By Indro Neri - I am running. I am running bullet-fast. Actually no other metaphor could be more appropriate, since I am sprinting along the first of the three one-mile loops of the Summer Biathalon taking place this morning in Issaquah, Wash. I have to run, then shoot five times with a rifle from a prone position, then run one mile again, shoot one more round but this time standing up, and finally run one last mile. I am running on a challenging path in the middle of the forest, trying to keep up with my two personal opponents. The start is, in fact, split up in three/four-person groups at a time. One of my rivals is none other than Chris Caviezel, the organizer of this particular running event. I am already in third place, in a three-person race. I am running bullet-fast to show off a little, at least in the first 200 yards, but my two competitors are already widening the gap. It is ironic if you consider that, before taking off, I promised myself to run conservatively in order to reach the rifle range without huffing and puffing too much. I would be able to aim pretty well at the target, without the rifle rock'n'rolling to the rhythm of my drummer-like heart. I guess I just couldn't resist the challenge. It is the pre-race stress in addition to having to start when the official timer starts: on your marks, five, four, three, two, one, go! How can you not take off?
I am still running. I am on the second loop, on the same beautiful trail, with a demanding up-and-down course: We run on a soft pine needle natural carpet, then between a narrow path surrounded by blackberry and raspberry bushes, and finally hit the wide forest road. I still retain the gunpowder smell. I arrived at the rifle range exactly how I predicted not to arrive, that is, heavily panting, with a stinging pain in the back of my throat, like when I run too fast breathing with a wide open mouth. Or like an absolute beginner would run, swamped by excitement. The race official recorded my first completed mile right before the "Walk Zone", the short part of the course preceding the entrance of the rifle range, where walking is compulsory. I placed my ear plugs in position (wearing already my own glasses, this was the other necessary precaution to follow before handling the firearms) and grab a rifle. I stretched out on the ground, adjust a little to find the correct shooting position, and loaded the rifle with the five .22 caliber bullets "magazine" (cartridges container). The magazine contains my five possibilities to score five targets. I relive the whole scene in slow motion. One of the race officials stands next to me, to look after my performance. The five knockdown targets are a whopping 50 meters away. I aim at the first black bull's-eye but my chest and my lungs and my heart are still in the running mood. My rifle acts just like an orchestra's director baton: I just can't keep it still. The target moves up and down. I hold my breath and I am able to frame it for a fraction of a second. Not enough time; the target is no longer in my viewer. The rifle's barrel is still wagging and the target shows up once again. I feel like I am playing with a videogame. I hold my breath once again and concentrate. Here it is, on the line of fire. And I shoot. Gotcha! In the meantime seconds are passing. I pull and push the rifle bolt. The spent cartridge is expelled with a little smoke and an unexpected smell of New Year's Eve firecrackers. A new bullet is ready to go and I aim at the second target. I'm motionless, but still sweating. I hold my breath and pull the trigger again, but this time a distinct metallic sound makes me realize I missed. There's nothing to do. No regrets. The show must go on. And I aim at the third bull's-eye. I concentrate and shoot. Yes! One more score. Let's go with the fourth. Two more knocked down targets and I might win the stuffed animal. But I don't score and I deserved what happened. I shouldn't have let myself being distracted by the stuffed animal thought and loose my concentration. So far I got every other target, so the fifth should be a good one. I hold my breath and shoot once again, and I score. Three out of five is not that bad: Maybe I am a better shooter than I am a runner. I give the rifle back to the race official. "Two penalties" he tells me and repeats it in his walkie talkie. Another race official is waiting for me outside the rifle range. I speedwalk out of the range (I am still in the walk zone) and enter the secondary course, the "Penalty Loop". Did you miss two targets? Then you have to pay two extra 50-meter loops, adding them to the total distance of the event. Only two loops for me. Two other participants are still running around when, at the end of my second penalty loop, I re-enter the official course to face the next running mile.
I am running again. I am on the third and last of the main loops to run. Now, I can only hope to run faster but, ironically again, I feel my feet as heavy as lead. My muscles are suffering from the ups and downs of the course and the back of my throat still stings for my inconsiderate quick start. More than this, as I was expecting, I hit none of the second series of targets thus having to add five more penalty loops to my personal abacus. Round and round, just like being (I presume) inside a washing machine. To tell the truth, at the end of the second mile I was pretty determined and positively charged by the previous shooting performance, but aiming from a standing position requires way more concentration and talent than doing it from the ground. Even the pros have hard times in this second session. You have to find a perfect balance, and form a triangle with your elbow and arm, providing stability to the rifle. And again be motionless, when the rest of your body is still furiously pulsating for the run abruptly paused. Three targets hit out of ten will be my first biathlon result. And I am more than happy with it. My final time is 34:38. Boy, I really ran bullet-fast!