Thanksgiving Day Race
When my son, Will, came home for Thanksgiving and wanted to run the Burn the Bird 5k race as a family, my 12-year-old daughter, Abby, and I agreed.
Will makes it a point to exercise every day, but Abby and I would be trotting on untested legs. I always feel better when I move, but to call my exercise schedule intermittent for the past year would be generous.
Races make me nervous. I’m not built to run. In fact, I turned my back to competing until about five years ago when Will challenged me to try the Got Grit contest in Choteau. I used Abby as my excuse to protect my ego. I couldn’t expect to be competitive and encourage her at the same time.
I used Abby again when Will wanted to run the Conrad Turkey Trot a few years ago. Will lapped the entire course while I begged and cheered Abby.
“Just keep running, don’t walk. You can do this,” I repeated innumerable times.
Will circled around, whispered something in Abby’s ear, and they sprinted to the finish line, leaving me in their dust.
Abby sat out the Cut Bank 5K a couple of years ago, but about half way through, I knew I didn’t have a chance of winning.
I got lost.
I passed a father wearing dreadlocks, playing with his kids in a residential neighborhood.
Not that many people in Cut Bank wear dreadlocks. When I finally crossed the finish line, I complained about the confusing route markers. Then they called my name as a winner. I’m pretty sure I was the only runner in my age class.
This Thanksgiving, Burn the Bird would be different. I had no expectation of winning. After all, a person needs to practice to win.
I shaved my legs for speed, cut off the tag of the running pants I bought last year with great unmet intentions and slipped on a faded sweatshirt.
We stretched as we waited for the starting time.
I recognized a fitness instructor in a pink puffy vest. Her vest was the new style of form-fitting puff, coordinating with her black yoga pants and just-right jogging shoes. I looked down at the sweatshirt I bought probably about the time she was born, my running shoes with a few holes and wool socks that didn’t match anything else I wore.
Pink Puffy and her husband buy beef every week from me at the farmers market -- steaks when they have more money, burger when they have less. A few years ago, they brought their son to the ranch. It was a windy, rainy day so we hung out at the barn most of the time. We had an Easter egg hunt because I never know just where the chickens lay their eggs, played with the orphan lambs and climbed on the hay bales.
After an hour of playing in the barn, Pink Puffy’s husband spotted a few steers in the corral.
"Oh, I didn't know you have cows, too," he exclaimed.
That family won an award that day. They caught me completely speechless, one of the few times in my life that I could not think of a single word to utter.
So when I spotted Pink Puffy at Burn the Bird, my slightly competitive spirit kicked in.
Abby had a nasty cold, but Will was gracious enough to run with her. Pink Puffy jogged along a quarter of a mile ahead of us.
I concentrated on the person directly ahead of me. I knew I could pass that little old lady in the wheelchair if I stepped on her oxygen cord a couple of times.
A discreet shuffle step meant the little boy trotting along in front of me had to tie his shoe.
Next, an errant elbow pushed aside a mother with a stroller.
The beer-guzzling retired Marine gave me a bit of a run so I kicked him in the calf.
Suddenly, that pink vest was behind my grungy old sweatshirt.
I hadn’t noticed until then: My calves burned, my arms ached, my stomach muscles cramped. My mind told my legs to sprint to the finish line, but they had quit listening.
I wasn’t the only runner in my age class this time.
My time slip noted 1 of 17 women aged 50 to 59 and 32nd overall. Wheelchair woman, the mother pushing the stroller and Mr. Marine took 33rd, 34th and 35th.
The next morning, I almost landed on the dog when I rolled out of bed. I’m sure these shin splits will heal within a few days. But Pink Puffy won’t know. She was behind me.