The day before Charlie and I were scheduled to run the Turkey Trot, he volunteered to be a guinea pig -- excuse me, research subject -- at IEEM, the exercise-research facility where he worked this past summer. This particular study involved locating a nerve in Charlie's calf (which apparently was as eek-inducing as it sounds) that connects to the part of his brain which regulates blood pressure during exercise. After it was found, tests were done to determine the brain/nerve connection. Or so I think; I'm too embarrassed to ask Charlie to explain it to me again.
Five hours after the test began, I went to pick Charlie up so we could pick up our race packets at Luke's Locker. As the researchers were removing the various leads, Charlie asked about exercising. "Oh, after 24 hours, you should be fine," he was told. Charlie and I looked at each other. Then Charlie asked about running eight miles -- a distance he neglected to mention he had never run before -- 17 hours later. It was the researchers' turn to look at each other. After a brief silence, he was given a reluctant OK, with the stipulation that if, at the 3.1-mile/8-mile split, we'd head for the shorter finish line if he wasn't feeling well.
Thanksgiving morning dawned glorious and cold. We ate oatmeal and a banana, layered up and headed out. We took our places in the corral for timed runners, and when the gun went off, so did we. We'd decided to stay together till the split, then go at our own pace. Those first couple of miles, we did well keeping tabs on each other, somehow sensing each other's proximity despite the thousands of runners sharing the streets with us.
To ensure we wouldn't lose each other, we'd stopped by Sports Authority the day before and bought walkie-talkies, the whole idea of which amused us mightily. Aside from the entertainment factor, we figured they'd come in handy if we did get separated (as we did at last year's Trot and this year's Race for the Cure), and thus curtail post-race wanderings looking for each other.
When we saw the arrow pointing one way for the 5K and another for the 8 miles, I could sense Charlie right behind me, and also that he was up for eight. So we kept on, maintaining a steady pace as we got into the rhythm of the run and of each other.
In previous Turkey Trot races, port-a-potties were -- if not everywhere, at least every so often, and more than one at each location. This year, though, though, there were hardly any. So when I spotted one around Mile 4 or so, I told Charlie to go on; that I needed to stop. He started to continue, then asked if I wanted him to wait for me. Sure, I told him, if you don't mind.
My hands were obviously more frozen than I realized, because by the time we started running again, we'd lost a few minutes. I could tell that was fine with Charlie, because he seemed to be lagging just a bit.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
"Hanging in there," he said. "I'm fine."
We passed Mile 5, Mile 6, Mile 7, running up some hills and down others (while I tried to remember who had told me this year's course was flat). When we could see the skyline, I picked up the pace. As we got closer, I yelled, "Just two minutes!" When the finish line was just a few breaths away, Charlie dashed ahead and crossed just before I did.
I couldn't stop smiling; neither of us could. We accepted our plastic-wrapped medals -- the first I've ever received in a Turkey Trot! -- and put them around our necks. We hugged each other and headed for the banana and power-bar tables. We saw our dear friend Yolanda, plus recognized a couple more runners. We had our picture taken, then headed home and to Thanksgiving dinner at my sister Jeanne's. We had a wonderful time that morning, as we have in each of the races we've participated in. Some we've only started together; this was one of the precious duo we finished together, too.
Charlie turned 21 the end of October. In two months, he leaves for a semester in Austria. He won't be home till July, and we've made a bit of a pact to limit communication to the occasional email, plus (isn't it funny how old-fashioned this sounds?) letters or post cards.
All of which makes this race -- these miles together; the meals, the hugs, the talks and the silliness we share -- all the more precious.
When I think back on this Thanksgiving, on his first 8-miler that I'm tickled beyond words to have experienced with him, I will, of course, remember exalting in the finish. Even more though, I will feel incredibly lucky, undeniably blessed, to sense each other's presence -- whether looking over a shoulder or scanning the crowd ahead -- every step of the way.
Oh, and the walkie-talkies? We didn't need them. Which, truth to tell, doesn't surprise me. Not even a little bit.
I'm a writer who loves to run and who is basically optimistic, albeit a bit hard on myself.
My son (that lovable kid here) may have spent too much of his summer vacation neither reading books not cleaning out his car, but he does have a great sense of humor. In other words, he usually thinks I'm funny.