand. And the distance really does magnify with fatigue. Each step carried the weight of ten, each mile stretched like a hundred. Where the heck is that checkpoint? Why can’t I even see a speck of anything? WHO MOVED THE BLOOMIN’ CHECKPOINT?! @$^&$#%#!! Thankfully, by now I had numb exhaustion to help buffer against whatever frustration was threatening to overwhelm the systems.
Besides, it was just no good staring at the spotless horizon every time you turned a corner expecting a checkpoint. The desert will just brazenly stare back, unapologetically checkpoint-less. And one can never out-stare a desert.
So on and on and on it went, a battle wrapped in every single step.
The sun was climbing mercilessly higher in the sky. The thermometer reading climbed in tandem with it. It was one of those days.
By the time I ran down the mountain pass and hit the lakeshore, the whole world was doing a very good imitation of a witch’s cauldron with the stove set to “deathly high”. Also, let the record reflect that the lakeshore stank to high heaven. It was sewage, folks. Look, evolution and life on earth is a miracle and all. I get that. But for being such miracles, the greatest wonder of all may just be our universal propensity to create a stink.
But I digress. What I’d meant to say was that I was at the home stretch of the Long Stage. Camp was (FINALLY!) within sight and I was trying to slug out the remainder of the distance in the most humanly dignified manner possible. It was a little distracting seeing that my legs were no longer on speaking terms with me and some morsel of body cell was evaporating into thin air with every step I took.
On hindsight it’s a very good thing we no longer had clarity of mind when we reached camp. Because if we did, we would have realised that we had just run day and night so we could pitch a tent at Sewage Central and hang out with swarms of dung flies.