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I DIED TODAY IN THE MIDDLE OF A TWO-HOUR RUN • by Jim Brennan

I died today in the middle of a two-hour run, on a torturous hill next to a lamb farm. It was mile six to be exact. The bah, bah, bah I heard as I fell to the ground was drowned out by the sound of a tightening steel cable, like those on a suspension bridge, forty-thousand tons of pressure straining to sheer it to smithereens — the noise came from inside my chest.

The final miles were blissful. My body was in rhythm as I ascended a long, steep hill listening to the soft, hypnotic pant of my heart; air ever so softly entered my lungs and then whispered back out through my mouth. Perspiration flowed from every pore in my body, a feeling I loved more than anything in the world — the reason I never stopped running from the moment I let go of the coffee table as a toddler. I raked my fingers through my sweaty hair to feel the soaked strands in the web of my fingers, and then lightly pulled my fingertips down the sides of my beard draining the perspiration onto my bare chest.

It was one of those stifling summer days with oppressive humidity that meteorologist assign a color code to; the running conditions I loved because the long-run would purge my being of stress and worries, and replace it with peace and joy. Immersed in the sanctity of sweat, in near-ecstasy, I was feeling spry as I climbed another hill with the lamb farm to my right just when that steel cable shattered. All I could do was watch from another dimension.

The ground approached like I had parachuted from a small aircraft, though I fell only five-feet, nine inches. Tiny pieces of gravel grew larger and larger until they appeared as small boulders next to my eyes. Warm fluid oozed under my forehead, and then a deep-purple stream slid over the field of boulders like a glacier. I should have been horrified, but it was the most peaceful place I’d ever been.

Two curious lambs wandered over and licked my ears. I laughed because it should have tickled, but there was no sound. I heard a farmer yell, “Get away from there, Daisy and Millie.” He crossed the road and stood over me rubbing the grey hair of his chest-length beard. “Hmmmm, one of them there guys who thinks he’s Forrest Gump,” he mused.

Suspended in this ethereal state, I screamed, “It’s about the quality of life, Pops!” but he couldn’t hear a word.

A police car pulled up on the side of the road and an older officer with a large belly hanging over his belt squeezed out from behind the wheel and said, “What’a we got here, Cliff?” His partner, a kid who looked to be about seventeen, big ears the only thing keeping his hat from falling down over his face, walked from the passenger’s side.

“Daisy and Millie wandered away and found this here runner in a heap.” The farmer tilted his head, cupped his hand behind his ear. “Sounds like that there thing in his ears is still playing.”

“He’s streaming music,” said the young officer.

“I know it’s screamin’, but that ain’t music.”

Streaming,” the kid corrected him. He shook his head, and looked to be suppressing a laugh. “Never mind.”

“You know how to turn one of those things off, Eddie?” asked the chubby officer.

Eddie bent down and pulled the pod from my left ear.

“Ironic,” Eddie mumbled.

“What’s ironic?” asked the older cop.

Walk. The Foo Fighters.”

“You got a lot to learn, young man. The guy was obviously running. And what’s this about a food fight?”

By the expression on Eddie’s face, he seemed to understand the absurdity of his boss’s remark, and figured it was futile to make a case that my final act was in the middle of my favorite scene. “Forget it.”

“Does he have identification?” asked the older officer.

“Not that I can see,” said the farmer. The officer stooped down, balancing himself on his sausage-shaped fingers and patted the pocket of my running shorts.

“Watch my ass, you perv,” I yelled. I was beginning to enjoy the entertainment value of being invisible. I’d never yelled at a cop.

There was a time I’d joke with my kids that I wanted to have “the big one” in the middle of a run, and then John Kelly, the Olympic oarsman, dropped dead one morning while running in downtown Philly and lay anonymously in a hospital morgue for most of the day. That’s when I wrote down instructions in case something like that ever happened to me. Not that I’m morbid, but because I’m a writer and that’s the kind of shit writers do when they get bored — or at least I did one day when my screen was blank. Too bad I didn’t tell anyone where I left the file. I named it IFWID (Instructions for When I Die.) If anyone cracks the code, it will be Jason and Carley, my grandkids.

There’s nothing in the instructions about possessions. Let the family figure out how to divvy the stuff up. Probably buy a few cases of beer and play friz-beer for them. Damn, I’m gonna miss that game. But I hope like hell they find the instructions before the wake because I want a keg of Guinness next to the casket. I left word for the kids to tell ridiculous stories, make outrageously inappropriate remarks, and laugh heartily as they mimic my idiosyncrasies, just like old times. And then at the cemetery, I want cases of those tall black cans with the little balls inside that give the stout a good head so everyone can throw their empties into the grave before I’m lowered into the ground — a suitable mattress for eternity.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask — a celebration at the end of a long run.


