1: Endangered species
The vista is all but empty now, across the expanses of the open plain ahead. The sky is blue and cloudless, the temperature cool in the early morning as the huge animal lumbers slowly past me.
I keep walking evenly, as calmly as I can, trying not to distract the rhino’s attention at this moment of maximum peril, as it sets out upon its annual trek.
Behind me, I can hear the approaching patter of many more feet upon the ground, growing inexorably nearer with every second. The veneer of calm I’ve been carrying since before the break of dawn seems false and fragile now, as the adrenaline rises in my throat.
The months and weeks of single-minded preparation, the hours of planning and even this familiar landscape offer little comfort as I stand in trepidation at the beginning of the journey. Almost in a moment, the chasers are on my heels.
And yet, I keep on walking. It’s a vow I made long years ago, for here and now one rash move can destroy it all. No matter the temptation, I will not run a single step until I really have to.
A moment later, the wave of pursuers breaks over me. The rhino is trotting frantically not far ahead as a hundred fleet-footed gazelles and antelopes bound by. I furl my brow in resignation and don my cap. Then I check my laces, hitch my socks and straighten my green shirt before the pain begins.
A bright flash of sun glints closer as I take what must surely be my final walking strides. The sight that greets me next stretches all due reason. The beast is in full flight ahead, huge head lolling wildly as he sets his eyes on other prey. Two figures clad all in shining white are streaking past with that wicked horn bobbing menacingly just a single pace behind.
I allow myself a smile and take one last step across the fateful line of hope and fear. Right before my eyes, the rhino is chasing two Star Wars Imperial troopers in full battle dress, all along the road. I click my watch, and hit the tarmac running.
My 2012 London Marathon has started, and anything could happen now.