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First pages

What It Feels Like

One month before the Rio Olympics I became the first distance runner in American history to be on the cover of National Enquirer, with the headline: OLYMPIC RUNNER CURSED BY PSYCHO BITCH FROM HELL!

The story of how I became “cursed” and who laid it on me starts four years earlier, at the London Olympics.

You remember London. Probably fell for the hype along with everyone else. That year featured me on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Runner’s World, and the headlines were TRENT ADAMS CAN’T LOSE!—TRENT ADAMS IS INVINCIBLE!—TRENT ADAMS IS A LOCK FOR THE GOLD!

Fate had other ideas.

Halfway through the Olympic 10K final, I cruised along in the middle of the pack, calm and serene, right where I’m supposed to be, executing my race plan to perfection. I’m the favorite in this race. Trent Adams, 5’ 5” and 120 pounds of world-class distance runner, bad ass gunslinger in town to show the world what’s up. First American in years with a chance for gold.

The plan is to stay out of trouble in the middle of the pack, move up gradually and take the lead with four laps left, control the race from the front, slow things down, speed up dramatically with two laps left, and on the final lap, blow the doors off, win Gold and live happily ever after.

Behind me is another American, my Arch Nemesis, Joe Holmes. Garish redhead covered in freckles, oversize horsey teeth jutting out of his jaw. Looks like something swimming in an aquarium, not running in the Olympics. He comes stomping and huffing up beside me, way too close, same as ever since we were rivals in high school and college.

Our elbows tangle a little. Our feet tangle a lot. Next thing I know, I’m airborne and then slammed down hard to the track, the oxygen I desperately need knocked out of me.

I roll on my back, dazed, stadium lights popping and flashing. For a second, I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing. On my back, feet splayed, arms out, as if nailed to the track. I don’t know how much time I lose.

Sensation comes back, and I jump up, start running again, try to calm myself, try to relax. Don’t go too fast too soon, I tell myself. Catch up gradually. You’ve got time.

I keep running and find the bobbing blond hair of my best friend, Freddy Hastings. I zero in on his back and make that my target. I run on, trying to get closer.

But it’s not happening. I was on the ground too long, fell too far behind, and as good as I am, my body doesn’t respond. The greatest distance runners in the world just drift away from me.

I keep running and cross the finish line in last place.

First time in my life I’ve ever been last.

The British champion Melville Triplett has won gold and is celebrating with delirious British fans.

And over here, look at that. Joe Holmes has won silver. He’s draped in the American flag, a huge toothy grin on his blazing red face.

I try to think about Joe Holmes with an Olympic medal, but it just doesn’t compute.

I watch Holmes jump into the stands and hug a beautiful young woman.

Barbara D’Ambrosia.

Glowing brunette with a striking radiance. Met her last year at World Cross. She made a huge impression on me. Flirted with her heavily until I found out she was Joe’s girl. Then I backed off. She’s newly graduated from Stanford. Gave it a go at the Trials, didn’t make the team, but here she is with Joe.

I just stand and stare, trying to find something positive in this mess.

Tenth place Freddy Hastings jolts me out of my reverie. “Trent, damn it, what happened?”

“Holmes got too close.”

“Unbelievable.”

I shrug.

“You gonna protest?”

“Against another American? I don’t think so.”

“Let’s get outta here.”

“Yeah.”

Soon I’m down in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium, in Doping Control, standing in a restroom stall with my shorts down around my knees, pissing into a plastic specimen bottle while a doping control agent watches. Trust me, this is not an athlete’s favorite part of the job.

Later, trying to leave the stadium, I get cornered by the print media. Fat old men with beards and smart phones, recording my words for posterity.

I don’t have much to say.

Find my way back to the athlete’s village, take a quick shower and clear out. I check in to my parent’s hotel in central London and then head out for dinner. It’s a disaster, but Mom and Dad try to cheer me up. I try to cheer them up. But there is little cheer at our table.

“You’re young, you’ll be back,” says Mom.

“Just rotten bad luck,” says Dad.

I spend a good chunk of time with them. But I do have another event.

My shoe sponsor has invited––ordered––a bunch of us distance people to have a group celebration, so the media can capture images of all us smiling Olympians wearing their gear and having the time of our lives at the Olympics. I bail on Mom and Dad and pop on over. Just around the corner and down the street.

This restaurant is a noisy place full of fans talking about a great night for British athletics. Us American distance people gather at a few tables in back.

A bunch of quiet Americans surrounded by loud British.

Weird.