Jim Brennan writes essays, nonfiction and short stories from Bucks County, PA. His work has appeared in Salon.com, Fringe, Still Crazy Lit, American Fitness and many others. His first book, Twenty-four Years to Boston, a memoir based on the marathon, will be published by St. Johann Press in 2013, and he is in the query process for a short story collection about blue-collar culture titled Once A Welder. He is a member of the Bucks County Writer’s Workshop.


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I DIED TODAY IN THE MIDDLE OF A TWO-HOUR RUN • by Jim Brennan, 3.8 out of 5 based on 36 ratings
Posted on January 19, 2013 in Stories, Surreal
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25 Responses to “I DIED TODAY IN THE MIDDLE OF A TWO-HOUR RUN • by Jim Brennan”


  1. Randy Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Excellent story with great writing. As a fellow runner, I could feel his pain and joy. Thanks.

  2. Erin Ryan Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 5:12 am

    I like the detail about the lamb farm. The farmer’s dialogue seemed … not really natural, to me. But then again, I don’t know too many farmers.

  3. J. Chris Lawrence Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 7:53 am

    I enjoyed this piece. While it didn’t have much for conflict and resolution (so it felt a bit more like a vignette than a story), the writing was excellent and the bizarre, comical material pulled me in. Gave me a grin, that’s for sure!

    It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it deserves a good four stars. So I gave it five.

  4. Sarah Jenne Foster Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 8:18 am

    This is excellent. I love the premise and the execution. What a great way to go!

  5. SarahT Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Now I’ll never convince my 12 year old that “a little exercise never hurt anyone”… Thanks.

    Just kidding… I enjoyed this, particularly the first 5 paragraphs. After that it seemed to get a bit rambling.

  6. Simone Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Dark humor at its finest. Loved it.

  7. JenM Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I loved this! Five stars!

  8. Eric Cline Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    “I never stopped running from the moment I let go of the coffee table as a toddler.” Great phrase! Well-written all the way through.

  9. Paul A. Freeman Says:
    January 19th, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Very funny.

    Must admit though, I did think ‘oh no, not again’ when the MC turned out to be a writer.

  10. I Died Today in the Middle of a Two-hour Run | Rite 2 Run Says:
    January 21st, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    […] conjured up I Died Today in the Middle of a Two-hour Run one day last summer while on a two-hour run along a country road that passes a lamb farm. The way […]

  11. Natalie Dyen Says:
    January 22nd, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Loved it!

  12. Cathryn Grant Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Just what I needed to put life in perspective today. And great writing on top of it! Thanks.

  13. Cathy Hilliard Says:
    January 27th, 2013 at 7:39 am

    Great story!

  14. Jim Says:
    February 6th, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    That is especially satisfying coming from a writer and a runner. Thanks for reading, Cathy!

  15. Jim Says:
    February 6th, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    You are so kind. I’ll be looking for you on EDF in the future.

  16. Jim Says:
    February 6th, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    It’s all about perspective. Thank you.

  17. Jim Says:
    February 6th, 2013 at 6:25 pm

    It’s a joy to see other runners reading EDF. Glad you enjoyed it.

  18. Half Dead | Rite 2 Run Says:
    March 8th, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    […] while on a long run, today for nearly two hours. The route went by the lamb farm that appeared in “I Died in the Middle of a Two-hour Run.” Coincidently, there was a broken grave stone along the side of the road. I swear! I should have […]

  19. How Dave Groul Inspired My Running Story | Rite 2 Run Says:
    May 21st, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    […] I was thinking of lead singer Dave Groul when I wrote I Died Today in the Middle of a Two-hour Run that appeared in Every Day Fiction. The young officer in the story pulled the iPod buds from my […]

  20. Scott Harker Says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    I read this after I read “Crusty Guru”, as I really enjoyed Jim’s writing in that story. And this one was no disappointment either. As a part-time runner, I certainly understood the ecstasies of the run as he described them. The story made me wish it wasn’t 14 degrees outside right now.

    I didn’t want to believe he was really dead until I knew it to be so at the end. And I think that’s a pretty powerful aspect of any story involving a likable character and his/her death.

    Keep up the great writing Jim!

  21. Carl Steiger Says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Ditto on all counts.

  22. Michael Stang Says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    A great run of a tale. Thought the reference to beer at the wake didn’t quite fit with his passion for running, but I recognize your last name, Mr. Brennan, all is forgiven.

  23. MPmcgurty Says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Same here.

  24. MPmcgurty Says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    It seemed very natural to me, haha.

  25. Michael Stang Says:
    January 26th, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Oy, should have known :)

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