The year is 2027. Colt Goucher has just won his third consecutive Footlocker National Championship. Adam is his coach. ESPN has been infatuated with the Gouchers since Adam came out of retirement to win the New York City Marathon in 2023. There is talk of both father and son qualifying for the 2028 Olympic team together.
ESPN has developed a complex algorithm that can simulate race conditions and performances across every Footlocker National Championship since it's inception as Kinney Nationals. They publicize the simulator with ads across multiple platforms. The general public is enthralled. It is a foregone conclusion that the simulator will confirm that Colt is the greatest high school cross country runner of all time. Kara and Adam are on the Today Show the morning of the big day.
ESPN rolls out the simulator, and Colt emerges victorious in an amazing 47 of 48 races. The lone exception is 2003, where he finishes fourth. Adam is livid. He throws a tantrum on national television in response to the simulation. He shakes with rage. He declares the simulation is broken, that there is no way Colt could have lost.
Back in Illinois, Matt Withrow is at home cooking dinner with his wife. He is 240 pounds, fat and happy. He is oblivious to the simulation, and hasn't run a mile in 7 years. The phone rings. It's Alberto Salazar.
"I'm getting a team together to take down the Gouchers."
Withrow laughs and hangs up the phone. His wife asks who it was.
Later that night, Withrow sneaks out of bed and into his home office. His Footlocker jersey is framed over his desk. He takes it down off the wall, and carefully removes the jersey from the frame. He pulls it on over his doughy frame. He grabs spikes from a shelf next to a large trophy. He sees his reflection in the window, and exhales. He looks ridiculous. He could never beat Colt Goucher, not in 2003 and not now. He takes off the jersey, and throws it into the waste basket. He goes upstairs to his wife, and sleeps a dreamless sleep.
The next morning the doorbell rings. It's Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott. He looks very old, and is wearing a trench coat and a brown fedora.
"We have to do this, Matt."
Across the country in Portland, a broken down Galen Rupp is fitting a portly middle-aged woman in a pair of Nike Structures at the local Fleet Feet. Without the testosterone, he looks frail as ever. He is balding with a poor comb over. He is trying his best.
"How do those feel, Alice?"
He feels lucky to have the job. All the money he'd made in his years at the top of American distance running had been squandered on a bad investment in allergy masks. He looks forlornly at a poster on the wall of himself and Mo Farah at the Nike campus. It is badly creased, but the manager lets Galen keep it hanging.
He notices Alberto looking in through the window, and shakes his head.
"Kevin, can you finish up with Alice here? I need to step outside."
Alberto is earnestly waiting for Galen outside. He's a shell of himself, in a baggy Nike track suit and a pair of Vomeros that look like they've got a thousand miles on them.
"Alberto, I can't get you a free pair of shoes. Kevin will fire me, you know that."
"That's not why I'm here, Galen."
Galen looks down at the sidewalk. He closes his eyes and clenches his fists.
"I was hoping you hadn't seen the simulation."
"It's a chance at redemption, Galen."