"Run behind me," he said. I fell back a couple of yards. He began to jog, and the van, a stone's throw behind us now, crept forward.
Ali kept an easy pace for the first quarter mile or so. I focused on the bottoms of his boots and ran up on him once or twice. Catching myself and glancing up, I realized for the first time how big he was.
Ali's boots began to thump the asphalt faster. The pastureland on either side was still only a nighttime silhouette. The road was flatter now, with gradual bends. On instinct my pace quickened with his and I ran up on him again.
I was certain I could keep going for five miles if he didn't push any harder. Surely we had done the first mile. I wondered if he would pick it up again about halfway through. We were running east, and the sky ahead had become faint blue. He broke into a near sprint. I took off after him, sure that, for me, the end had come all too soon. A hundred yards or so later, though, he broke stride and cut back to the slow pace we had started with. Another sprint, not as far, and then he pulled up and began walking in a fast, measured rhythm. I came up on his left only a couple of feet behind. His left arm jerked back to wing one of the sweeping uppercuts. The fist snapped forward just as fast, and in the instant after his knuckle grazed my eyelid, sweat from inside the cuff of his rubber jacket splattered my cheek.
"Sorry," I said, and moved over. He didn't seem to notice.
It grew lighter gradually. I watched his profile as he strode along throwing the uppercuts. He expelled bursts of air through gritted teeth and flared nostrils, grunting with the start of each new punch, "Sheeh-unh! Sheeh-unh!" Then he dropped his arms and just walked. We crested a rise in the road. "Listen," he said. Without punching, he sounded two quick huffs. A farm dog barked from across the pasture. He stopped. Street shoes slapped the asphalt rapidly and I turned to see a white T shirt bouncing toward us. Luis Sarria carried a white towel. Ali dabbed his face. At most we had run two miles. We got back into the van.
Halfway back to camp, Kilroy started to talk with enthusiasm about a diet he had read about. Ali grunted with a slight head shake and went on dabbing his face. "Yeeah, Champ!" Kilroy's voice went up an octave as he pleaded his case. Ali kept dabbing. Kilroy dropped the subject.
In camp Ali slipped into a shower cubicle and reemerged with only a towel around his waist. He eased onto the rubbing table. Clearly, he still weighed more than 230 pounds. I sat on a metal chair, Dundee opposite me on a wooden bench. Kilroy stood leaning with his back to the wall. The room was tiny. Sarria went to work, anointing the torso, shoulders and upper arms with oil and working his strong fingers into Ali's flesh. After a few minutes Ali, lying on his stomach, lifted his head from the table an inch and spoke to me in a deliberate, husky voice: "You can tell your grandchildren...that you were with Muhammad Ali...in preparation...for the greatest fight...in history." He paused for effect, staring at me. I smiled and nodded. Satisfied, he turned his face the other way and lay his head back down.
Dundee left to make some phone calls. The rubdown was over, and Kilroy left, too. I asked if I could use the sparring partners' shower, and Ali nodded.
As I dressed, I wondered about hanging around camp for the early afternoon workout. I hoped I would be offered some breakfast. I wanted to watch Ali eat. The door on his dressing room slammed, and I looked out to see others approach him. He passed them and then, still walking, called back over his shoulder, "We're leavin' at quarter to eight, and we ain't waitin' for nobody!" I learned they were headed for New York City.