I grab a drink and plant myself right in the middle of the action, hoping all the voices and faces will take me away from myself.

Joe Holmes finds me and sits right across the table.

I guess he’s not done with me yet.

Freddy Hastings sits next to me. Ethereal blue eyes and blond hair, he is doing the double, competing in the 5K later in these Olympics.

“Joe, way to go,” I say.

An ugly wet wash cloth smile splats in my face.

“Thanks, Trent. Sorry things got rough.”

I shrug. “It happens.”

“You want to see it?” he asks.

I can tell he really wants to show it to me.

“Sure.”

He hands me his silver medal. I hold it, feel the weight of the thing, watch it glow as if from inside.

“Nice,” I say, handing it back to him.

And then the thing I dread most, happens.

His girlfriend arrives.

Barbara D’Ambrosia.

She slinks into the chair beside him, her glowing golden radiance hitting me like sunlight.

Olive complexion, huge dark eyes, full lips, bright smile, long black hair. The hair of a sorceress or witch.

“Trent, gutsy race out there tonight,” she says.

“Thanks.”

I flash on the first time I ever saw Barbara.

Punta Umbria, Spain, March 20, 2011. World Cross Country Championships.

Watching the runners on the course that day was like watching a Maxfield Parrish painting brought to life. Even though she only placed 41st, the last American runner across the line, Barbara was the one who made the biggest impression on me. She ran like a wild animal, with no fear and no comprehension of limits. She passed ten other women in the last 50 yards, even though the American team’s scoring was complete and her place didn’t matter. I’m not sure she knew that. She was an American on a national team at the World Championships, so she gave everything.

First time I had seen her race in person and up close, first time I’d ever seen the way she savaged herself at the end. I later learned that was the way she ran all her races. She always finished like someone possessed. It was awesome to see, even if it meant nothing except keeping her runner integrity intact.

But of course, at that time, she belonged to Joe, so I was polite and distant, and she seemed singularly uninterested in me.

But I remembered her. Thought about her. Wondered.

Now here she was, sitting next to the worst bastard I knew in running.

Something went click inside me.

A deep dark subterranean click.

More like an earthquake.

Hands trembling, palms sweaty, knees weak, queasy in the stomach.

Barbara says, “Hey Trent, were you and Joe really roommates at Footlocker?”

My eyes meet Holmes’ again. Another memory flashes into my head.

San Diego, six years ago, the night before the high school national championships. I’m in bed trying to sleep and suddenly Joe Holmes jumps up from the bed beside me and pounces on top of me, pins my arms, sticks his face so close to mine I can taste the stench of his funky breath. “God damn it Adams, why won’t you let me sleep?”

I head butt him. Not hard enough to do damage, just enough to get his attention. He laughs, stands up, jumps up and down on my bed like a little kid, then leaps across to his own bed. “You California guys are such a bunch of pussies.”

“California, hell. Wolves raised me in the mountains of Colorado.”

“Well, little wolf boy, I’m gonna beat your ass tomorrow.”

“Whatever.”

Back in the present, I smile at Barbara. “Yeah, we were roommates.”

“That’s so cool!” she says. “And now here you are, at the Olympics!”

Something cold and hard squeezed my heart. The rational connections in my brain blew out like overloaded electric fuses.

I fought through the mental chaos and did the math.

I’m sitting across from the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life. She’s done something serious to me. This is someone I want to know. Need to know. Must know.

But she belongs to my rival, a guy I know is a total thug.

What should I do? Sit quietly, be a gentleman, let them go their private way? Let Barbara D’Ambrosia disappear into a black hole with this creep?

Or do I say something?

And if I say something, what is there to say?

Anything I say will cause a scene, and possibly turn Barbara against me.

Saying nothing means dying inside. Means I’m a coward and I don’t deserve a woman like Barbara.

But dude, seriously, what do you really know about her?

She’s a phenomenal runner. On the cusp of something special. Four more years, she’ll be ready for the podium.

Think Joe Holmes will help get her there?

Not a chance.

But dude, seriously, what do you really know about her?

Nothing but the way she looks, and the way she runs.

Is that enough?

“Hey Barbara, can I tell you something?”

“Sure, Trent.”

“You know I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. That would make me a serious creep. But I just want you to know, for the future. Should you ever end up single for whatever reason, let me know. I think I might have something you’ll need.”

Her eyes went all surreal, her mouth twisted in discomfort.

Holmes busted out laughing.

“Nice try. Adams. Little candy-ass prick.”

Freddy twisted around in his seat, put a hand on my chest. “Trent, don’t do this, not now.”

