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Chapter 16
FUNNY, because Shaggy was looking at the same thing and all he saw was a middle-aged guywith a demonic knee.

Shaggy’s ear caught the problem first. For hours, he’d been listening to the faint whish … whish… whish of Juan’s and Martimano’s sandals, a sound like a drummer beating rhythm with thebrushes. Their soles didn’t hit the ground so much as caress it, scratching back lightly as each footkicked toward their butts and circled around for the next stride. Hour after hour: whish … whish… whish …But as they came down Mount Elbert on the single-track trail toward mile 70, Shaggy detected alittle hitch in the beat. Martimano seemed to be babying one foot, placing it carefully rather thanwhipping it right around. Juan noticed, too; he kept glancing back at Martimano uncertainly.

“.Qué pasa?” Shaggy asked. “What’s up?”

Martimano didn’t answer right away, most likely because he was mentally scanning the previoustwelve hours to see if he could pinpoint the cause of his pain: was it running those thirteen mileswearing trail shoes for the first time in his life? Or pivoting around those jagged switchbacks in thedark? Or slip-sliding over slick stones in a raging river? Or was it…“La bruja,” Martimano said; must’ve been the witch. The whole episode back at the firehousesuddenly made sense. Ann’s glare, the mumbo jumbo she spat at him, the shocked look onpeople’s faces, Kitty’s refusal to repeat it in Spanish, Shaggy’s comment—it was obvious. Annhad cursed him. “I passed her,” Martimano said later, “but then she cast a spell on my knee.”

Martimano had been afraid something like this would happen ever since the Pescador had refusedto bring along their shaman. Back home in the Barrancas, the shamans protect the iskiate andpinole from witchcraft, and combat any spells in the runner’s hips and knees and butts bymassaging them with smooth stones and mashed medicinal herbs. But the Tarahumara had noshaman by their side in Leadville, and look what happened: for the first time in forty-two years,Martimano’s knee was giving out.

When Shaggy realized what was going on, he felt a sudden pang of affection. They’re not gods, herealized. They’re just guys. And like every guy, the thing they loved most could bring them themost misery and confusion. Running a hundred miles wasn’t painless for the Tarahumara, either;they had to face their doubts, and silence the little devil on their shoulder who kept whisperingexcellent reasons in their ear for quitting.

Shaggy looked over at Juan, who was torn between taking off or sticking with his mentor. “Goahead,” Shaggy told Juan and his pacer. “I’ve got your boy. Go run that bruja down like a deer!”

Juan nodded, and soon disappeared around a bend in the trail.

Shaggy gave Martimano a wink. “It’s tú y yo, amigo.”

“Guadajuko,” Martimano said. Cool by me.

The scent of the finish line was tickling Ann’s nose. By the time Juan made it to the Halfmoon aidstation at mile 72, Ann had nearly doubled her lead; she was twenty-two minutes ahead with justtwenty-eight miles to go.

Just to pull even, Juan would have to steal back close to one minute every mile, and he was aboutto enter the worst possible place to start trying: a seven-mile stretch of asphalt. Ann, with her road-racing expertise and air-injected Nikes, could uncoil her long legs and let fly. Juan, who’d nevertouched blacktop until that day, would have to handle the strange surface in homemade sandals.

“His feet are really going to suffer,” Juan’s pacer called out to a TV crew by the roadside. As soonas Juan came off the dirt and hit the hardtop, he bent his knees and shortened his stride, getting allthe shock absorption he needed from the up-and-down compression of his legs. He adjusted sowell, in fact, that his amazed pacer began falling back, unable to keep up.

Juan chased Ann on his own. He covered the seven miles to the Fish Hatchery in almost exactlythe time it had taken him that morning, then cut left and onto the muddy trail leading to thedreaded Powerline Climb. Many Leadville runners fear Powerline nearly as much as Hope Pass.

“I’ve seen people sitting by the side of the trail, crying,” one Leadville vet recalled. But Juanleaned into it like he’d been waiting for it all day, running up near-vertical pitches that force mostrunners to push their knees down with their hands.

Ahead, Ann was approaching the peak, but her eyes were nearly closed with exhaustion, as if shecouldn’t bear to even look at the last bit of slope. Switchback by switchback, Juan steadily reeledher in— until abruptly, he pulled up short and started hopping on one foot. Disaster had struck; thethong on one of his sandals had snapped, and he had nothing to replace it with. As Ann wascresting the mountain, Juan was taking a seat on a rock and examining what was left of the strap.

He rethreaded the sandal, and found there was just enough thong left to hold the sole on his foot.

He knotted the shortened strap carefully and gave it a couple of test steps. Good to go.

Ann, meanwhile, had made it to the homestretch. All she had left was the ten miles of rolling dirttrail around Turquoise Lake before the screams of the Sixth Street party animals hauled her uphillto the finish line. It was just past eight in the evening and the woods around her were sinking intodarkness—and that’s when something burst out of the trees behind her. It came on her so fast, Anncouldn’t even react; she froze in place in the middle of the trail, too startled to move, as Juandarted to her left with one stride and back onto the trail with the next, his white cape swirlingaround him as he whisked past Ann and disappeared down the trail.

He didn’t even look tired! It’s like he was just… having fun! Ann was so crushed, she decided toquit. She was less than an hour from the finish line, but the Tarahumara joyfulness that so excitedJoe Vigil had totally disheartened her. Here she was, absolutely killing herself to hold the lead, andthis guy looked like he could have snatched it a............
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