On Saturday morning, June 21st, over 65 runners and volunteers showed up at Adapt Fitness in Beaverton for the race. I was prepared to be pretty embarrassed. What some people call “humble”, I call “shy”. But my shyness has ebbed over the years, largely due to Kelly and all the other friends who showed up that morning, and the whole experience was pure fun. I even withstood the pre-race singing of “Happy Birthday” without bolting or hiding behind a lamppost. (But I’ll always be grateful for Kelly for not forcing me to make a speech!)
I got to talk to several friends before the race, and then it was time to head over to the starting line, where I tried to look as inconspicuous as possible while Adapt staff led the runners in a pre-race warmup. Then it was time for Kelly’s pre-start announcements about the donation to the American Cancer Society, a course description, hats off to the Beaverton Police for stopping traffic, and acknowledging the terrific sponsors and volunteers.
Then Kelly called me up for the aforementioned singing of Happy Birthday. Not long ago, I would have wanted to turn invisible or shrink to the size of an ant when singled out in front of a crowd like this, but somehow with Kelly in charge and the happy, relaxed atmosphere, it was nothing but a good time.
More jocularity ensued with the requisite AARP jokes and the good-natured trash talking about the race as we lined up for the start. Did I mention this was a race? As race day approached, I was thinking more about the event as a whole than the race itself. I haven’t been training much lately, and given the context, I wasn’t sure how to approach the actual running: Should I treat it as regular race and run as hard as I could? Should I “just run it”, and enjoy the festive nature of the event? Should I “jog” it, and give everybody high fives as they passed?
I started a few rows back, still not sure how I was going to approach it even as Kelly ended her countdown and yelled “Go!” But once I settled in behind the pack and felt smooth and relaxed, something took over, and I knew I would be really racing it. We turned off Arctic onto Allen Blvd. and I tucked in behind a small group of three or four other runners.
Soon we were on the Fanno Creek trail and I felt the old competitive spirit (and the accompanying effort) kick in. It was fun recognizing a who’s-who of familiar faces volunteering at key points along the course, and I waved or gave a thumbs up as I went by.
By this time I had decided my goal was to finish among the top three masters, hopefully 3rd, because a little bird told me that the 3rd place prize was a bag of Funyuns! (OK, I knew that because I picked that as a funny prize – It’s a “running” joke between Kelly and me: I like Funyuns, but Kelly thinks they smell like socks, and prohibits them from relay vans).
The course was great! It wound along the paved trail through the shaded woods, and soon we emerged from the path and ran a short distance along a quiet street to the turnaround.
An out-and-back course is perfect for a birthday run (or any run for that matter), because you get to cheer on your fellow runners as you pass. In this case, in addition to the “Go Joes”, I received a good number of “Go Birthday Boys!” All the good will of the day energized me and pulled me through the second half of the race.
Some subtle and deceptive uphill led us back to Allen, where we got to start down again and turn onto the final wide open stretch along Arctic to the finish. I was rapidly running out of gas as I approached the line, but ended up very pleased with my effort and time, the fastest 5k I’ve run in the past few months.
Then I got to enjoy my favorite part of a race: sitting on the curb catching my breath, clapping, and gasping out cheers to the rest of the runners! The pleasant morning temperatures and the excellent course led to many fast times and PRs. Runners received their finishers’ Run Oregon travel mugs, and headed back to Adapt for the post-race cupcake bar, bananas, coffee, and hot chocolate.
The generous awards and raffle prizes were announced (I missed out on the Funyuns, but you can’t have everything!) and then it was time for the kids race around the building. As the Birthday Boy, I had the privilege of leading the kids, and wouldn’t you know it, but a future 2020 Olympian left me in his dust! Good thing it was a simple course!
It was an amazing morning, and a terrific event. I’m pretty confident I’m not just saying that because it had my name on it and was full of great friends. From what I could tell, everybody had a great time, in both senses.
Now I’m going to take a left turn and talk about Kelly. Putting on a special race for a friend’s birthday is kind of nutty and an amazing amount of work, but it is pure Kelly!
Sometime around nine years ago, someone named “Kelbelle” appeared on the Team Red Lizard message board. I think one of her first posts was a question about running books. Anyway, she quickly became a frequent contributor to the online discussions.
That fall, I volunteered at the Red Lizard aid station at the Portland Marathon. Suddenly, out of the blue, an energetic and happy blonde young woman bounded toward me (and everyone else in turn) and asked “What’s your message board name? I’m Kelbelle!” I can still picture that scene, and it sums up Kelly: Energetic, happy, friendly. As we became friends, I learned to add smart, witty, compassionate, helpful, resourceful, persuasive, organized, and kind to the list.
Since I’ve known Kelly, she’s moved twice, held four jobs, gotten married, had a daughter, and added nine years of evolution and maturity to those already outstanding qualities mentioned above. In that same time, I’ve had some injuries and health crises and lost both parents, and somehow Kelly has always known just the right thing to say when things aren’t going well. Her friendship has remained constant and uncomplicated despite the inevitable twists and turns of life.
For anyone else, giving a friend a birthday race would seem like a ridiculous and daunting task. But for Kelly, it was a natural culmination of everything that makes her special, and of course it was a great success. It was a very special morning.
Thank you Kelly!