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The International Writers Magazine: Enhanced Living

Ultra Core
• Julie McSmith
Linda lived in a split ranch at the end of a cul-de-sac. There was a municipal park behind her house with a gravel road where people liked to run and bike. This was perfect because she went running every day except for Thursday, unless it was below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

running shoes

Then she did some extra laps in the pool and used the treadmill in the weight-room at the high school. These were open to the public every evening from seven to nine-thirty p.m. Usually people had to buy a pass, but because Linda taught third grade at the elementary school across town she got in free as a town employee.

Today was Linda's long run day. That meant that after she finished the five-mile loop around the park road she did another few miles out on a road that led out between some cow pastures. The sides of the road seemed to converge into nothingness several miles distant. It was one of those straight roads where, after she hit her pace, Linda felt like she was in a trance. Only three cars passed in the last half hour, and she rejoiced in the quiet expansiveness of the azure sky and rolling fields. She felt confident that next month she would be ready for her first 50-mile ultra marathon. Could she win? The purse was a tidy sum. More than that, though, she coveted the feeling of victory.

The sun was setting, and it blinded Linda as she approached her turn-around point on the endless highway. After pulling a u-turn, she saw her shadow stretched out long before her on the road. Further along, she passed a farmer's house on her left, set back from the road. Horses grazed in the front yard, and a rusted iron sign arched over the driveway. It read "Governor Idèe Ranch." Linda thought about her uncle's horses and how he taught them how to do Pilates to improve their flexibility and core strength. She knew from her own conditioning how effective such stretches and postures were to preparing for race day, but she still had trouble thinking of teaching horses to do them.

Reaching the end of the road between the pastures, Linda cast one last glance at the sun sitting on the horizon. Turning towards home, she started down the gravel road back through the park. Linda began to feel fatigued. It was a long run after a day at school with energetic third graders, and she had not eaten much for lunch.

Her legs felt like bricks, and she considered slowing down. Then her core muscles began to feel hot and her legs relaxed. A pleasurable sensation replaced the fatigue from before. Her cell phone rang, and she thought about answering it, but she decided not to use it as an excuse to stop. Linda increased her pace, and the evenly planted spruce and oaks along the road passed with a steady rhythm as she bounded along. She waved to an aging couple walking in the opposite direction and one of her neighbors out for a slow jog.

After she stopped, Linda was still breathing hard, and she headed across the weedy field to her back yard. Linda checked her cell phone. She saw a message: "Tired of the burn and fatigue in the latter parts of your workout? For a limited time, Ultra Core is offering free samples to selected athletes. How was your sample today? Visit to learn more. You will love our new product!"

Promotions for running clothing, training aids, and dietary supplements often came to Linda's mailbox, because she subscribed to a lot of sports magazines and mailing lists. You've got to be kidding, she thought to herself. Someone is really trying to market something like this? I mean everyone knew that famous athletes were probably involved in all kinds of research and development, not all of it legal. Why are they marketing something like this to everyone, though? How did Ultra Core get my GPS information, anyway? Did the phone company sell my GPS information to these telemarketers? Linda sat and looked at Ultra Core's advertising materials on her computer after she finished her cool-down stretching routine. There were testimonials from several famous runners whom she knew from reading her running magazines, though she never heard them mention Ultra Core before.

On Saturday Linda met her sister, Chloe, for lunch at the steak-and-potatoes-place that her older sister liked. Chloe was a stewardess, and today when they met she handed Linda a package of gourmet candies from her most recent flight. The two sisters seemed to come from different families. Today Chloe's flowing, strawberry-blond tresses were caught up in twist on the back of her head, and a pair of three-inch straw sandals added to her already-tall height. The two women sat opposite one another at the red-checked cloth-covered table. Chloe got a steak and Linda some soup and a salad.
"How was Seattle this time?" Linda asked.
"We got some bad weather coming in, but I mean it's usually rainy so it was no big deal," she replied. There was a pause and Chloe continued, "Anyway, what do you think of my new enhancements?"
"What do you mean?"
"You can't tell?"
"No, what?"
"I've gone from a 32B to a 38D."
"Oh really? I thought you just padded your bra or something," Linda mused. "I guess the passengers like it?"
"Honestly, I did it for myself." Chloe laughed. "I just got tired of always thinking I was somehow less just because of my stupid bra size."
"What did Kevin say when you told him?" Linda asked. Kevin was Chloe's boyfriend who worked as a division manager in a distribution company.
"I haven't told him yet. Do you think he'll notice?" Chloe laughed, and Linda smiled.
The food arrived, and they ate in silence and then after a time, after which Chloe said, "I don't know how you do it, Linda. You're really going to run an ultra next month?"