“Joe’s a bastard, he’ll hurt you,” I said, looking directly into Barbara’s dark eyes.

Joe swung at me and missed.

Couple coaches broke us up, dragged me away.

A photo of our tussle went viral before I even left the restaurant.

They tried to talk to me, but I was all done with London. I left the restaurant, was on a plane to the States the next morning.

Walked on to the plane feeling good, back straight, head high.

I didn’t know what was going to happen.

When I got home, I ran. That’s what runners do. I settled in for a nice post-Olympic training block. Lots of long, slow runs.

Made me feel better.

Running is therapeutic that way.

Four years later, I got another shot.

Shut Up and Run, Bitch

There were other women, of course. None stayed. The sorceress bitch D’Ambrosia haunted my dreams. That’s how I started to think of her. Late at night, early in the morning, I’d be in bed alone, dreaming of possibilities, and my thoughts kept gravitating to her. Started to bother me, tried to dismiss it. But she kept coming back, as if I had no power to stop her. Even if she was with Joe Holmes.

I saw her on the road all the time, at big meets around the world. Stumbled across her and Joe having angry exchanges. I saw those and just left my mind blank. Decided not to think anything, assume anything, want anything.

Then I’d see her alone in a restaurant early in the morning or late at night, her eyes puffed and red, like she’d been crying, or was about to.

Took that the same way. No assumptions, no judgments.

I wanted her to go away, stop haunting me, get out of my head.

She never did.

Along came February 2016 and I’m sprawled out on the living room floor of my lovely home in Villa Park, California. I’m staring through the floor-to-ceiling windows into the glowing green jungle of my backyard. Doing some gentle post-run stretches.

Pounding on the door comes and before I can answer, Freddy Hastings has let himself in. “Trent, did you hear the news?”

“What’s that?”

“Joe Holmes and Barbara D’Ambrosia have split up.”

“No shit.”

“They’ve posted about it on Facebook and Twitter.”

“I’ll be damned.”

Freddy squatted down in front of me, his eyes bright. “So, what you gonna do?”

“She’s running US Cross, isn’t she?”

“That’s what it says online.”

I smiled. “I’ll think of something.”

“What, you’re just gonna wing it?”

“Sure. I’ll wing it.”

Freddy laughed. “Okay, sure, why not? What could go wrong?”

 

Freddy and I traveled together to the US Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon. The day before the meet they had a press conference at a local running store and invited me to sit on the panel of athletes. The last four years since the London disaster, I’d been the most dominant runner in the world.

When I arrived, I took stock of the other runners. It would be me, Joe Holmes, Barbara D’Ambrosia, then the latest female high school sensation from back east, a homely little bundle of sharp elbows and spindly legs named Carmin Fiskowitz. Rounding out the panel was Nathan Baxter, a top 5K guy who had medaled for the US at the last World Cross Country Championships, and then Fanny Jones, the top female runner in the country and defending champion in this race.

When I entered the room and looked around, I noticed one confirming fact right away. Joe Holmes was standing on one side. Barbara D’Ambrosia was way over on the other, and they were both ignoring the hell out of each other.

Interesting.

The other interesting fact was how they organized the panel. From the floor where the journalists would be arrayed, the name signs in front of each chair went from left to right: Joe Holmes--Fanny Jones--Nathan Baxter--Carmin Fiskowitz--Trent Adams--Barbara D’Ambrosia.

Very interesting. I wondered who was responsible for that.

I worked the room and said hello to everyone except Barbara, her I saved for when we took our seats. I moved into my seat and then pulled her chair out for her. “Barbara,” I said, nodding at her.

“Hi Trent, thanks,” she said, taking her seat. Dressed simply in a black T-shirt, black tights, red training flats, her long black hair flowed in a ponytail down to the small of her back. Close enough to catch her scent, she smelled like the Garden of Eden on the first morning of the world. Olive complexion flawlessly smooth, her lips had just the faintest touch of some subtly hued lip balm. Fingernails painted up as tiny American flags. I wondered how long something like that took.

On my right was young Carmin Fiskowitz, staring out wide-eyed at the journalists, reporters, bloggers and what not in town to cover the race. I leaned in to Carmin and said, “Don’t be afraid, if they decide to eat you, they’ll just swallow you whole, no chewing.”

“Uh….Okay,” said Carmin.

Barbara leaned over. “Ignore him, honey. This will be fun, you’ll see. Trent, you be nice!”

My philosophy for press conferences, and interviews in general, is to always try to be as honest and interesting as possible.

