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Peloton X

Man With the Hammer

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The effort starts out reasonably enough, but it takes only a few moments for the pain to catch up to her. The man with the hammer is nearby, and he’s warming up for a haymaker in a few minutes.

She knows he’s there. She looks over, smiles at him, shifts down two more gears and leaves him behind.

The man with the hammer laughs. There’s nothing he loves more than defiant prey. She can have her moment, but he’ll take the day. He always wins.

Words/images: Jered Gruber

Up ahead, she settles into the pain. She embraces it at first, confidently hugs it, invites it in. She’s not trying to get away from it today.

The pain doesn’t stop though. The pain comes in alone at first, small and quiet, but its family follows along soon after, then the extended family, friends and acquaintances. Soon, there’s nothing to embrace—just a giant wall of pain.

She grimaces, she begins to pant, her hands grab hold of her hoods tightly—knuckles whitening under the strain. Sweat flows freely from her forehead to her nose, from her nose to her stem, from her shoulders, down her arms, from her fingertips, the drops fall to the ground.

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The man with the hammer has caught up.

Still, she bears down. The top is in sight. She crouches lower, she scoots back, she pushes with all she has—her toes hurt.

There’s nothing left in her mind but the desire to stop, to be done with it, but her eyes only see the crest in the road—it’s so close—but every doubt she’s ever had is crowding for a chance to tell her why she should stop now.

“The hammer swishes harmlessly past.”

No one will know if you stop now. Who cares about the last 20 seconds? It’s okay to stop. You don’t have to be a hero. You’re not winning life points here. This is just dumb. Why are you doing this?

She closes her eyes, her teeth clench, and she slows slightly. The man with the hammer smiles a snarling, hungry smile and readies for his knockout blow.

But she doesn’t give in. She stands up in one heaving mass. She gasps for air, her legs are clotted with fiery pain, roaring in protest. Her hands are numb, her forearms sear. Her vision shifts in unhealthy ways as she shifts up one more time for 10 final pedal strokes—we can’t call them strokes anymore though, no, these are pedal smashes, pedal heaves.

She’s gloriously unhinged. She’s no stylist in this moment. There’s nothing smooth about this effort, nothing appealing in her motions—except everything. The effort is so pure, so violent, so raw, it’s beautiful.

The top is so close—she thrashes on her pedals in a desperate final effort to get to the top before the hammer makes contact.

The man with the hammer let’s loose—a giant Babe Ruth of a swing.

She crests.

She collapses over her bars.

The hammer swishes harmlessly past.

She rolls slowly onward, rubs the sweat from her eyes, takes a drink, and smiles as she rolls down the other side.

From issue 50. Buy it here.

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