With upwards of 13,000 runners planning to descend on North Buffalo, I wanted to arrive early. Then again, I almost always arrive early. It’s how I roll. Wanting to find parking, a bathroom and peace before the throngs arrived to kick off Thanksgiving Day with an 8K run was extra motivation for me to get moving early. And so it was me and some K-Mart shoppers in the parking lot at 7:30 a.m. They wanted to get a deal or pick up last minute holiday items while I wanted to alternate sipping coffee and water and listen to NPR.
The temperature was mild, in the mid 40s, but strong wind and overcast skies made it feel a bit colder, especially when standing around in the starting corrals for about 45 minutes before the race. Still, pretty good conditions for a good run. And that’s what I was in it for — a good run. On Sunday I had run the half marathon in St. Petersburg with plenty of heat and humidity and frankly I was still a little drained from that. This would be a hard, tempo-style run for me, not a race. Besides. I had other, more important things to think about.
I had to pick up my niece at the finish line.
My brother, sister-in-law and 1-year old niece Ellie were in town for Thanksgiving and planned to be at the finish line. The plan was for me to spot my brother, gather Ellie, and carry her across the line. We all thought it would be cute and we all knew there was a chance we would miss each other.
I ventured from the shelter of my car toward the starting area and ended up chatting with some friends. That got me caught up closer to the front of the race corral than I needed to be. Hence, when the starting gun went off, I got caught up in a fast pace. Faster than I wanted to run and faster than I was prepared to run. Midway through the run, my pace dropped. That was OK. I changed from looking at my pace as a measure of how hard I was working to how I felt. My pace may have been slower, but it was challenging. And that was my sign of good work.
I was desperately looking for a water stop — a chance to regroup after a too-fast start, but alas, there was no water stop on the course. (There was, however, a table set up by the Buffalo Hash House Harriers, offering free beer. I wasn’t quite in the frame of mind for that.) In the last mile, the course went around Niagara Square. Cue the wind. I struggled against it. But it was the last mile. I needed to push through and I welcomed the challenge.
As I neared the final quarter mile, I moved over to the right side of the road and started to look for my brother. There he was, along the barricades, just a few feet from the finish line. He pointed at me and I ran over, picking up my lovely, if somewhat confused, niece, and we jogged across the line.
It was only a few seconds, but I have to say it was pretty cool. She will never remember it, but Ellie crossed her first finish line. I had the opportunity to share something I love with her. I had the opportunity to run hard and not worry about my time, but to truly enjoy what it felt like to challenge myself then celebrate with those I love. Indeed, it was my slowest Turkey Trot to date, but in other ways, it was one of the best. Whatever I choose to focus on will become my meaning. I choose challenge, friends and family and the love and fun and joy they all bring me.