© Mary L. Moore
When Graveside Medical Center announced a 5K “Turkey Trot” race at Thanksgiving, my boss, Don Lehenhoff, encouraged everyone in our office to run. “It’s only a few miles and you’ll get a free T-shirt and help needy families,” he said.
“No thanks,” I replied quickly. I had no desire to haul my out-of-shape body on a long run through a park when I could be relaxing at home, watching parades and football games on television. Then my colleague, Mike “Big Mouth” Murphy, piped up.
“Aw, she couldn’t handle it,” he told Don. “She doesn’t have the stamina.”
I glared at him. He knew I wouldn’t let the challenge go unanswered.
“You’re on!” I replied in a voice louder than I had intended. “If you couch potatoes are running for charity, so will I!”
Don cheered, Mike snickered, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into. With only two weeks to get in shape, would I be able to finish a 5K run without rescue squad assistance? More importantly, would I be able to fit into my running shorts?
The next day, the three of us went to Graveside Medical Center’s lobby to sign up. I was bursting with questions: Where will we race? How far is 5K, exactly? Should I eat breakfast before I run? As a novice, I needed to know everything. The friendly clerk who registered us knew nothing.
“Sorry, I’m not a runner myself,” she said. “I just know the basics: you pay $10, donate a canned food item, and show up at Skunk Valley Park at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
She took our money and gave us liability forms to sign. Then she motioned to a table stacked high with Turkey Trot T-shirts.
“What size shirt do you want?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, all we have left are extra small and extra large.”
I opted for the extra large.
In the days that followed, I began to prepare for the ordeal ahead. I swung by the library and checked out books about running. I needed a 7-day training program but could only find a “Couch to 5K” regimen that took 9 weeks. This was clearly a sign that it might be best not to prepare. Instead, I developed my own goal: to be well rested for the race.
The books yielded other interesting information, though. For one thing, I learned that I would need to be well hydrated, which means drinking unbelievable amounts of fluid (water, juice, or that sports beverage that comes in neon colors).
Don laughed at my “literary training” but agreed that a week was insufficient time to transform a non-runner into runner’s form. He had been a jogger for years, so he prepared for the race by running laps at a school track after work. Mike Murphy didn’t train at all—he insisted his “Coors Diet” would guarantee a successful and enjoyable run.
The time passed quickly and I hoped my “resting workout” would be adequate. What if the other runners were serious, weightlifting triathlon competitors? What if they had actually run five whole miles for practice? Would my coworkers and I be the only amateurs?
My anxieties were allayed when I pulled up to the lot in Skunk Valley Park on the morning of the race. A wide range of human specimens had shown up: the scrawny, the plump, the balding, the graying… Was that woman with Ace bandages around both knees really going to run? And that wheezing, hunchbacked, bald man with the tangled shoestrings? The poor old guy looked like he could barely walk.
Surely this race had been misadvertised. It had to be a “Fun Run,” not a serious athletic endeavor. There was even a father with his preschool-aged son, both wearing Star Wars T-shirts. My friends and I were among the few individuals who looked relatively fit. I felt like an Olympic athlete. My confidence soared.
The runners were dispersed throughout the parking lot, jogging around Volvos and Chevys and doing toe-touches to the bumpers of their BMWs.
Finally, I spotted several lines at a sign-in table where volunteers were taking names and distributing numbers.
“Harrison, Annette,” I announced when my turn came. A man handed me three silver safety pins and a paper square with the number 111 on it. “Just attach this to your shirt,” he instructed, “and go straight to the starting line.”
Don was in another line—going nowhere.
“Lainhof? Layvenhot? Are you sure you preregistered?” the volunteer asked.
“Absolutely,” Don replied, glancing nervously at his watch. It was 9:50, and we hadn’t done our stretching yet.
Five minutes later, the race coordinator signaled to Don with a broad smile. “I found your card,” he yelled, struggling to be heard above the clamor of runners counting out their warm-up exercises. “Dan Lemonfoot, from Hillsboro.”
“Lay-en-hoff,” said Don, dragging out the syllables. “Don Lay-en-hoff from Portland.” The man handed him #133 and said, “This’ll have to do, Dan. We’re about to get underway!”
We rushed to the starting line, did a few fast squats, and the starting gun fired.
“Good luck,” I yelled as the multicolored mass of athletes dashed forward, separating me from my cohorts.
I started cautiously, staying in the middle of the pack—a huddle of runners afraid to run alone. The first quarter-mile was exhilarating, exciting, and invigorating. The next quarter-mile was exhausting, embarrassing, and intimidating. I thought I’d collapse and never see another Thanksgiving. The pack pulled farther and farther ahead while I desperately tried to maintain a run. Don and Mike were nowhere in sight.
I became acutely aware of the breathing sounds of runners near me. One man whinnied like a horse. Another snorted like a hog. One woman sucked air with a high-pitched screech that sounded like an exotic South American bird. I worked hard to breathe normally. I was gasping like a fish out of water … and falling way behind.
Halfway through the race, I saw the water stop ahead. Most runners were slowing down to take small cups of water. This was my chance to catch up! I took a deep breath and steeled myself for a sprint. Then I noticed the steep hill looming ahead. I very deliberately slowed my pace until I reached a complete standstill.
“Aaaah, water,” I said appreciatively. Runners continued to grab cups and stride past me—a teenaged girl, two fiftyish women running in tandem, and then the tiny tot in the Star Wars T-shirt. My self-confidence was completely deflated.
I drained two and a half cups of water and then splashed the remaining liquid on my face as I had seen others do. I continued with renewed strength, heading around the curve at a moderate pace—almost a run.
I must have been a disheveled sight. My clothes were dripping with sweat and my hair was matted on my forehead and hung in stringy, wet strands on my neck. Somewhere along the way I had gotten a runny nose, so I did what any good runner would do—a quick wipe on the shirt. This was survival of the fittest, not the neatest.
One uphill, one downhill, and two hundred meters of flat course later, my blisters burned so badly I was certain I’d worn a hole in my shoe. Only gravity helped me drop one foot after another onto the paved pathway. I limped gallantly toward the finish line.
I heard someone yell to a runner who was closing in on me from behind. “You can pass that old lady in the faded shorts!” I didn’t take offense. I was too numb to care.
I crossed the finish line and looked around for my couch-potato coworkers, but I couldn’t find them. Okay, full disclosure: I just sprawled on the grass in total exhaustion.
Sometime later, Don found me. “You made it!” he said, clapping his hands in mock applause. Unable to contain his own news a second longer, he shouted “12th place! Not bad, huh?”
I congratulated him and continued to rub my aching arches.
“Who came in first?” I asked, prompted by nothing more than masochistic curiosity.
“Take a look,” he said. “Right over there…”
A race official was presenting a trophy to the bald, hunchbacked guy who had wheezed past me in the parking lot.
And Murphy? He dropped out early in the run, claiming a strained wrist. I had outdone him with my miserable 122nd place finish!
This Thanksgiving, I had several reasons to be thankful. First, I proved my fitness and survived (if barely). Second, I helped the needy. And finally, I became the proud owner of an oversized Turkey Trot T-shirt that I will wear as a badge of honor for many Thanksgivings to come… while I relax at home in front of my television, watching parades and football games.