The thing about turkey trots is that they are for families. At Thanksgiving road races I used to find myself zeroing in on the cheerful and wholesome-looking people posing for family pictures, arms slung over the shoulders of other seemingly wholesome-looking people, multiple generations represented. Maybe because I felt so conflicted about my own family, which was always in turmoil, it became preferable to avoid the annual “turkey trot” rather than subject myself to yet another reminder that hell freezing over is more likely than a single member of my extended family donning a pair of sneakers to run a good ol’ turkey trot with me. I guess this is a roundabout way of me saying that turkey trots weren’t always my thing.
Until this year. Prozac and I were eager to run the Andover Feaster Five, a long-held road race that has grown to nearly 10,000 runners each year. Dave McGillivray from the BAA is the race director. If you don’t know… It’s kind of a big deal. I didn’t want to just run it, though. I wanted to run it with my family. Lest you think hell froze over north of Boston and you somehow missed it in your social media feed, when I say my family I mean MY family, my husband and two kids.
This would be a tough sell.
Let me tell you a little about my husband. When we met, back before the land of time, he subsisted on Chewy brand granola bars, cigarettes, Coca-Cola, and one large burrito a day from Anna’s Taqueria in Brookline. He thought this was a relatively healthy diet. About the burrito, he would say, “What do you mean, ‘It’s bad for you’? It has vegetables in it.” I did not know how one person could consume that much sour cream. Within a year we were living together and eating balanced meals. He quit smoking cigarettes, for the most part. It was another year or so before he switched to diet soda. Eventually he cut back on that, too.
Nowadays my husband spends long hours working at a law firm. He is also good at fixing things that break around our house. He likes to garden (I mean “landscape”). He really likes soft rock. Yes, I said soft rock. He likes to call it “yacht rock,” as if that’s some identifiable sub-genre of easy-listenin’, and I let him get away with it because I am nice. He likes date nights with me and going out to breakfast with our kids on the weekends. I’m in love with all of his crazy quirks that make him unique, and uniquely mine.
But a runner, he is not. He has zero interest in exercise, sports, or nutrition. (It’s true, honey!) This is an endless source of frustration, not because I’m concerned about his health or anything noble like that, but because he is an innately gifted runner! His lungs are made of steel. His quads and knees move like pistons. He is 6 feet tall with a nice build and broad shoulders. He is young, only 33 years old. He has thick, wavy hair and beautiful, kind blue eyes framed by handsome lashes. Wait, what are we talking about again? Oh yeah. He has no interest in running. Imagine if Michael Phelps at 17 years of age was “meh” about swimming. That would be a tragedy, right? In my mind my husband’s aptitude for running is not unlike Michael Phelps’ knack for swimming.
How do I know that my husband has this gift if he never runs, you ask? Good question.
On very, very rare occasions he has demonstrated his talent by going out and running between 3 and 5 miles with no conditioning. On one occasion years ago I even tricked him into running the 7 mile Falmouth Road Race, his first and only road race until last month’s turkey trot. Even though he did GREAT (9/9:30 min per mile pace), and enjoyed the beautiful views of Falmouth, MA, he was very mad at me for tricking him into running further than he THOUGHT he could run. I was definitely chastised and a little bit remorseful, even.
A Meeting of the Minds.
I broached the topic of the Feaster Five with him months ago. I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun? Wouldn’t that be a great thing to do?” He sighed. A few weeks passed, and I told him that I had registered for the race. “You know, there’s a kids fun run. We could all go. Doesn’t that sound like fun?” He sighed. On the 16th, over a birthday lunch of fish chowder and fried clams at Woodman’s in Essex, we “inked” the deal. The “parties” (me and my husband) acknowledged and agreed to run the 5 miles together; provided, as a condition precedent, a mutually acceptable arrangement for childcare is secured in advance, approval of which shall not be unreasonably withheld by either party.*
This was the compromise position. For not even a second did he want to entertain the idea of pushing our 4 and 2 year old bundles of joy in a jogging stroller for any distance. He had a point. Neither of our kids are accustomed to the jogging stroller. It was a dicey proposition. “OK,” I said, ready to concede. “Nana can probably babysit and we will run the race. Just us.”
He signed up for the race the next day.
Thanksgiving morning was chilly. Very chilly. I did not give it a second thought and layered on my warmest running tights, a long sleeve tech shirt, a thicker tech layer; a weatherproof vest with pockets for my ID, iPhone, and Smartwool gloves with touchscreen capability; thick Balega running socks, and my 2009 Boston Marathon ball cap. I was downstairs fixing the kids’ breakfasts when my husband appeared, ready to run. Or so he thought. He wore an old cotton t-shirt and GAP sweatpants purchased in 1998. On his feet were running shoes with soles as white as the day he bought them. I said,
“You can’t wear that! You’ll freeze!” Characteristically unruffled, he said,
“No, no. I run hot. I’ll get hot.” The temperature hadn’t hit 40 degrees yet. This is when he revealed his secret plan. Under his only pair of sweatpants he was wearing his only pair of mesh athletic shorts. “In case I want to take these off,” he says, indicating the bulky sweatpants. This is the moment I realized that I must quickly bring my husband up to speed on the wicking properties of the new-fangled technical fabrics, and I had just minutes to do it. He must be persuaded to change his clothes.
