Chapter 3: Training on Sand

(Note: The text in orange is to provide some orientation to where this excerpt fits into the published manuscript)

            “You’ve been on their radar most of your life. You’re not a target, though, only what you might call a person of interest. And all this gear is designed to protect you from them. As long as you use it and follow my instructions, you’ll be safe from anything they throw at you.”

            Great. So now a scary rich guy considered him a “person of interest,” but everything would be fine if he blindly obeyed a stranger whose motives were unclear?

            Oh, yeah. That made him feel better.

* * *

runner on beach - ©iStock.com - AlonO

©iStock.com/AlonO

The next morning, Josh took him to the beach to train on sand. After about twenty minutes of running on the wet sand near the shoreline, Josh directed him up higher on the beach. “Let’s try the dry sand.”

Chris groaned inwardly. He hated running on dry sand. The stuff shifted around so much, it made running exponentially harder. Nevertheless, he obeyed his coach without argument.

After running for a little while, Josh said, “Let’s pick up the pace a bit.”

Chris gave him a sidelong glance to see if he was joking. He didn’t seem to be, so he obediently matched his pace, even though his calves were already aching from the workout. Soon, however, that ache turned to fire. Sweat poured down his chest and back. Still, he ran, trying desperately not to let his pain show.

Finally, he could stand it no longer. He pulled up to a sudden stop, his sides heaving, and leaned against a large rock to stretch out his fiercely burning calves.

Josh, mildly winded, came up alongside him. “That’s enough for today. We’ll train more on dry sand in a few days.”

Chris groaned.

Josh turned to him. “Something wrong?”

“No, Coach.” Chris’s mild response came from years of training, but he still grumbled under his breath, “I just really hate dry sand.”

“The race starts in Death Valley. That’s on dry sand—hot, dry sand—during the fiercest part of summer. And there won’t be any cool ocean breeze there.”

Although Chris knew the race started in the desert during the height of summer, he hadn’t pictured what that would look like. Or feel like. As he stood there, still gasping after running on dry sand in 70-degree weather, all his romanticized pictures of the racecourse disintegrated. In their place rushed more realistic pictures of him on the full racecourse: dodging prickly tumbleweeds in 120-degree heat, trudging through snow in stinging, icy winds, struggling up mountain after mountain, delayed by bad weather and injuries. Benny’s words from the evening before came back to him: It’s a fool’s mission, little brother. A fool’s mission.

Chris dropped to a cross-legged position on the beach and buried his face in his hands. What had he gotten himself into?

Josh sat beside him. “Have you started reading The Manual, kid?”

“I looked through it.”

Josh tilted his head back, following a seagull’s flight. “You’re an excellent athlete, Chris. Well-trained, in great shape, and you’ve won plenty of races. You know how important mental preparation is.”

“What’s your point?”

“The mental prep for this race is studying The Manual.”

Chris sifted sand through his fingers. This was embarrassing to admit but, “I don’t always understand what it’s talking about.”

Josh smiled. “You’re unusually honest. And insightful. Most people would say it was boring rather than admit they didn’t understand it. But you’re right on the mark. Reading The Manual requires a different type of thought process. I’d be happy to help you with it, if you want me to.”

“Yeah. Maybe we could give that a try.”

From then on, Josh prodded him out of bed an hour earlier each morning to study and talk to Doug. Soon he began to feel a real connection with them both.

* * *

Chris tried to keep his mouth from hanging open as he listened to the exchange between his new coach and Dad’s cardiologist. When Dad asked Josh to come along, Chris had expected him, as a top-notch coach, to know exercise physiology well. But he hadn’t expected him to throw around highfalutin medical terms like a doctor:

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