all 9 are out on the 48th yard.
when they arrive it will make 200 miles.

these last few hours the 9 warriors have locked in on a pattern so reliable we could set the timing clock by them.
they all come in at the same time within seconds
and retreat to their tents from the blackness and chill of the night.
they do not come out of their tent until the final seconds are counting down.
reaching the corral just in time to start with the bell.

they finish again within seconds of the previous yard
another yard tallied.
they do not run together
they do not talk.
each in their own personal struggle to survive the night.

this lap there is hope
a faint lightening of the sky.
the shapes of trees dimly visible.
by the time they are a mile into the loop
it will be light enough to see.

one of them,
i could not tell who
left his light with his crew.

for two days and two nights
they have lived a life structured around three whistles and a bell.
then run another 4.167 miles
and catch a few precious minutes of rest.

each of them is enveloped in a shroud of fatigue.
only they and their crews know the physical challenges they are facing.
muscles sore and weary
eyes bleary with sleep deprivation
stomach problems from a diet of race food shoveled down in haste..
during the night the sounds of someone puking were heard n camp.
no one saw who it was
no one talked
no one knows.
any problems are kept within the confines of the personal team of runner and crew.
to one another they present a facade of a machinelike approach to the endless pattern.
show no weakness.
give the opponent no hope.

for each of them this third dawn brings the hope of revival.
a prayer that they can still muster the strength to tackle the trail.
the 48th hour feels almost certain.
they only must repeat what they have done since the sun set yesterday.
the next hour is the scary one.
are they agile enough to negotiate the rocky trai?
are they strong enough to finish it within the hour?
when the light reveals the faces of the others
what will they see?
will the others look strong and unscathed?
when their own face is revealed
can they disguise the weakness
the pain
the fatigue?
can they project the image of unwavering determination?
can they convince the others that there is no purpose in trying to beat them?

victory is so close
victory is so far.
they have broken all but 8.

into the third day the battle will be joined.

how much longer must they go in order to win the victory they have come for?
how much longer can they go?