She wiped the sweat from her brow with thick, chilly fingers. Her heart was pounding as she stood still, calves tensed, flexing her toes inside new, rigid trainers. The back of the shoes were the kind that had one point, that dug right into the back of your ankle, instead of two points, which would hug both sides. The skinny woman in front of her, in front of all of them, started chanting instructions through a megaphone. The early sun was beating on their faces and they were exhausted having not yet begun. Wearily, trying to appear energetic, they began a sprint around the big blue track, the white lines failing to separate the runners as they merged into a breathing mass, a swarm of vested athletes. Gradually, though, as they curved around the second corner, the rest of the girls seemed to surge forward. She was travelling at the same speed, or so she thought, but somehow couldn’t keep up. This was not good at all. She tried to pump more adrenalin into her legs, to work around the burn coursing through her muscles and to ignore the iron taste in the back of her mouth. She was a metre behind the back of the pack now, two metres, three metres. No good. There was a moment, just a second of doubt, but it was all she needed. The pressure had been taken out of her concentration, the switch had been flicked, and she started to slow more deliberately. Her harsh breath echoed in her ears, far louder than the pounding of the others’ feet in the near distance. She watched them begin a second lap as she stopped completely, making eye contact with the coach for less than a second before a slow blink erased all concern from the woman’s face. The megaphone was screaming encouragement, but not at her. She had been forgotten now, she deserved no attention. She had stopped. Given in.
Slowly she made her way back to the road next to the track, her legs shaking, her weight shifting, her mind airy and cold. Her bag was light, a blue canvas drawstring that she had been told would be useful for sports gear. There was to be no sports gear. She stepped on a bus and, upon returning home, sat on her sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and a smile. There was to be no sports gear.