a breakfast serial

One bite-sized story every morning to uplift, motivate, or provoke thought.

lung capacity

< by JHK >

It was a hot day in late August.

The oak trees bowed under the weight of their acorns, tenting the road and trapping the heat.

I stood beneath one of those giant oaks, a few steps estranged from four of my big sister’s friends. We wore matching tank tops, each with a decal of five runners, myself included, who would toe the line for a 5-by-5k relay.

I earned my spot on the team by default—my sister was busy that day. So that left me, all bony knees and nerves.

When the baton smacked my hand, I exploded from the line. My feet turned over like egg beaters, grinding furiously, until about 100 meters down the road—just beyond the spectators—where I keeled over and gagged. I thought no one had seen me.

Then, a woman stepped out of the woods. “I see you run for Mounds View,” she said. I gulped for more air, nodded pitifully. I noticed a pin on her shirt: White Bear Lake. Our rivals.

She started jogging, at a pace you could walk. She thumped her thigh. “Come on,” she said.

I started to trail her. She spoke, as if to herself, “Breathe in for four breaths. Breathe out for eight. If you can’t do it, you’re running to fast.” I inhaledone, twoand felt my lungs collapse. “It’s okay, start with 2/4,” she said. And so I ran—in one, two; out one, two, three, four. She ran with me for two miles. Around bends, up hills, through raspberry thickets. When the path widened and dipped toward the finish, she disappeared.

I burst toward the line, hands raised.

Nine marathons and 11 years later, I still count each breath.

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