by Sam Hilliard
Years of cross-country running greatly influenced the character of Sean, the young missing murder witness that Mike Brody searches for in the The Last Track. Fearful of capture, Sean runs ever deeper into the Montana wilderness. Like Sean, I’m no stranger to covering long distances through dense woods. Back in high school, I ran cross-country, and I still run to this day (though much less seriously).
Preparing for races back then meant regular sessions running over the most grueling terrain Upstate New York had to offer. My teammates and I did not seek these harsh conditions out of a love for twisted ankles and shin splints. No, we did this because we never knew what the next invitational course was going to look like, especially in the snow or rain. We just assumed a healthy mix of steep inclines, breakneck descents, and general slop awaited us.
While we may not have known what rigors the course might demand, we could anticipate it would be either very cold or very wet or both. Competition rules required that all members of a cross country team wear the same uniform during a race, without exception. Such homogeneity made identifying teams easier for both officials and competitors. The problem with this well-intentioned bit of regulation is that the odds of all the teenaged boys on the team remembering to bring matching thermals or tights to wear under the uniform were extremely unlikely. Somebody always forgot part of their gear or packed the wrong color. At least we all suffered together.
I remember running over snow-covered fields with ice hanging off my laces, dressed in a singlet, shorts, a pair of mud caked socks and some racing shoes, thinking the next mile might as well be one hundred. I also knew the only way out of it was to finish. No matter how uncomfortable it was, in the end, the problem was temporary.
So I worked that experience into Sean. Though his stakes are much greater than mine were, he uses a similar technique to persevere. As he becomes lost in the woods, disoriented by lack of food and water, he stays centered by remembering that his problems will pass.
As long as he can stay ahead of the killer.
Sam Hilliard arrived during a very scary period of the 1970s. Currently, Sam resides outside New York City with his girlfriend, and an army of four cats—one feline under the legal limit. His first book, The Last Track: A Mike Brody Novel, a mystery/thriller, released this year. When he’s not writing, he’s the Director of IT at an all-girl boarding school where he gets to observe world-class drama firsthand and that’s also the reason he studies Krav Maga and Tai Chi.