Introductions were made and we plunged right in.

“Trent, what kind of shape are you in?”

“I’m a broken down old geezer and I don’t have a chance.”

“Seriously, Adams!”

“I’m strong, but with no speed work or any quality time at altitude, so I’m just looking for a good hard effort. But if it’s real authentic honesty you guys want, then I’ll level with you. I don’t really care how I do in this race, I’m just here to steal Barbara D’Ambrosia away from the Seattle group and get her down to Orange County.”

I turned and smiled at Barbara. She glared at me in amazement-and some obvious discomfort.

The press was too stunned to think of a follow-up question-they just kind of stared at me, deer in the headlights. I liked being able to do that to them. I watched Barbara’s reaction and listened for Joe Holmes to jump in, but no words came from anyone and the silence grew uncomfortably long, so I said, looking at Barbara. “Miss D’Ambrosia, I’d like to officially invite you to come join the Orange County Distance Group. We’d love to have you, we’ve got great facilities down in Orange County, a variety of huge parks with fine running trails, plus we’re real close to altitude training in Big Bear. And you’ve probably heard of our coach, Stinson Strangways.”

A writer jumped in, “Trent, are you speaking for Coach Strangways today; shouldn’t any kind of official invitation come from him?”

A voice came from the back of the room.

“Mr. Adams most certainly does not speak for me.”

Stinson Strangways stood at the back left of the room, leaning against the wall, imperious as always.

Shit. I hadn’t even seen him come in.

A word about Stinson Strangways. If James Bond and Sherlock Holmes got together and somehow managed to have a love child, it would be Stinson Strangways.

Well, I had drenched my bed with gasoline and lit it on fire. Now I had to lay in it.

“I’m not speaking for the Coach, I’m speaking for myself, the invitation comes exclusively from me.”

“Doesn’t that mean Strangways could veto you?” asked another writer.

“He could,” I said, staring straight at Strangways, our eyes locking across the distance. “But he won’t.” I glanced away from Strangways and looked beside me at Barbara. “I have it on good authority that he would love to get his hands on you.”

“Obviously, he’s not the only one,” said Fanny Jones.

“Miss D’Ambrosia, do you have any response?” asked a writer.

Barbara leaned into her microphone, calm as far as I could tell. “I’m flattered that Trent Adams feels strongly enough about the issue to invite me under these circumstances. But I’m really not ready to discuss this question now.”

“Come on Barbara, you’ve needed a change for a long time,” I said. “They obviously don’t know what to do with you up there in Seattle, you’re not reaching your full potential, and if you want to hit it in time to make the Olympics, you’re going to have to do something extreme.”

Barbara looked at me, her eyes wide with inchoate pain I really couldn’t source. Her mouth opened as if about to speak, but no words came out.

Adams, you unmitigated bastard!”

Finally, Joe Holmes had something to say.

“Where do you get off hijacking a press conference like this? We’re here to talk about the US Cross Country Championships tomorrow, and you pull a stunt like this. Shame on you.”

“Really Joe, who cares, huh? There’s no World Cross this year. We’re all here just to do glorified workouts as part of our Olympic prep. Yeah, a couple of runners are going to win national championships, and good for them, but when you get down to it, everything that happens this year, everything that each of us does, every workout, every race we compete in, it’s all part of a plan to get us down to Rio, that’s all that matters.”

“Now you’ve insulted the US Championships, the organizers of this race, and the Bend community. Good job Adams, you’re a real stand up guy.”

“I’m honest, Joe, and I’m a professional. I’ll do my best tomorrow. But I know my priorities.”

“Adams, you’re going to really deserve the ass-whooping I give you tomorrow,” said Holmes.

“What are you going to do, trip me?” I asked.

A collective whoosh went through the room.

Holmes shook his head in disgust, collapsed back in his chair. "You need help, Adams." 

I turned to Barbara and whispered, “Aren’t you glad you’re done with that.”

She stared at me. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She turned away from me and faced straight ahead, her eyes on the media.

I stared over at Stinson Strangways, still leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. He wasn’t looking at me. He was watching Barbara.

While all this was going on, Fanny Jones tried to get the press conference back under control. “If you two are finished with your little dick off, I have a few things I’d like to say.”

The rest of the press conference went pretty much according to form. Fanny Jones made some politically correct comments about how much she loved Cross Country and the community of Bend. How much she was looking forward to the race tomorrow and the chance to win her something like ten millionth US championship. How ashamed she was of these two little brats acting so irresponsibly and giving running and runners a bad name, saying we were treating a serious athletic event as a joke and an afterthought.

