It’s the longest standing tradition for our family.
It happens each year on a given Sunday morning in the midst of spring days.
Unpredictable weather only remotely affects the event.
Doug, the running man, rises early for the annual St. Luke’s Half Marathon.
Months of training complete,
Mental preparation a constant,
Best running shoes determined,
Plan in place. Run, focus, have fun!
Meeting time at the high school before the pounding on pavement begins.
For years, as the runners congregate in the city, I gather our crew at home.
A Dunkin’ Donuts stop entices sleeping ones to wake early.
Stumbling, bumbling, occasionally mumbling, the van fills.
Our part of the excursion begins.
Early years, coffee for me and a box of round, sweet Munchkins for kiddos.
Now muffins, bagels, wraps, iced coffees, and juices added.
(Hey, we do this once a year!)
Treats in hand, we drive to our first stop — the covered bridge…
Red, wooden structure by a flowing stream.
Walkers increase their pace.
Dogs bark, puppies scamper and chase tennis balls.
Family and friends of runners arrive and fill spaces by the path with signs prepared and cowbells in hand.
All anticipating the arrival of runners.
Then it happens, the sound of the guiding motorcycle leads the way.
Unbelievably fast runners make their way through the wooded path,
Motorcycle camera crew close behind.
It’s Mile 8, and a steady flow of runners continue emerging,
Some looking worn and weary; others smiling and offering high-fives.
All quite courageous on a crisp Sunday morning.
Before we realize what is happening, our running man turns the gravel corner.
With loud cheers and quick waves, we watch him disappear across the bridge.
It’s so quick… and now it’s Go Time!
We race to the van, taking the proven roads toward the stadium,
Avoiding shortcuts that include blocked streets for runner safety.
We pass the college and park by the cemetery, our regular spot.
Scurrying down the side street, we hear the motorcycle engine and hurry.
The first female is finishing to the roar and excitement of supporters.
Several runners have already completed the half marathon.
The DJ welcomes everyone with energetic tunes.
Excitement builds as runner after runner enters the stadium, taking final lap…
And crossing the finish line archway.
We watch and cheer.
We notice Doug immediately, distinct run, and right on time.
Pulsing energy abounds.
He rounds the corner and successfully completes his 13.1 miles,
Certainly not the first time and definitely not his last run.
We make our way to congratulate!
Hugs and kisses for the sweaty runner.
Similar running scenes unfold every week in many locations.
Marathons, half-marathons, 10K’s, 5K’s, fun runs, and kids’ races.
Inevitable stories unfold when eclectic runners and supporters gather.
Awesome achievements and awful missteps and…
Everything in between.
For us, this tradition of well over a dozen years —
Doug running this particular race and our cheering entourage —
Fills our memories
And teaches many life lessons…
What We’ve Learned
Support for each other is #1
Just as we do with other interests and sports and activities, we feel an undeniable together-ness when we cheer and support our loved ones. Over the years, we watch for neighbors, teachers, parents of friends, friends of friends, and more recently, classmates.
Witnessing the comradery of friends and running partners crossing the finish line models support and encouragement for challenging journeys. On days like this, we learn a lot as we’re surrounded by inspiring people who overcome challenges, work together, and push through the pain.
Adventure has its moments
Years before GPS on our phones, we navigated our way from one point to the next, trying to see Doug as often as possible. Blocked roads for the race complicated this effort and set up a literal maze in an area that lacked familiarity. One particular morning many years ago I was terribly lost in side streets that seemingly led nowhere. Frustrated and getting a bit nervous with four young children, I followed my instincts toward the city. At last, we saw a familiar road… with a “Road Closed” sign ahead. Desperate to turn around, I attempted to get in the right lane. Almost immediately, I nearly bumped a car that turned from a side street into my path. With windows rolled down on a hot spring day, the couple in the car began shouting a barrage of four-letter words and angry comments. I kept driving toward safety. When we finally pulled into a parking lot, I looked through my rear view mirror to see four wide-eyed children wondering what just happened.
Sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned
Full effort and training doesn’t guarantee we cross the finish line as hoped. Sometimes we hit walls that are insurmountable. Last year, after incredible weeks of training, Running Man confidently set out to pace a group of runners for a 1:45 finish on race day. Extended family, visiting from out of state, joined the fun and anxiously awaited his entrance in the stadium for the final stretch to the finish line. As the seconds and then minutes clicked past the 1:45 finish, my gut knew something was wrong. This was extremely unusual. Indeed, he was unable to complete the race. Discouraged and disappointed, he quietly found us and began sorting through the miles and what went wrong.
We learned that the best of plans and preparation can still meet unexpected curve balls. Accepting the setback or disappointment, reflecting on takeaways, and choosing forward thinking can make all the difference. Time and reflection go a long way.
There is nothing like contagious energy
A beautiful stadium,
A good DJ with music that invites movement and singing,
Great treats generously offered,
An abundance of young and old, watching anxiously for their runner,
The utter thrill of runners completing their 13.1 miles.
Encouragement, support, tears, laughter, sweat.
A contagious energy spills from all spaces,
Often inviting comments like, “I can’t wait for next year” and
Occasionally putting the thought in mind, “Why not run it next year?”
Memories can never be taken away
In the days leading up to the race this year, we had a few not feeling well. Thinking of the weekend, Emma shared, “I have to get healthy. This is my favorite weekend of the whole year.”
Truth be told, the time commitment for distance running got in the way of my generous support at various times over the years. Yet, our children have always known their dad as a runner. For the duration of our time in the Lehigh Valley, late winter into spring involves Doug’s training for this half-marathon. On race day, we have all come to appreciate the time together and the memories we collect.
What traditions are meaningful to you? What memories do you continue collecting? What life lessons are you gathering from places and spaces important to you and your family? I’d love if you would share your traditions in the comments below…
(Photos by Emma Hochstetler – except for two when she was young)