Friday, October 28, 2011

Paying it Forward

The other day I started mapping out my running plan for the next year. Culminating at the 2012 Chicago Marathon, I strategically placed other, shorter events on the calendar. Some are old friends dating back to when I was a real runner almost thirty years ago.

Cherry Blossom Ten Mile RunOne of those old friends is the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, competed each April in Washington, DC. Framed by the budding trees at their peak, It’s a beautiful setting and one I conquered a few times back in the mid 80’s. Amazingly, I once finished in seventy minutes—a pace I can only dream of now.

To get in the race, you have to enter a December lottery for a coveted spot. On the web site I noticed that you can also get automatic entry if you are a “streaker,” which is defined by completing the course at least ten times in the last forty years and not by the absence of clothing… You might have to be as old as me to get why that’s funny.

Since I couldn’t remember how many times I had actually finished I sent an email to the race “information desk” requesting my times. Expecting to hear back in a few days (or not at all), I was pleasantly surprised by an immediate response from the race director himself. My three repeats didn’t get me an automatic entry, but in thanking him I gave him a little more information about myself.

For several 10-Miler iterations, also in the 80’s, I had volunteered on the pre-race set-up crew—with a bunch of guys I saw exactly once annually—in exchange for a guaranteed entry for the following year. Our job was to secure the start and finish areas so that they were safe for the runners. I probably can no longer lift the bales of storm fence that we carried and then pounded into place for the first and last miles of the course.

Usually, our work was done on Saturday (before the race on Sunday), but the last few times we had to get started in the early spring darkness on Sunday morning. Early—like just after midnight—Sunday morning. It was a tough, physical job, but also satisfying beyond the race entry reward. We felt like we were doing something good for others. Something that most would never realize or acknowledge. And we didn’t need or expect anything more.

About an hour after his first response, I got another email from the race director. He was involved in the race even back then and he did remember our hard work. “Let me know if you don’t get in through the lottery,” he said, “I’ll have a guaranteed entry waiting for you.”

Pretty cool. I guess sometimes, when you least expect it, you get paid back for your good work. Even if I don’t have to take advantage of the offer it was sure nice to get..

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