A few hours ago, at the Lake Norman Turkey Trot, I put up what is by far my worst official time ever. And yet, because I paced my 8-year-old daughter through her first 5K, it was also one of the best times I've had since I started running almost 15 months ago.
Laughing when she asked, less than one mile in, "Do you get used to the pain?" Listening to another runner say "Looking good!" as he passed, and hearing her say "Thank you." Watching her grab a cup of water at an aid station, take a few gulps, then toss it aside with a splash, like a seasoned vet. Admiring her surge in the final 0.1, which built up into a sprint across the finish line.
Anyway, she is at the top of my runners-I'm-thankful-for list right now. Who else is on it?
Well, I'm thankful for Ashleigh Lawrence and Jes Douglas at Run For Your Life, unsung heroes who are charged with crossing the t's and dotting the i's -- in addition to helping diagram nearly the whole darn playbook -- for several of the city's best and most well-organized annual races.
I'm thankful for Aaron Linz, Jay Holder and Caitlin Chrisman, who make up the heart and soul of the Charlotte Running Club, which is as responsible as anything for the way the running community in this area has gelled and intermingled in 2009.
I'm thankful for those who have generated and sustained excitement about running in smaller towns, people like Chad Randolph of the Davidson Area Running Team, like David Freeze of the Salisbury Rowan Runners, like Peter Asciutto of Vac & Dash in Albemarle.
I'm thankful for Lana Torkildsen (president of the Charlotte Track and Triathlon Club), Reggie McAfee (founder of Cross-Country for Youth), Alejandro Arreola (who won the 5K at today's Lake Norman Turkey Trot in 17:17), and every other person of color who helps make the Charlotte running community more diverse.
I'm thankful for fast local runners who don't ever brag about being fast -- people like Ben and Megan Hovis, like Bill Shires, like Rebecca Thomason. And I'm thankful for local runners who aren't fast but are just as passionate about the sport -- people like Scott Helms and Serena Porter and Tracy Rabon.
I'm thankful for EVERY volunteer who's directed me through a turn or handed me a cup of Gatorade or taken off my chip timer in the finish chute, for every cop who's helped keep traffic off a race course.
I'm thankful for great training partners. My running group (the University City Road Runners) in general -- and UCRR member Shawn Matthews in particular; we speak the exact same language when it comes to balancing a running addiction with the needs of a family. I'm also thankful for fellow runner Allen Strickland, who's unique in that he can talk for an hour about paces and PRs without ever making them sound boring; and for swim buddy Kara Pettie and biking pal Melanie Mullin, who keep me from running myself into the ground.
And, of course, I'm thankful for my wife Amanda, who's become a much-improved runner herself in 2009, who accommodates my zany workout schedule and cheers my successes ... but who also is a voice of reason when she suspects I'm overtraining -- in other words, she wants me to be fulfilled, but she also wants me to be careful. If that isn't love, what is?
With all that said, I'll now give an open answer to my daughter's question from earlier: Yes, you do get used to the pain. But it's the pleasure that keeps you coming back. This year has been a pleasure, and for that I'm very thankful.