I just ran 10 miles for fun

I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into with the Run for the River this year.

Last year I ran the 5-kilometer race, a total of about 3 miles in the pleasant Swiftwater Park with a bunch of my friends. That was easy, I thought — no problem. So this year, when the registration for the run appeared on the Kenai Watershed Forum’s website came up, I thought I’d be a true athlete and sign up fro the longer race.

Like many aspiring runners, I did not read the registration form carefully enough. It was not in fact a 10K, as I had assumed (and would make sense, right?). It was in fact a 10-mile race, following the course of the 5K and then taking off for a very long way down Redoubt Avenue along the river. I did not realize this until someone asked me on Monday how long the race was, and to my dismay, I realized it was going to be about 4 miles further than I had ever run in one stitch.

It was fine, right? I’d make it. As Barney Stinson once said about running a marathon on “How I Met Your Mother:” “Step one: Start running. Step two: There is no step two.”

As it turns out, 10 miles is really far. I felt pretty confident taking off from the starting line with a bunch of the other taller, more svelte athletes, with the warm sun above me and the cheering crowd behind me. But by the time I reached even the 5K turnaround point, I was starting to feel my chest tightening and my hips aching. And I still had 3.5 miles to go before I could even turn around? Heavens of mercy.

I’m not much of an athlete — more of a recreator, I guess. Give me the tools and I’ll try just about anything (with the exception of perhaps basejumping). I haven’t tried skydiving or cavediving yet but I expect to, one day.

But there’s something special about running, weirdly enough. I remember explaining to my mother why I had picked up running when I lived in Chicago, despite having access to a bicycle — an altogether superior source of exercise, I believe. In short, it was something social that so many people have access to that being able to run even a short 5K fun run can be a neat form of relationship building that you can’t get over a cup of coffee.

I find great joy in exercising with a group of people outdoors. I’m not terribly fond of gyms, but I find something unique in heading outdoors, even in rough conditions, and pushing my body to climb rock walls, climb mountains, ski absurdly steep hills and bike long distances with other people.

In the case of running, I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of fun connections. I recall rounding a corner last year during the Run for the River 5K and finding myself next to the mayor of Soldotna, who happened to skip past me through the finish line. During the summer’s Salmon Run Series of 5Ks on the Tsalteshi Trails, I consistently find myself giggling and smiling as I chitchat with families, acquaintances and people I didn’t ever picture coming out to run for fun on the fields behind Skyview Middle School.

About 6 miles into the 10-mile run, right around the point when I was convinced I would jump in the bed of the next truck to catch a ride back to Soldotna Creek Park, another runner jogged up beside me and we started chatting. Before I realized it, we had gone three miles and were nearly back to the entrance. I’d had a running companion on the first leg, but we hadn’t talked much on the way out, in part because I was focused on ignoring my aching lungs by burying myself in my music. But making a new friend, with all three of us chatting and stumbling through a sweaty run together, made the second half of that race much more enjoyable.

One of the most delightful things about the Kenai Peninsula is the wide variety of physical activity available here year round and the engaging, welcoming group of people running the events. It’s one of the key quality-of-life items that keeps me here.

If running is your thing, check out the Salmon Run Series in July and August or the Kenai Chamber of Commerce’s Run into Summer 5K runs on Tuesday nights in Kenai. If mountain biking is more your purview, check out the Tsalteshi Trails Association’s mountain bike series coming up this summer. If you like to hike, grab a friend and hit one of the dozens of trails just outside town, or head for the trails snaking around the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Soldotna. Rock climbing, swimming, kayaking, parasailing, surfing, flyfishing, roadbiking — there’s something for everyone here, and it brings us closer together.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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