The first time I ran 10 miles was pretty wild. Not so much for me as it was for my coach.
At the end of every track and cross-country season, when it was clear you weren’t going to be competing at a state or regional meet, you were able to go on a 10-miler with your fellow losers.
I shouldn’t call them losers. I was a loser, but they probably weren’t. I’m sure many of them went on to live successful lives that were a good balance of losing and not losing. Whatever that word is that means the opposite of losing. Can’t seem to remember right now…
Anyway, I remember getting off the bus after our last track meet and asking my coach if I could do the ten-miler. You had to ask. Because our coach wasn’t an idiot, and even though all of us had been running track, he wasn’t planning to let someone run 10 miles if they just plain weren’t ready.
My coach smiled and said “You think you’re ready?”
The next day, me and a few other losers (sorry, I still couldn’t remember that word for non-loser. So for continuity, we’ll just be losers) set out from our high school’s parking lot to put in 10 miles.
It was pretty straightforward. 4 turns total going out, then back the same way. Our coach was going to wait at about the 3 mile mark and then the 5 to give us some water.
I don’t remember much of the run. Which is probably why things got concerning.
When I got to the 3, my coach was gone. Which was fine. I was never much of a drinker. OF WATER! BOOM! But in all seriousness, I didn’t drink booze in high school either. I really saved it up for my later 20’s. And probably my late 30’s too. And if there’s anything left in the tank, my late 40’s are looking to be quite the party.
My coach was waiting at the 5-mile mark. The turnaround.
It was at the bottom of a big-ass hill. And when I got there, he had a look of deep concern on his face. What does that look like? Sort of like, upon seeing me, he wanted to cry. Or maybe yell at someone. It’s a weird emotion, but I now recognize it as this: have you ever been responsible for a kid (or been dogsitting or catsitting) and been a bit concerned that the life under your care might die? THAT was the look. The look of “How do I feel about this person possibly dying, but also not alarming this person, but maybe I should call their parents, but maybe I should wait it out?”
It’s a complex look. And it was a fair look. I’m sure I looked like shit.
My coach asked if I wanted a ride, to give up on the second half, which confused me. Possibly because I’d run out of blood and oxygen and most of the life-giving things that go into a body and my brain was refusing to consider anything whatsoever because why spend the last moments of a precious life thinking about shit, but more likely I figured there was no way in fuck I was giving up now that I was half-way in.
I suppose some people would have been pissed off at the coach’s suggestion that I might not make it. It’s hard to describe why, but I didn’t feel like that at all. Maybe because I kind of wasn’t sure either. I mean, 10 miles? That’s really fucking far. Or maybe it was because I knew this coach was a good dude and would never suggest I take a ride unless he was concerned for my safety. Whether or not he was concerned for my life or just picturing himself being sworn in to testify on the death of a teenager that was ruled a “shocking lack of fitness” is unknowable, but I think he had my best interests at heart.
I turned around, and I set off.
This time, my coach was there to give me a little water before the last 2.5 miles. I turned down a second offer for a ride. He said I looked pale. I probably said something like, “Okay.” I felt pale. I don’t know how one feels pale, unless we’re talking about a sunburn, but I felt unwell, and hearing that I was pale made sense.
But. I made it.
It was pretty awesome. Almost everyone else had gone home by the time I finished. Which I can’t blame them for. How long were they supposed to wait for fuck’s sakes?
But my coach was there, and a friend or two, and I think we were all pretty surprised and excited that I made it. And I didn’t die. And it wouldn’t be my last 10’er.
That was pretty cool.