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Life-saving run on track of imagination

I am straddling the belt on the treadmill at the hospital cardiac rehabilitation department. This three-day-a-week activity has been a part of my exercise routine since my second cardiac bypass surgery at age 62 more than two years ago. I wonder what fantasies my imagination will conjure up today.

I had enjoyed the sport of running and jogging for many years and vowed to maintain that part of my life to the best of my ability.

I press the button to start the motor and the belt begins to rotate, increasing its whine slowly in direct proportion to the belt speed.

Cautiously stepping onto the moving belt, my legs react instinctively to match the speed of the rotating surface. Once the belt reaches a predetermined pace I press another button to start the timer, which has been set for 30 minutes.

Almost instantly, that fantasy I had hoped for takes over, filling my whole being with excitement.

I can envision my presence on a tree-lined country road in the early part of a morning race, with arm-swinging bodies and gasping efforts to grasp needed oxygen obvious on all sides of me.

I tell myself to run my own race, forcing myself to hold back, to maintain a constant pace. Not more than a mile into this contest, my strategy seems to be paying off as one by one those imaginary bodies ahead of me take up positions to my rear. Their fast starts eventually take a toll on them.

The lead runners are still a good distance ahead of me, but a long straight stretch followed by some rolling hills seems to find the gap between us narrowing.

I nudge the power up a little and the belt whines a little higher, increasing speed, as I strive to catch up.

We have about a mile to go before turning into the stadium for the final lap.

Though my legs are feeling tired, I know that all those legs in front of me have covered the same distance and they must be feeling the same way. I just can't let up.

Slowly I pull within a few strides of the leaders. Excitement sets my heart pounding, sending blood whirling through my veins as confidence runs through my body.

I know I can win if I can only hang in there. The extra flow of adrenalin shifts my whole being into that second-wind stage. The entire body seems to be moving in total synchronization.

As the gates to the stadium come into view, I find myself striding side by side with the lead runners.

The crowd roars as we enter the stadium and hit the track with the finish less than a lap away.

With sheer determination I fight to stay within striking distance of the first-place runner. All of that hard training would not be in vain if I could help it.

Midway around the track, the two of us are running as one, shoulder to shoulder, each waiting for the precise instant to call up his last reserve of energy for the burst toward the ribbon.

As we turn the last curve, with the finish dead ahead, we match each other stride for stride until we are only a few yards from the finish. An explosive increased whine of the belt below my feet carries me past my opponent as, with arms raised, I break through the invisible ribbon.

Only my ears are privy to the thundering cheers of the crowd as the motor begins to reduce the speed of the treadmill by command of the exhausted timer.

Soon the belt slows to a speed that allows me to step to the stationary floor.

I check my pulse rate, and at 150 beats per minute it is within my prescribed target range.

Knowing how far I have come since my first days in cardiac rehab, a proud lump in my throat is my first-place trophy this day.

Who says running on the treadmill has to be boring?

Harry Robertshaw, 64, is an East Lake retiree who once did long training runs with his son and participated in road races.