“Honey, how about your long underwear?”
“No way,” he said, shaking his head vigorously.
“But you can wear your shorts over them?”
“Forget it. Too hot. Much too hot.” I dropped it.
“OK. Well, decide now if you want to wear the shorts or the sweatpants running, then, because you can’t wear both.”
“Why not?” he asked, like he really didn’t know.
“Because chafing,” I said, incredulously. His eyes got wide. “You’ll chafe if you have all those fabrics creating friction for five miles. Trust me.” He went away and came back a few minutes later in the sweatpants without shorts underneath. As for a shirt, fortunately for him he had picked up the long sleeve Feaster Five tech tee with his bib number the previous day. It was the only viable option.
“You want me to wear this today? But I just got it,” he said. I sighed. He wore the shirt.
Before the start of the race we took in the massive crowd of people milling around. He was shivering but confident in his attire. We met up with another married couple we’ve known since law school and made some turkey trot small talk. Finally the race was underway.
The first third to half a mile of the race was a remarkably steep uphill climb. That helped to thin out the crowd of runners early on the course. My husband and I saw more than a few parents struggling with their jogging strollers right off the bat. The observation was duly noted by us both. As the race weaved through the town of Andover, passing tree-lined streets and stately homes, we encountered a crew of fireman wearing 9/11/01 tribute t-shirts and carrying American flags. We came up on the men suddenly and for whatever reason the sight filled me with emotion. I heard myself telling my husband that the older I get the more importance I place on community events like annual road races. More than ever, people need opportunities to see each other being humble, struggling, and being human. Running in a massive crowd of people, sharing and enjoying the collective experience, is definitely a form of community building and also a celebration of the human spirit. Being healthy enough to participate is a reason to be thankful in and of itself. A road race, in particular, stands apart from other community-building events because runners are unlikely to lower their heads and enter the world of their smartphone. They may have earbuds in, but they are still fully engaged and present in a way one can’t assume or take for granted in just any context anymore.
As the miles ticked by, more and more babies and tots in the strollers started cranking, crying, and flat out protesting their otherwise passive participation in the family-friendly event. One very tiny baby in particular was so incensed, the parents had to pull off the course and extricate the baby with a mile or so to go. Understandably!
A memory of one of the few times I tried running with my son in a jogging stroller came rushing back to me. My son at probably 8 or 9 months old decided to launch an insurrection several miles from home. He wasn’t hungry and he did not need a new diaper. Getting him to go back into the stroller from my spot on the side of the road proved challenging. He was over it (“it” being the run), but I was out of options. My only choice was to endure some excruciating mommy-runner miles with a screaming baby as I hauled ass home, cursing myself for indulging the fantasy that “me time” post-partum was possible with my little dude in tow. That was the last time I attempted running with the jogging stroller.
I know some parents swear by the jogging stroller. I see their familiar faces running around town all the time. I’m kind of jealous! My only advice on this subject is that it is not as easy as it looks. There’s an adjustment period for parent and baby. Whatever you do, don’t try it out for the first time at a large community road race. Nope, not advisable.
My husband and I crossed the finish line in lock step. He easily kept pace with me for five miles averaging 9:40 splits on a hilly course. In hindsight, I am certain we both could have pushed harder and shaved off 20 seconds per mile. Instead we had a great conversation, as we are apt to do. It’s another reason he should take up running, actually. He loves to talk about things he’s read or seen. He loves to debate with me. He and I have surprisingly different viewpoints much of the time. These conversations, when we have the time to get into them, challenge both of us. We enjoy it, though, because we’re such nerds. We take it for granted because it is just who we are, as a couple, but it is part of the reason why we work.
The following week my husband forwarded me his official results from the timing company. Incredibly, he asked me, “What was your time?” Is he kidding, I wonder? We crossed the finish line together! Later that evening he asked me again. “I don’t know. Why would I look it up? We ran the same!”
“Well I may have beat you,” he said. That’s when I knew he’d already looked up my official time, just to confirm a suspicion that his foot crossed a second before mine.
Did the Feaster Five ignite his competitive pilot light?
I guess we will have to wait and see.
How do your loved ones regard running?
Any funny stories of running with your partner? I think we all have them….
- We didn’t really make a contract. I was just flexing my legalese to make fun of my marriage. Being married to another lawyer has unique challenges…