I stared out into the open ocean, watching the waves roll into the shore, bringing foam to the oncoming feet. Beside me stood tens of others, clad in swimsuits, standing cold in the crisp air.
I flicked my cap again onto my red-marked head, feeling the silicone fling over my ears. I pushed my goggles down over my eyes, seeing the world go slightly fuzzy. A woman looked my way and smiled, a nervous smile which lit up her shivering face. I smiled back, hoping to cover my nerves in the slight action.
A shout nearby by and we got ready, leaning forward, preparing our bodies and minds for the hours of labour ahead.
A bang sounded in the air and I surged forward, pushing myself with the rest. I smashed into the waves, trained legs jumping over the tides, ignoring the stabs of cold pain. My feet dropped away and I was swimming, arms throwing over the other, pulling the water behind. I felt water swallowing in my mouth but I didn't stop to emit it. Splashes surrounded me, feet kicking into my head, nails scratching against my skin. I felt my arm collide with another and I hurried to pull it free from its fleshy grasp.
I don't know how long I pushed my arms but gradually the ruckus started to thin and finally I felt my feet touch shore. My hands felt the sand under my nails and I stopped swimming, jumping onto my feet, yanking the goggles from my head.
I was running from the water, feet lagging in the waves. Around me people were also surfacing but only a margin of the original competitors was there. But still I did not know where the leaders were.
I left the water and ran the short distance to where my bike stood, gleaming in the sun.
I pulled off the cap and shoved the helmet on my lank hair, feeling it mould around my face. I grabbed my shoes and stumbled them onto my wet feet, pulling my shorts over my suit.
I jumped onto the bike, not thinking to judge how many were left. My feet pushed down onto the pedals and I was off, spinning into the next leg. My hair flew back, slapping against my neck, my feet revolved around the pedals as I felt the sun burning into my skin.
My swimsuit stuck to my body, drying quickly in the heat, rubbing against my skin. The trees flashed past, no more than green stalks in the sky. Dirt picked up as the rubber tires skidded through the track.
I could see only path and dust before me, each corner beckoning another. At last a corner rounded where I saw bikes and helmets abandoned on the ground. I skidded to a halt and threw myself from the bike, tripping and quickly picking myself up. My helmet fell to the ground and I sprinted to the path signalled by the galloping flags.
My breath came in shallow puffs, resounding deep within my ears. My arms moved with my legs, pounding into the dirt. I felt them heavy in their shoes, a lace slowly beginning to loosen its firm tie.
More corners turned over in my head, each one the same. Sweat streamed down my face, dripping into my eyes.
I had turned out all sounds except my breath puffing into the air and my feet hitting the dirt. Until I heard another pair of feet, hitting the dirt with mine. I didn't dare risk the slight glance behind to assess my follower.
The feet sounded heavier, falling onto my ears, dropping down then rising. I could feel the breath on my neck, breathing slow and gasping like mine. I heard the feet quicken and I saw her, by my side, keeping in time to my staggering steps. I risked the glance and found my competitor to be the same woman who had smiled upon me before the race. A smile uncontrollably came to my face and I saw her return the same smile, wobbly but strong.
"Race to the finish," she spoke between gasps.
Another corner and it was there, the gate signally the finish, ribbon still tightly wound around its posts. We were at the beginning; one of us was going to win.
I didn't feel my legs moving, nor my arms pumping at my side. All I saw was the finish line, the shining ribbon and the few paces I had left.
She was right beside me, matching each attempt I made to strike ahead. The ribbon, three steps, two steps, one step. She pushed ahead and I saw the ribbon fall to her body. My legs slowed, jogging to a halt.
And she was standing there, a smile encompassing her face whilst a big smile came across my face. I had come second, only by a fraction but I had come second. Her arms were enveloping mine, and we jumped together, celebrating our success.
I didn't care that I hadn't won, I only cared that I had finished and that was enough for me.