“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.
So many of us dread birthdays and, I have to confess, I celebrated my 29th birthday until my oldest son made it pretty much scientifically impossible. We’re all getting older, it’s a fact of life and that’s definitely better than the alternative, but I love seeing people actually embrace getting older, instead of just accepting it. Lately, I’ve witnessed a few people who are not just putting another candle on their cake, but are celebrating their latest trip around the sun. Angie Gerber is a perfect example- one of my all-time favorite running girls, who I met at a not-so-traditional birthday party.
A mutual friend suggested that I invite myself to this birthday party, claiming I would love this girl. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t even consider inviting myself to a stranger’s birthday party, but this wasn’t a typical cake and ice cream sort of birthday party. This woman was celebrating her 40th birthday with a group relay, which piqued my curiosity. She didn’t ask for gifts, but suggested guests bring cat food to donate at a local shelter. An animal loving athlete, there was no way I’d miss this party and I’m so grateful I didn’t since this woman has inspired me ever since that day.
There wasn’t a single ‘Over the Hill’ balloon in her garage, or party central. Instead, it was filled with food, friends, family and a 40-mile relay chart. Runners of all abilities could pop in to ‘celebrate’ since Angie had mapped out a 2-mile loop and set up teams to run/walk the loop until their group reached the big four-oh. In between the miles, people hung out, relaxed, and waited for their next turn. It was brilliant and we even lucked out with the weather.
I ran a loop with the birthday girl and couldn’t wait to get to know her better. I learned Angie was a surgical technologist and had a huge heart for animals, but what I really wanted to hear about were her events and training plans. I was dying to chat about events she had done and wanted to know what she was training for next. This girl has run so many events, from the Portland Marathon to the Barbados Marathon and everything in between. Angie has completed an Ironman Triathlon, and participated in all sorts of cycling events and half-marathons. Even with all of her accomplishments, at the top of her list is the 1997 Portland Marathon, where her dad jumped in and ran 6 miles with her. It’s hard to believe this passion started with her love of animals. She started running in 1995 to help calm a nervous shelter dog, Jazz. They started with a loop around the block and would eventually run Leif Erikson Trail together.
Fast forward to birthday #45 and how does this girl celebrate? Not with a trip to Vegas or a tropical beach, but with a 45-mile run. With a January birthday, she decided to start her training in October with 20 miles. (Note: She STARTED her training with 20 miles) An experienced runner going into it, Angie was careful to train smart, but not let her age get in the way of her goals. With lonely Saturday runs at Hagg Lake to prepare for the big day, some days it was just her and some hardcore anglers. There were days that it was so cold Angie barely warmed up, but she had a birthday to celebrate and stayed determined and focused. She ran two 31-milers and then had the dreaded taper time.
During her taper, she questioned her training and her abilities and finally concluded she was going to get it done even if she puked, had to walk or take a break. Angie was going to bring in her 45th birthday with 45-miles and she did just that. Four loops around Hagg Lake, she would alternate directions and run the course in reverse each time. No fancy drink with an umbrella or white sand, this girl celebrated another milestone with mileage. Some friends ran along for portions, family cheered her on and she even made a new running friend along the way. Some stranger at Hagg Lake took a 26 mile stretch with her, only cementing what I already knew – runners are amazingly supportive.
Angie had no clue (and still doesn’t) how many people she inspired that day with her birthday run, runners and non-runners alike. Inspiring to me on so many levels, I love how this girl thinks outside of the box, constantly challenges her body and is always looking for the next running adventure. A birthday shouldn’t be something we dread, it should be something we’re excited about and look for new ways to celebrate. I’m far, far from 29, and I will not be running my age on my birthday, but this girl has me plotting ways to be more creative, in my running and in my life. Life is short. I need to spend less time fretting about the wrinkles in the mirror and more time being thankful for being exactly where I am right now. Angie continues to inspire me, without even realizing it in many ways. I need to get out of my comfort zone, not make excuses and take advantage of every day. I told her to ‘go get it’ on her birthday and I need to follow my own advice. Angie said she has “never had any regrets for any of the finish lines I have crossed.” No regrets- only looking ahead, I want to be more like this girl.