110. The Fox

IT WOULD BE POINTLESS to describe the pain, the nausea, the exhaustion, for such is the lot of the ultra-marathon runner, and at any rate these afflictions had already begun to torment the runner long before the 127th mile, as indeed she had expected. For years, she had trained herself to withstand them. But at around the 127th mile of the 200 mile, three day race, it began to snow. It was just after midnight on the morning of the third and final day. She was running along the road by herself - there was no one else in sight - but she was due to reach her night station at the 130th mile mark. It was hard to see anything without the light of the head lamp, but she didn't like the light cast by the head lamp, the way it reduced everything to a small circle of light in front of her. She loved night running. She preferred to run without a head lamp whenever she could, but now, at the 127th mile, it was simply too dark. The flakes fell thick and silent, covering the ground in minutes. Her feet, already cold, were now also wet. Yasmin continued running. By the 131st mile, two or the inches had fallen in an hour and her night station was nowhere to be seen. When a car passed her in the other direction, she knew she was lost, as the roads had been closed to traffic for the race. The car was full of young men who must have been drunk, for they hollered at her through an open window and the car horn tooted several times but the car didn't stop, and the night soon returned to its customary stillness. She began to worry about where she was going and what would become of her, but she couldn't stop running - she'd lose too much body heat. Should she turn back, retrace her tracks? The snow was falling too heavily, they would be covered over within a couple of miles. Still, she turned back. She realised her race was over, she had been done in by the snow, and she began to weep. She cried as she ran, all the while monitoring her body as she had trained herself to do. She could feel her core temperature slowly lowering. She realized she probably had a half hour before the onset of hypothermia. She realised she needed to find shelter immediately, she needed heat, to raise her core temperature, but everything beyond the arc of her head lamp was dark. She turned off the head lamp and, still running, waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The road was passing through a forest. She couldn't remember having passed through this forest. For the first time she felt a wave of fear light her up like a surge of electricity. She kept running. When she turned her headlamp on again, she was still passing through the forest. Ahead of her glowed two little lights. As she approached, she saw they were the eyes of a small fox. The fox didn't flee as she approached but continued to study her. After she had passed it, the fox began to follow her at a trot from a short distance, sometimes nearing her so that it was almost parallel, sometimes dropping back so that it was almost out of sight. She took comfort in the presence of the fox, even though she knew it could sense her weakened state. She began to converse with it in her mind: the fox turned out to be a young female, just like her. They discussed many things - at first, she told the fox about her love of running, her training schedule, her diet, her injuries, the races she had run, her favorite roads. As she tired, the fox did more of the talking. The fox spoke of the forest, the trees they were passing, the people and beasts who lived in those parts, the stars overhead, the passage of the seasons. All the while she kept running - the key was to always keep running. In the morning her body was found by the side of a forest road by the driver of a lumber truck. It was already partially frozen, and the snow around it was pocked by several circles of a fox's paw prints, while her body, a coroner later concluded, had been mauled by a fox, although whether before or after death was impossible to say, as there were no signs of resistance.