To look at me now, you’d think the only time I ever run is when I’m being chased by someone with an ax, or maybe by a bear. You’d be right.
But I spent several of my more formative years running three to five miles a day, both as a member of my middle- and high-school cross country teams and as a way to make sure, in the off-season, that I wouldn’t go into cardiac arrest in the first race of the next year. I didn’t like it. I wasn’t that good at it. But I did it, mostly because I was left with no choice (after an incident with a rather dry lawn and some faulty fireworks, my parents decided over my sixth-grade summer that I had way too much time on my hands).
It was good for me, and I recognized that, but it was never what I would’ve considered fun. And the least fun day of all during this period was Thanksgiving.
Two days off school heading into the weekend. Plenty of good food and plenty of football. The Macy’s Parade. That dog show, if that’s your thing. What could anyone possibly have to complain about on a day when we’re supposed to give thanks, and have so much to be thankful for?
Well, if you were on the cross country team, Thanksgiving meant you were getting up sometime around 6:30-7 a.m. and heading down to the banks of the Ohio River in Russell, Kentucky, in the brutal cold of late November to run in the annual “Turkey Trot” 5 or 10k. There were plenty of other people who were there voluntarily, but I can only guess that their domiciles were so filled with holiday tension that coming down to the river and running five miles seemed an acceptable alternative.
I suppose all that running should make you feel like you’ve earned a day of gluttony. I just wanted it to be over so I could get back home and catch maybe a bit of the parade and watch some football — or, in later years, the “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon” (watching that with my younger sister is still one of my favorite holiday memories).
I probably should’ve appreciated things more. But I was a typical kid/teenager, with absolutely no perspective beyond learning that starting a fire is bad, and, when you do that, you run the cumulative equivalent of hundreds of miles as atonement.
After I went off to college, I stayed in shape playing intramural sports and doing some cycling here and there, both preferable to running anywhere for any reason. After finishing college, I moved back to my hometown and starting my career in newspapers. My metabolism slowed. Even as I returned to cycling and, eventually, running, a series of nagging injuries were enough to talk me out of a regimented battle against the natural law that a body at rest tends to stay at rest.
So I was smacked between the eyes with great dread and some astounding karmic retribution when my wife informed me in late November one year that “There’s this thing called ‘The Turkey Trot’ I think we should do.” I remember thinking, in a blind panic, “They still do that?! We’re all overweight or on some illicit substance, and yet, somehow, there are still enough people who willingly get out of bed on Thanksgiving morning to do this?! Who told her about this?!” I began wondering how quickly I could work up a good case of shin splints.
I balked my way out of it one year, but reaped such a mighty whirlwind of passive-aggressive, and, well, aggressive-aggressive blowback from the decision, that I relented. And so, for many a Thanksgiving more, I trotted. Like a turkey. Perhaps slower.
One thing I did learn to appreciate was getting exercise with my wife and seeing people I didn’t really get to see any other time of the year.
It’s going to be a weirdly quiet Thanksgiving. My own, small family is now here in Charleston. My siblings live in far-flung locales like Atlanta and Boston — which I’ve learned are pretty much just like any other place, except with more people occupying too little space. My folks back in Kentucky are traveling. We’re hosting a meal for my wife’s parents, and that’s it. I hope it’ll be warm enough to step outside and throw some football with the kid. Other than that, the schedule is delightfully light.
I hope your Thanksgiving is a good one. Whether you’re on your own or crammed in a house overflowing with relatives, I hope you have a decent meal and get to watch some football (or “MST3K,” if you can convince anyone else to go along with you).
If you feel like getting up early and going for a run in the brisk morning air, good on you. If you want to do the Drumstick Dash, or whatever other Thanksgiving-themed run/walks are happening locally, that’s awesome. They’re all for good causes. I will not partake, but I recognize your right to trot and my own counterproductive decisions.
In the peacekeeping tradition of Thanksgiving, let’s leave it there.