Vigil has called Porter "scaringly fit right now," which means that he ought to frighten opponents, but also that Porter himself must face an unknown, must find out how good he has become. "He's a legitimate favorite in the worlds," says Vigil, "along with a dozen others."
Three or four are Ethiopians, good at cross-country for exactly the same reasons as Porter: altitude training and indomitability. Lopes will run, if healthy. Should Neuchâtel's course be muddy, John Treacy of Ireland will be a factor.
Porter isn't getting nasty thinking about it, not yet. Talk turns to hobbies, and he brings out a few of the guns he collects, the first a Ruger .223. "I like to target shoot and hunt deer and elk in the Sangre de Cristo," he says. The second is a Chinese-made AK-47 with a fixed bayonet. He aims it out the window and says, theatrically, "Why do people associate skinny with weak?"
This doesn't get the laugh that he might have wished. An assault rifle is an overpowering symbol of too much that is not sport. "I'm not a mercenary, not a fanatic," he says. "These are collector's items, like the Model A. The glory of the AK-47 is that not everyone can get one. Ammunition for it is available, but I have no intention of firing it."
He goes so far as to say, "Maybe they should have stricter rules for handguns. One or two steps for the sake of safety doesn't mean the eventual confiscation of all firearms."
When it is time for his afternoon run, Porter drives out east and north. After 25 miles, a dozen antelope bound across the sage as he nears Great Sand Dunes National Monument. Snow clouds obscure the mountaintops. Even here, he says, it never gets so cold he can't train. "If it's 40 below, it's too cold for the wind to blow. You throw on a layer of polypropylene, some sweats and a windbreaker, and go on out."
The dunes gleam with a light, new snow. Porter chats a moment with a fearless camp deer and jogs toward the sand hills. The snow makes little difference in footing, so he runs the curving, ascending ridges, sometimes plowing right up the soft leeward sides. He is 6 feet tall and weighs but 134, with wide shoulders and the slenderest of calves. It is clear that his great lungs and heart power the lightest, most efficient of limbs.
The mind's eye rises and retreats until Porter is but a dark, lean antelope moving on the white expanses, until all his high-valley environment can be seen around him. Alamosa has made him hard, inured him to the anoxia, the cold, the sucking mud. But it also has protected him, its altitude keeping him from too many miles, its people keeping him appreciative, humane, independent, his coach and philosophy keeping him on course for a long, rich career. The wind kicks up. He is in his element.