I had no response to that, and neither did Joe Holmes. We both knew better than to tangle with Fanny.

Nathan Baxter, stuffy bore that he is, just talked about how well his training had been going and what great shape he was in. “I really think I’m ready to throw down a big race tomorrow.”

Yeah, right. He’d been saying that for years. If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. Good luck, Nathan. Loser had quit in the middle of a championship race eight years earlier, he’d just stopped with five laps left, stepped off the track, walked away from the sport for several years. He’d made it back, here he was again at the US Cross Country Championships. But I didn’t have a lot of faith in Nathan Baxter.

Sweet innocent little Carmin Fiskowitz commented about how it felt to compete in her first US championship. “Hey, it was worth the trip just to see Trent and Joe get all up in each other’s grills!”

When the conference broke up, Barbara D’Ambrosia bolted for the exit like a startled deer. I caught her out on the street as she headed back to her hotel. She just turned to me with venom in her eyes. “Go to hell, Trent.”

I let her go.

I looked around for Coach Strangways. He’d disappeared. Just like him.

 

The next morning dawned cool and overcast, a perfect day for Cross Country. Freddy Hastings and I drove over to the golf course and set up a little camp under a tree, then we just kind of wandered around, getting loose.

There had already been lots of action so far in the day. Two Master’s races early in the morning, then the junior girl’s race, won by Carmin Fiskowitz. The boy’s junior race was getting ready to go off when we started our warm up. We started jogging slowly around the driving range next to the golf course, keeping an eye out for other runners. I saw Barbara warming up with some other women from her training group. We didn’t go anywhere near them; they studiously avoided us. Holmes and his crew showed up shortly after we did and we kept to opposite sides of the field.

I wanted to get good and warmed up before the women’s open race went off. I wanted to see how Barbara did. So Freddy and I ramped up the warm-up, Freddy not seeming to mind. We slow jogged. We quick jogged. We did some mild strides. We went through our dynamic stretching routine, then we ran some hard strides, then one hard sprint for about 80 yards. Right about that time the women’s race went off. We wandered over to watch it unfold.

The course was a two-kilometer loop that wound its way through the golf course. The women were doing 8K, so four laps of the course. At the end of the first lap there was still a big group of women together, including Barbara D’Ambrosia, with Fanny Jones starting to edge away from the group. After two laps, Jones had surged to a big lead and Barbara had fallen well back. At three laps, Jones’ secured her victory. Barbara was struggling back in fourteenth place. As the runner’s passed the starting line for the third time, I found a spot where I’d have a clear view as they came past--and they’d have a clear view of me. When Barbara ran by, I yelled at her, “Come on Barb, get pissed off and take down some of these bitches!” Then I watched her run away, gradually starting to surge. As she wound her way through the course, I watched her pass three runners. She was starting to move hard. She’d always had a great kick; the issue was trying to stay closer to the front so using it would mean something.

I wandered over to the finish line and positioned myself directly behind the finish, just behind a fence that surrounded the finish area. It was one of the most poorly designed finish chutes I’d ever seen. The runners were going to come sprinting across the finish line and then literally have nowhere to go but a sharp, hard right turn and then out, as if the organizers were saying, “Okay, you’ve finished the race, now get the hell out.” The top finishers would be directed hard left into a little square area where they could be interviewed by press. I was glad to see this set up ahead of time so I knew what to expect.

Fanny Jones finished strong and I started counting off the places. Two, three, and sweet mother of God, there Barbara was, all the way up into fourth place in the span of 2K, two thousand meters of Cross Country running, how the hell did she do that? God, that was some powerful 2K surge at the end of a race. I watched her stagger across the finish line and then stumble to the left and fall over a water barrel inappropriately obstructing the runners. Utterly spent, she wasn’t aware of me or anyone else watching her. I gazed at her as if she was a work of art. That long beautiful hair glistening in the light, her sweat-drenched olive-hued skin, her flat belly with the high def abs popping out, her long thoroughbred legs. A magnificent athlete performing way under her full potential--except for two thousand meters here today.

