It was bright and early on a Saturday morning in November. I popped my head out the door and tested the air, debating how many layers I would need to put on. I had agreed to help out at the 3rd annual Rock n’ Run in Renfro Valley, a 5k/Half-marathon that donates part of its proceeds to CAP. What I was doing once I got there, I didn’t know. And as I bundled up in a long-sleeved t-shirt, two sweatshirts, and a fleece-lined vest, I started to question my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants decision to sign up to help with this thing. It was cold. It was a Saturday. It was a run, something that I knew nothing about. Maybe I would’ve been better off staying home…
But I had signed up! So I was going.
Erin (our new short-termer) and I stuck our bundled-up selves into the van and hit the road. We had a bit of a drive. As we wound our way along the Kentucky roads, passing communities too small to be called villages, trees rooted in rock, old barns leaning precariously to one side, and pastures dotted with fuzzy beef cattle, the sun started to come up over the hills and shine on the tops of the trees. Bare branches crowned in sunlight: a promise of what was to come.
We made it to Renfro Valley (a lovely little tourist trap) in good time. Runners in brightly colored sneakers, shorts, leggings, and ‘boggins (also known as winter hats in Michigan speak) stuck numbers to their chests and stretched their legs against a backdrop of old-timey cabins. Erin and I found our posts where we were given our neon STAFF t-shirts, and watched as the runners took off, dropping the early morning chill behind them as they went.
I was posted near the finish line, where the runners had to follow a sharp turn that led them down into a tunnel that dug its way under the road and to the other side, where the time clock awaited their arrival. I was there to be a road sign, pointing the way so that the runners wouldn’t miss their turn. As the runners started to veer past, I soon realized that I had been given a highly entertaining post. I was right next to the DJ’s station, from which erupted both energizing tunes and the DJ’s witty banter.
A small man dressed in running gear, the DJ bounced around the part of the course that I was stationed at, greeting runners as they came around the corner (To a senior citizen runner: “Here we have a member of our 21 and under class coming up towards the tunnel!”), running alongside the runners as they got closer (“What? Don’t stop running now! There is no walking allowed as you go into the tunnel! You’re almost done! You know what? I’m going to run with you and help you out.”), and cheering them on through the tunnel to the finish line on the other side (“You’re almost there! Just go through the time tunnel and you’ll be at the finish! AND going through the tunnel will make you five years younger and more energized!”).
Meanwhile, I stood at my post, swaying to the music and raising my signpost arms whenever a runner got close. As the morning progressed and the sun rose higher in the sky, I gradually shed more and more of my layers and laid them on the bench beside me. And I realized something very quickly: I was really enjoying myself!
As I tapped my feet to the music and laughed at the DJ, I couldn’t help but grin as the runners passed by. There is something very heartening about seeing such a wide variety of people getting up in the early morning light to all go for a run together. There were 70-somethings disregarding the aches and pains that come with age, there were the young and well-seasoned runners who’d been to several of these things already this year, there were little girls with their hair tied up in bows, there were teenagers wearing their high school sports uniforms, there were people dressed up for the costume competition, and there were people who had never done something like this before and felt like they were absolutely dying but kept going anyway.
I think those are the runners that I like best. The ones who are hurting but keep going anyway. Because sometimes, if you’re going to get the most out of life, you’ve just got to put aside the aches and pains and the doubts. And just be there with a smile. To run 13 miles just for the satisfaction of being able to say that you did it. To be a signpost for some preoccupied runners.To put aside your comfortable homebody ways and volunteer for something you know very little about.
When the van dipped into a valley on the way to the race that morning and the sun came over the hills, I had a feeling that it was going to be a good day.
And it was.