Linda had her mouth full of salad, and it took her a moment to answer. "I mean I have a performance goal, but I don't know if I can win the whole thing. After all, this is my first one."
Chloe beamed, and said, "I'm so proud of you. I know I could never do something like that."
"Well you never tried. Anyway, as long as I pace myself for the distance I think I'll be fine. I heard that Gerry has registered, though."
"Good luck, that's all I can say," Chloe answered. "From what you tell me she sounds like a real prig."
"I guess she's not all that bad, I mean, we used to run together a couple of years ago. She just kind of gloats when she wins," Linda remarked. She paused again and continued, "You want to hear something funny. I got this phone promotion the other day from a company called Ultra Core. It was like really bizarre. I was out running some extra miles, and I was pretty tired. Then all of the sudden my core muscles started getting really hot and my legs felt totally relaxed, and then my phone started ringing. It was an ad for this company." Linda got out her phone and showed Chloe the message.
"Oh weird, but was it good?" Chloe asked.
"I guess so," Linda shrugged. "Maybe I'm more of a masochist."
"Are you going to subscribe?"
"I've been running pretty good," Linda replied, "I don't think I really need it. What the heck, I might as well try it once, though."
Chloe laughed, "It could be fun. Why not?"
Linda said, "I guess I like to think my grit, my persistence, and my training program help me to win. This just seems like cheating, somehow. I mean, after all, a lot of performance-enhancing drugs are banned. How is this any different?"
"You want to beat Gerry, don't you?" Chloe asked.
"Of course, but I'd like to do it without feeling like I won because of some performance enhancer promotion."
"Why not just try it once and see how you do?" Chloe replied, and pushed the last of her mashed potatoes to the edge of the plate.
"I have to admit, I am curious," Linda said, "Maybe I should try it."
"Of course you should."

Friday afternoon the day before the race, Linda's students gathered around her before they put on their jackets to go home. Some of the parents knew about her plan to run the 50-mile ultra-marathon, and a pair of the children handed her a card and some balloons. Accepting the card, Linda said she would do her best and think of them. The classroom seemed very quiet after everyone left. Linda sat at her old, metal desk and graded a few of their spelling and math tests. She looked out the windows that had the children's arts and crafts projects taped to them: construction paper Easter bunnies, and a few Santas and turkeys leftover from the previous holidays. Her mind wandered, What would my students say if I ever told them that I subscribed to Ultra Core? Would they think it's cheating? What if I win? This whole idea just seems too mature for children.

Driving to the race on Saturday morning, Linda reviewed her strategy, and told herself, It's just like a marathon but longer. You ran one of these for practice last month. Just try for your personal best. She parked in the lot next to the post-office near the town square where the race was to start and checked the messages on her phone again. Then she put on her shoes and walked over to where the race would begin.
It was around mile 38 that Linda began to feel fatigued. The course was a long, steady climb along a ridge road that looked out over a lot of fields. Linda had not seen Gerry since mile ten when the other woman increased her speed and zoomed ahead. Still, Linda kept her pace, because she wanted to achieve her personal goal. She wondered when the Ultra Core product would kick in, remembering that the application did not have a lot of customized options about when or how to use it. Around mile 40 a feeling of relaxation in her core muscles and a burst of energy replaced the dull pull of gravity. Her stride quickened.

Coming to the last five miles she saw Gerry's florescent-orange singlet in the distance, and Linda ran with more determination. Three miles before the finish line Linda waved as she passed Gerry, and another woman nodded in acknowledgement. Linda crossed the finish line amid a cheering crowd back at the town square. Then she jogged another half mile to cool down before returning in time to cheer as Gerry crossed the finish line. Later, Linda shook Gerry's hand and congratulated her.
Gerry shook her head in disappointment, "You ran great, Linda. Today just wasn't my day."
"You ran pretty darn good," Linda replied.
"Actually, I was using this performance aid called Ultra Core. You ever heard of it?" Gerry asked and Linda nodded and said nothing. Gerry continued, "It worked great, but the thing is that some new neighbors moved into the apartment below mine two weeks ago. They must be like chain-smokers or something. I've got all the vents and pipes taped up, but the stuff is still getting in somehow. And at work, too, they've been having trouble with the ventilation system, and we've been getting all this stale air from our production facility in the office."
"That's terrible," Linda replied. "I'm so sorry to hear that." She really did feel bad for Gerry whose face showed all the stress of the epic marathon she just finished.
Gerry shrugged, "You ran great today, Linda, and this was your first ultra marathon."
"I just tried to reach my personal goal..." Linda said, "and well, I have to admit that I was using Ultra Core, too.
"So what did you think?" Gerry asked, suprised.
"I don't know. I might have done as well without it," Linda answered. "I'll have to see how my training goes this month. So, are you going to run the River Bend Ultra in June?"

© Julie McSmith November 2015
t_visco at

Julie McSmith

Today young Monica and her mother are at the Discount Barn Emporium - for the first time, Monica requests her mother's consent to circumnavigate the store alone. 

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