Diary of a Newbie Runner: A 10K Worth Dying For… Or, 6 Miles of Scenic Misery

{by Ellery Sadler}

I just ran a 10k. Yes, much to my great surprise, I am still alive. I now have an even greater respect, bordering on hero-worship, of anyone who runs 6 miles or longer. So all you experienced, seasoned runners out there – you are my HERO. And I hope you’re still alive to read this.
After a night of nervous sleep, I crawled out of bed and we headed out to Williamsburg for our 10k. My two older sisters, mom, and dad were all running this too. I felt a little jittery and hoped beyond hope that my side wouldn’t cramp up for at least the first 3 miles… I stretched and hopped around feeling nervous but also pleasingly like a dedicated runner. I was out, early in the morning, freezing to death, jumping around, stretching in weird positions – all because I loved my sport. Yep, I was pretty cool. And then we started…
First thing, my iPod didn’t work. I thought I’d charged it the night before but apparently I hadn’t. It was dead. Great, I hadn’t even gone ten steps before I was nearly in tears. I can’t run without music. I’ve done it once before for a short run, and it was misery – pure misery. So now here I was stuck with running 6 miles without music and I already had a bad pain in my side. Really, really bad situation for an already nervous, under-confident newbie runner.
Mile 1 passed quickly, but then came Mile 2. Now, I’ve read that you don’t ‘hit the wall’ until Mile 18 or 20 but I’m quite certain I hit the wall at Mile 3, 4, 5, and 6. Or if not ‘the wall’ then a very hard, locked door. Thankfully, my wonderful sister let me borrow her iPod. I had MUSIC and distraction from my pain. I put my head down and tried to focus as we wound our way through a gravel path in the woods.
By Mile 3 the pain in my side left me so crippled I could barely walk, every step was agony (and I’m not exaggerating) it was the worst cramp I’ve ever had…and I still had 3 more miles to go. The rest of my family went up ahead while I hobbled behind. By now I was pretty sure this whole running thing was a really bad idea. I told myself never again – ever – was I going to run, but even as I crept along I knew that wasn’t true. I would run again. And I would finish this silly race.
I started running, side still hurting but determined with every bit of determination in me to keep up with the two, slightly chubby, middle-aged women ahead of me. If I, a moderately fit sixteen-year-old couldn’t keep up with them then… I kept up with them. Victory! Passed them. Kept running and passed a walker. Up ahead I saw a nine-year-old running with his dad. My new goal – keep up with the nine-year-old. My mantra became ‘Run with the nine-year-old. Run with the nine-year-old.’  
I didn’t see the red-gold leaves. I didn’t see the sun-dappled pond, or the beautiful scenic scenery around me. All I saw was a skinny little nine-year-old up ahead. I had to stick with the nine-year-old – even if it killed me, I was going to do it. Mile 4 passed with a torture-like slowness. Nine-year-old still up ahead. Mile 5. Look at the fat fifty-year-old guy in front of you wheezing with every step and be thankful you aren’t in that much pain…oh wait you are. I stopped comparing myself to the people around me and focused on just finishing the race. Just finish the race. That was my goal.
I caught up with my mom and dad and continued running. My mom, a running machine, looked at me and smiled encouragingly. All I could muster was a bleak mimic of something vaguely like a smile. We ran and ran and ran. How long is a mile? About long enough to make your heart pound and your head throb and your side ache and your legs feel like lead. We finally made it to the home stretch, only one more mile to go. I flipped the iPod to ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ by Rodney Atkins, which was the only song that remotely comforted me at this point. I passed the nine-year-old.
Eyes glazed over, not even strong enough to pretend to smile now I sprinted across the finish line. There were my sisters, who had finished before me, waiting to give me a high five. “Hey how was it?” they smiled and asked. “I’m dying,” was the only answer I could give. Not to discourage you, but the first ten minutes after a grueling run are the worst, you feel lightheaded and weak and dizzy and drained. I sank to the grass with a bottle of water and gulped it down as if I were dying of thirst instead of exhaustion.
After a while to recover comes my favorite part, feeling better, smiling at the people passing by, eating a cinnamon-sugar bagel and being casually athletic – yep, I just ran 6 miles. I finished a 10k and I’m ALIVE! And I’m going to do it again.