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A Calculated Effort

This excerpt from a work-in-progress is entirely fictional, except for those bits that aren’t. I’d give you more footnotes but who am I to try to explain Newton?


Duncan read vociferously anything he could find on the theory and practice of winning cross-country runs or racewalking events.

“Can you read more quietly?” his mother asked over supper one night, a plate of Cottage pie and chips. The chips were not burnt though the Cottage looked like an arsonist had been at work.

He wrote his own schedule to keep his body’s four humours in balance: hot, cold, wet, dry; he followed a four-day cycle; asked about having his spleen surgically removed, but couldn’t persuade his mother to take him to Doctor Willard; he attached cotton bags full of lead shot to the laces of his Adidas SL72’s; and learnt when to take Cascara Sagrada to fully purge his bowels before Wednesday afternoon inter-school races. With his carefully planned series of Indian Club exercises and isometric strengthening (based on a comic strip he saw in a Sunday newspaper) his stitches subsided and his second wind grew.

“Running around the neighborhood in your underwear,” his father would mutter whenever he saw Duncan leaving for a run through the Dingles, or a brisk walk around the boundary points of the Rover factory in Solihull. Using the lamp-posts as markers, he would check his position, maintain a steady velocity, accelerate smoothly, and then jolt his pace up, decelerate, and repeat. As he reached the turn point, his mind would disintegrate, his body became conditionally convergent, and he could no longer differentiate between up and down slopes. As his ability increased, he wondered about absolute limits, if he was losing his equilibrium, if he could keep his focus. On late night walks, he would drop the pace to eight minute miles, and smile in confused exuberance: from Coleside to Swanshurst, from Swanshurst to Wheeler’s Lane, from level to upland, from upland to crest, from Hollybank to Chinn Brook, from Chinn Brook to Our Lady of the Wheatfields, forward flew the soft leather Adidas Sambas. Onwards strained the skinny smooth chest. From allotments entrance to the Sycamore tree–to the Olympic finish line of the mind from the silence of his bedroom–fast, fast through the night rolled the racewalking male.

King’s Heath fair opened that Autumn, and that very day the rigors of Duncan’s preparations collapsed like a pile of pebbles hit by a wintry blast from the polar coordinates.

“I’m stale, like old bread,” he complained to his mother.

“That’s nice, dear,” she replied with her cheery tone of not listening or not wanting to listen.


* vociferously – implies not only that he was clamorous for the information, but was also loud, as with unrestrained shouting. Thus his mother’s injunction for quieter reading.

* The training methods listed range from ancient Greek to some discredited only in the early twentieth century.

* Not many literary works include puns for Calculus students. There is, however, a metaphoric sense of accuracy even in the funny bits.

* “Coleside to Swanshurst, … racewalking male.” Transformed from The Overland Mail by Rudyard Kipling.