Runners, part 1

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It’s not easy to organize a marathon. You need to get permits to use the roads, you need to plot out a course, you need to find vendors and sponsors and volunteers and safety professionals and, above all, runners.

As shitty as it sounds, the bombing at the Boston marathon helped bring attention to road races. People want to run to show their solidarity. This is all over the Western world, mind you – not just in the US. That’s why my partner and I got the idea to put on this race in Belfast. He’s from there, I love the city, and hell, what better a location to conduct a marathon than a place with the word “fast” in its name? The marketing writes itself.

The Belfast city council approved the marathon pretty quickly. It didn’t conflict with any other road event and Belfast was doing some citywide “healthy living” campaign, so another road race only helped draw attention to it.

As online registrations for the marathon trickled in, I tackled the sponsorship duties. My partner has enough money to conduct the event on his own if he wants, but obviously it’s better to have sponsors. It’s not only money we’re after, but gear, food, tents, and all that stuff. It was slow going for a while, but it started to pick up after we got Applied Dynamics on board. Companies liked the idea of having their name on the same t-shirt as AppDyn.

AppDyn didn’t contribute much money – only $1000 USD. But they promised to send a few thousand of their newly-developed fruit/vegetable/nut bars they were planning to release next year. Apparently they’re great for runners.

They gave me a sample when we met – it was pretty good. I had great energy afterward. My partner ate one, too, but he had an awful allergic reaction. He blamed himself for not reading the ingredient list. It was there in plain English: peanuts. Still, he was stuck home recuperating, which meant I had to do the bulk of pre-marathon preparation. I felt bad for the guy. The reaction was way worse than ones he’d had in the past. The skin blisters were just…ugh.

Two days before the race, a few friends and I decided to run the course. The official goal was to make sure everything was just how we’d planned and that the course markers were set up properly, but I just really wanted to run. I’d been eating the AppDyn bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ever since their rep gave me a case of them. I felt amazing.

We ran the course and it seemed to be set up perfectly. About halfway through, I broke free from the group and just ran on my own. I was alone in my thoughts. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line with a personal record time.

I wanted to be elated. I wanted to brag to my partner that I’d beaten his personal best, too, but it didn’t seem right. I’d just learned he’d been hospitalized again.

The initial allergic reaction to the peanuts had passed. His doctors were confused, because none of the residual allergens should have been in his system after all that time. Still, his conditions worsened. They tested him with all the different ingredients listed on the bar. All but one – something called MR332d.

When his doctors contacted AppDyn to find out what it was, they were told it was a proprietary blend of mushroom extracts. That seemed to put the doctors on edge. AppDyn wasn’t forthcoming about the types or quantities they used in the bar. Still, no one else who’d consumed the bars exhibited any problems whatsoever. As the hospital fought over the phone with AppDyn to get the names of the mushrooms, my partner’s condition worsened.

As difficult as it was for me to see him suffering, he wanted me to keep working on the marathon. It was important to him that the race went on as planned. We’d put too much time and energy into the event to let one of us getting sick derail the whole thing.

The morning of the marathon, everything was going well. The volunteers were out on the course setting up water tables, the medical tents were erected, and the vendors were getting their products out. I got a call from my partner. He sounded better than he had in days. He said he was coming to the race.

I was shocked. The day before, when I’d visited, he had looked utterly horrible. Like, death’s door horrible. I asked if he was sure, and he told me the worst was over. He’d get there just in time for the start. We hung up and I kept preparing.

The area where the runners picked up their bibs with the numbers was right next to the AppDyn tent. They were giving out the bars left and right. The runners loved them. Some even came back for more to carry with them as they ran. AppDyn obliged and gave them all they wanted.

My partner arrived about 20 minutes before the start. I almost fell over. He looked much better. I was confused, though, because he’d shown up in his running gear. I asked why, assuming he couldn’t possibly be planning to run after everything he’d been through. I just laughed and said he’d run here from the hospital and felt great. I didn’t try to hide my concern and strange feeling of dread. There was nothing I could do to stop him.

Seeing my discomfort, he laughed and told me not to worry. Then he gave me a hug. His skin felt strange.

A little while later, we had the countdown. I fired the pistol when the clock hit zero and over a thousand runners took off. I went over to the control tent and monitored the radio chatter from the pace vehicles. While I listened, one of the volunteers nudged me and said, “hey, I think you cut yourself” and pointed to my forearm. I looked down.

I wasn’t cut. Stuck to my forearm was a patch of skin that was not my own. It was bloody and ragged. I poked it. It was tacky – just like my partner’s had been when he hugged me. With a sickening realization, I knew it had to be his. It had just…come off.

I excused myself and went into one of the portable toilets to clean up. I picked at the skin, and gradually, pieces came off. It was extremely sticky. But there was something else, too. I brought my forearm up and studied it. Attached to the underside of the tacky flesh were little nubs. They were moving. No, growing. And they looked a lot like stringy, white mushrooms.

Will be continued.

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4 thoughts on “Runners, part 1”

  1. Every time I read your stories, I’m really fucking glad I am allergic to mushrooms and other foods and only eat things I am certain about!

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