She caught her breath and then was basically kicked out of the finish chute by an official. She hadn’t finished high enough to rank an interview. She left, walking out and past the athlete’s tent to a tree just off the course. She leaned against the tree for another thirty seconds or so, just breathing, letting her system wind back down to normal. Nobody approached her, nobody said anything to her. I just watched her like I was stalking her, which I guess I was, in a way. One part of my brain was aware she was a beautiful woman I was crazy about; but mostly I saw her as an athlete, which she was, an athlete who had just done something frustratingly extraordinary-run a crappy race and then finish gangbusters to place higher than she had a right to expect. I was just in awe of the athlete. She’d probably run the last lap faster than anyone except maybe Fanny Jones. If only she could develop the strength it would take to stay close, and then unleash that furious kick.

Then I had to put all that out of my mind. I forgot about Barbara D’Ambrosia or any other woman. I shifted mental gears into race mode. The way Barbara had run that last lap, that’s the way I wanted to run mine. The amount of pain she took on, the effort she expended, I wanted to emulate that. But what I had just seen very soon faded into nothing more than an abstraction. Somewhere in some other world, some people I knew nothing about had just run a race that had nothing to do with me. Soon it would be my turn.

I went to our tree and stripped out of sweats, strapped on my spikes while Freddy pestered me.

“You see Barbara’s finish?”

“Yeah.”

“Jesus, that girl’s got guts.”

“Yeah.”

“You talk to her?”

“No, didn’t try.”

“You ready to race?”

I looked at him. “Are you?”

He smiled at me. “Yeah, I’m feeling good.”

We went to the starting line and did some hard strides, then jumped around like human pogo sticks. The other runners were doing the same, including Joe Holmes, who looked his usual disheveled and sloppy self. He ignored me, I ignored him, we massed at the starting line, the gun was up, bang, off we went.

Let me tell you one thing right off the bat. I love the start of a cross country race more than just about anything else I do. Racing on the track, I always think of myself as a technician driving a powerful race car in the Indy 500. It’s all about managing the speed and watching your position, about moving up and being in the right place at the right time, just before the sprinting begins. But in Cross Country, I'm a little kid, a wild animal let loose in the woods to go racing off over the grass like some beasty fresh out of a cage and drunk on freedom.

We cruised through the undulating opening stretch and then moved into the curvy, winding section of the course, hard left turn, swoop, zoom, swoosh, then hard right turn, zing, zap, zonk, then hard left turn and skim along the long undulating back side of the course that took us in a long swooping loop back past the starting line. People lined the course, screaming at us, screaming obscenities at me, nothing I hadn’t heard before. Joe Holmes moved to the front and controlled the race. Freddy went up and ran just off his left shoulder. I hung back, felt the speed and the pain that came with it. Told it to go to hell and then ignored it. I cruised gently up to Holmes’ right shoulder and we three led the charge around for the second lap, everybody just relaxing, settling in, humming along with cruise control, nobody making any big moves. We were doing six laps, 12K, so there was time.

Up ahead of us the lead golf cart with a camera crew bounced and jostled along, careening along the course, staying just far enough ahead to have a good view. We went through the second lap with the pack intact, and then the third a carbon copy, and then moving into the fourth lap, Joe Holmes surged hard and Freddy went with him. I tagged along a few spaces behind. A few other runners moved up just behind me, I could sense they were close, but so far they had no interest in passing me, so I just kept close to Holmes and Freddy. Then on the fifth lap Holmes threw down a serious move and gapped Freddy slightly and at this point I had to make up my mind how hard I wanted to run today. Three guys went past and gave chase to Freddy. I took up the rear and tagged along, being pulled along by three good runners who were probably going to regret surging this hard on the fifth lap.

As we headed into the sixth lap, it was clear nobody was going to catch Freddy and Holmes. They had built a big lead of close to 80 yards. From what I could see as we moved into the back side of the course, Freddy and Holmes were running stride for stride and they were going to make this an exciting finish and give the fans something to scream about. I wasn’t going to move hard until we crossed this dry little creek bed between two big trees. That was my marker for beginning my long drive to the finish-and then we’d see how much I had left for the home stretch.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A former marathon champion, David Gulbraa was editor and publisher of the magazine Radical Romantic from 1993 to 1999. He is previously the author of Autumn Flyers, a novel about a high school Cross Country team in 1977 Montana.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Driving home from the gym one night after a treadmill run, the character and story hit me all at once. I realized if I structured the story as a fictional autobiography, I had the chance to write something original and exciting.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
After taking the novel to a writer's conference and getting professional feedback, I cut the story from 108,000 words down to 71,000 and focused on the drama and conflict. The material I cut is all about Trent's youth. I will use that to create a prequel titled "I, Runner."
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
At the age of 11 I applied to the Famous Writers School after seeing a TV commercial. They wrote back and said I should wait until I was older. I laughed it off and kept writing.

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