By Max Fidler
“Max, get up! It’s time to go,” I heard my mother say. I dreaded the sound of those words as I snuggled in my bed. Yeah, all I needed was a family excursion after a long week of school. I wondered if we were going to an art museum or something equally horrible.
Looming over me, mom reacted as if I were absent-minded. “Max, we’re going to run the Fodderstack 10K, don’t you remember?”
I didn’t and I was trying to decide what was worse — the 10K or the museum. I just wanted to stay in my warm bed for the rest of the day. I looked over at the clock – 6:45 a.m. — on a Saturday, no less.
“Am I supposed to be excited, Mom?” The sarcasm drew a quick reply: “Don’t be so fresh and get dressed.”
I managed to pull my running clothes on before heading downstairs. I poured myself a big bowl of Special K cereal. “Max, you shouldn’t eat too much before you run,” my dad advised. I didn’t really appreciate the advice.
“Hey Max, it looks like you had a good night’s sleep,’’ my sister chimed in, in that same annoying tone that she always saved just for me. I screamed as I moved toward her in a menacing way. I barely got anywhere near her before she was gone.
We dropped our breakfast dishes into the sink, put the dogs into their crates in the basement and got ourselves into the car.
The sky was gray on this April day and we all hoped it wouldn’t rain.
My parents were the only ones who were looking forward to the race. My sister was dreading it just as much as I was. We had been running this race together for years, and the two of us never found it the least bit fun.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived in Flint Hill, the starting point of the race. Our first stop was the Volunteer Fire Department where we picked up number tags to pin to our shirts.
The next stop was the starting line by an antiques store down the road. I looked at my watch and saw that we still had a half an hour before the start. The turnout seemed about average, maybe 150 to 200 people. I started to stretch to limber up.
Before long it was time to form up behind the start line. We were off and running after the loud bang from the starting gun fired by county Sheriff Connie Smith.
My feet began pounding the hard pavement. Only 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to go. My goal was to make it in under an hour. I thought about the long, steep hill in the middle of the race that would slow me down. The sheer physical challenge each year leaves my body practically begging me to give up.
Before long I was at mile marker two — still a long way to go but I grabbed a cup of water that was offered. “Eighteen minutes, 43 seconds!” a young man on the sidelines yelled.
I continued running until I caught up with my dad. “Why are we doing this race in the first place?” I said. He laughed.
I got closer and closer to heartbreak hill ― a big, long, steep slope that challenges runners. Mentally and physically, that third mile with the hill is the hardest and runners still have half the race to run.
With every step up the hill, pain shot up my thigh. Some runners stopped to catch a breath or they slowed to a walk, but I tried to keep on going. I finally made it to the top and to the next water station.
I sprinted as fast as I could on the down slope of the hill, knowing that at the bottom there would be a long, flat stretch waiting for me. The fourth mile would be over around the next corner. Four miles in thirty-seven minutes — I was on track to finish in under an hour.
For the next mile, I tried to run faster by picking a person in front of me and passing that runner. My legs were killing me at the fifth mile and I was thinking about another nasty little hill near the end. It was short, but very steep and I challenged myself to run up it just as fast as I could and ignore the pain.
My legs began to feel very heavy. It was something I had never quite felt before, as if I had 50-pound weights tied to my ankles.
The last stretch passed through Washington where spectators cheered on the runners during the final stretch. “Come on!” “You can do it!” “Let’s go!” they cried.
All I wanted to do by then was cross the yellow line with a personal best time of 53:05 minutes.
And I did it — leaving, for the first time in all the years of running the Fodderstack 10K, my dad to finish well behind me. He’ll be away this year, but I will be back to run this year’s Fodderstack on April 17. I’m looking forward to it – and the promise of a new personal best.
Max Fidler, 14, and his family have qualified for the Ike and Quita Parrish Award, which is presented to a family that has run the Fodderstack for at least three years. The Fodderstack 10K starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 17 in Flint Hill.