It's that time of year again. The time to sit in front of the fire with the Christmas tree twinkling in the background and reflect on the year we are closing. This is the last page of my calendar. In a few short weeks, I get to start a new one.
I always ask myself the same question: What did I do this year that was so special?
Well, the answer is almost always the same. I didn't really do anything. I just lived my life. But this year, I have some context to what that means, and this year that context helps me realize that I really do try to live my life in a special way. And that in itself, is something I'm a bit proud of.
One of my first runs of the year that I remember was a trip up a small mountain that I had been eyeing for some time. I had run around the mountain, but I had never touched the summit. And one of the local RunJunkEes was going to run the summit. So I snuck out of work a bit early (not obscenely early...) and we ran. I remember being a bit chilled in the spring air. I remember being thankful my running buddy wasn't in a hurry. I remember the hills being steeper than I expected. And the views better than I imagined. I remember missing a turn on the way back down and nearly missing the parking lot. There were smiles. It was a great time.
My wife and I take turns training for big events. This was her year. I did what I could at home to enable her to train as much as she could and wanted. And she gratefully took the opportunity, and did something awesome with it. And frankly, I didn't let those hours she was training go to waste either.
By the middle of the summer my kids thought it was normal behavior to wake up early on Saturday morning and load the car full of cardboard signs and go cheer for the runners or the bikers. It wasn't my intention to become a traveling race support crew, but it wound up being pretty fun. We made friends. We saw neat things. We made funny signs. We had snacks from Starbucks. And the kids learned a bit about racing and what that means. And they also learned a bit about the emotional support one can provide to a race. It's amazing to see runners faces light up when they see kids with signs.
In the peak of the summer heat I had a business trip to California. I managed to get out to meet a local RunJunkEe and put a few miles in around a very low and very beautiful reservoir. I don't know exactly how hot it was while we were running, but at one point in the day the thermometer in the car said 105F. We were planning on five-ish miles. A turn was missed. 5 turned to 6+. Even though it was hot, we were not complaining and were going slow enough to manage things. And we ended the run soaking in the reservoir, joking, laughing, having a great time in the water.
At the end of the summer, I volunteered for an ultra. My job was to sweep the course. Thanks to four wheel drive and high clearance I was able to drive the course even though the race director thought it wasn't possible. This day wound up being really important for me. This day I saw the real face of an ultra run. I didn't see the elite athletes that make the magazines. I saw the rest of the race. And that idea that had been rolling around in my mind for a while now stopped rolling, and set down roots. These people were just like me. After the race and the clean up I went to dinner with the race director and a small group of volunteers. And I learned a bit about the community ultra running is based on. And it was welcoming, and fun, and relaxing. And my mind was made up. It was time for me to join the ranks.
As my wife's event came and went (She crushed her 200+ mile bike ride, but that's her story to tell.) I started to ramp things up again. I started by inviting a group of RunJunkEes to join me running around and up a small mountain with a newly completed trail. The run is kind of a blur. Not because we were going fast, but because I wasn't really focusing on the run. There were people to chat with, wildlife to see, things to avoid tripping over, and one really big hill that I had somehow managed to forget was there. The run concluded with stretching and beverages in the parking lot. Stories were told. There were jokes. Everyone was wearing a smile.
One of my first longer runs wound up being a half marathon with one of my local RunJunkEes. She was looking for someone to help pace her, and I was looking for a run a couple miles shorter than the half. Looking back at it, the whole thing was a potential disaster waiting to happen. I didn't have the right shoes. I wasn't ready for the whole 13.1. I didn't know this lady. But I got shoes, and I showed up, and we ran. The pacing went better than expected. In face, she and I ran pretty well together. We attacked hills the same way - often reaching a faster pace at the top of the small rollers than we had at the start. The talking was just enough to let us both check our effort, and get to know each other a bit, but not enough that we were that chatty group. I pushed her through her wall (which was remarkably easy because she wanted it so bad) and she drug me the last mile or so. And we nailed the pace. Beat it even. And victory wore a smile.
It wasn't but a few weeks later that I heard of a new trail that had opened. Based on the maps, round trip was looking like a 20 mile run. I knew I could do 15. So I called the race director from the ultra, and we planned an outing. And this time, it was a glorious disaster. I knew the last five were going to be tough. I didn't anticipate my food melting. (Chocolate in the heat. What was I thinking?) I didn't anticipate running out of water. I didn't anticipate all the funny aches and pains that would make moving so difficult. I admit that I sat down on a rock and pondered why I was there. The answer must not have been too impressive because I don't remember. But I eventually got up and made the last 1.5 miles to the truck where my RD friend was waiting. I'm not sure if he wanted to say, "I told you so" but he kind of had that look on his face. And I remember laughing at the absurdity of my self inflicted situation. My resolve was not weakened, but my eyes were opened. I had a lot to learn. I admit, I wasn't smiling. I had my teeth grit with determination.
And I kept putting in the miles. Around this time the Colorado RunJunkEe chapter had decided to put a team together for a local 5k. A small group of us got together to pre-run the course to see just how tough the hills were going to be. The race director didn't lie. The first two miles were going to be fast. All downhill. Then mile three... We ran the course. We chatted. We laughed. We laughed at the ridiculous nature of the course. But we did it. Some of us more than once. On race day the weather turned miserable. It started clear and windy. And ended cold, cloudy, windy, and wet. But most the really bad stuff held off until after the running was done. The RunJunkEes all finished strong. We had beers. We watched the awards. Then the weather chased us all home. But the pictures are filled with smiles.
There were two more really long runs. I won't bore you with the details of the run, but there's a common theme. Friends were made. Smiles were shared.
And that's the theme I am applying to 2014 as we wrap it up. Smiles were shared. Miles were shared.
The goal for 2015 is now set as well. Share more smiles. Oh sure, I plan to run my ass off as well, and I plan to tell you all about that as it happens. But if I can't smile through it, and help someone else smile, what's the point?
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza, Merry Festivus... Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate this time of year, I hope you enjoy them and get the chance to share smiles and miles with friends and family.
I look forward to being further impressed by the RunJunkEe community in 2015.