My siblings and I once celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional fashion. We met at my Ex-Stepfather’s house in the DC suburbs and pigged out. Family members brought appetizers and wine. (A LOT of wine.) Drinking, eating, and cards started around noon. Football games played on the living room TV. The turkey was usually served by 4 PM. Dishes were finished around 7. Our exercise consisted of a slow walk around the neighborhood about 7:30.
Big Brother’s Wife wrecked our tradition of sloth and gluttony. She ran the Annual Bethesda Rotary/ YMCA 10K Turkey Chase every year. After she married Big Brother, he ran it, too. So did I, sort of. As a crap runner, I was shunted off to the lame 2-mile auxiliary race instead, elbowing my way past families with strollers and golden retrievers.
I wanted to run in the “real” race the next year, but I also wanted company. (Running is misery, and misery loves company.) I’d never be able to keep up with serious runners like Big Brother & Wife. I needed another sibling to slow jog with me. I began my campaign in September.
I called Genius Judgmental Doctor Sister first. “Will you do the 10K with me?”
She snorted. “I wish. I’m on call. We can’t even make it to DC.”
Next up, Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister: “No fucking way I’m getting up that early on a goddamned holiday.”
Gorgeous Skinny Singing Sister expressed similar sentiments: “Bahahahahahaha!”
My last hope was Baby Brother. He was in his freshman year at Duke. He said, “Uh, I’m not really used to getting up early anymore.”
I sensed weakness. “Don’t worry, I’ll wake you up. I promise not to do it with ice water this time.”
Baby Brother: “I dunno.”
Me: “I get it. It would be kind of embarrassing if your sister, who is TEN YEARS OLDER, beat you in race.”
Baby Brother: “Loser does ALL the Thanksgiving dishes?” Neither Baby Brother nor I can cook. We get saddled with the dishes after the Thanksgiving Feast every year. And Ex-Stepfather’s Third Wife INSISTED on using the good china and silver. The kind that you can’t put in the dishwasher. For all twenty-plus place settings.
Baby Brother: “You’re going down, Ms. Grey Hair!”
Me: “Eat my dust, DISH BOY!”
I hung up the phone and mapped out a training schedule.
Let me again stress that I am not a runner. I did the occasional three-mile circuit in college – usually because I was upset over eating an entire bag of snickers because I was upset over a guy. One of my Intramural teams needed an anchor leg for a relay, and I volunteered when no one else would. I lost us the race by a mile (and it was only a 400 meter relay, go figure). I will never forget the humiliation of staggering in so far behind everyone else. Nor will I forget a sympathetic guy patting me on the shoulder and telling me, “you really have to train for a 400.”
Not long after that, on a run in New Hampshire, my feet began to hurt. Then my left knee. I was lucky enough to find an orthopedic podiatrist who diagnosed me with collapsed arches on both feet and bursitis in my knee. My feet were cast for orthotics, he prescribed anti-inflammatories for my knee, and I was fine in a few months. I didn’t try running again.
Don’t get me wrong. At age 28, I was in great shape. I danced competitively in everything from Waltz to West Coast Swing. I lifted weights. I swam laps.
But running 6.2 miles? I wasn’t sure I could do it. I hated running. I hated gasping for breath, I hated the way every stride jarred my body. Nonetheless, I found a track near my apartment. I ran twice a week for the first month. I made it two miles before giving up. Then three. Then four.
By November, I’d made it up to five miles. And my right hip hurt like hell. I went to see another orthopedist. He told me I had bursitis.
“Now it’s in my hip? Jesus, how many kinds of bursitis are there?”
Doctor: “Every joint has bursae. Excessive movement or pressure can cause them to be inflamed. Have you been doing any exercise besides running?”
Me: “I dance.”
Doctor: “How many hours a week?”
Me: “Well, we practice on Mondays and Fridays, and on Saturdays we have lessons and then more practice, and I do social dancing on Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays, so maybe 15 hours a week. Unless it’s a competition weekend and then it’s like, 13 hours just on the weekend.”
Doctor: “And you thought it would be a good idea to add running ten miles a week on top of this?”
Me: “There’s this Thanksgiving race. And there’s some, you know, pride on the line.”
Me: “And dishes. A lot of dishes.”
Me: “So, um, will I make it worse if I keep dancing and running?”
Doctor: “No. But you won’t make it better.”
I thought back and remembered one of the options my old orthopedic guy had mentioned for my knee. “Well, what about a cortisone shot? Will that help?”
Doctor: “Yes, but—”
Me: “Then I want a cortisone shot.”
Doctor: “You are the first person to ever ask me for a cortisone shot.”
I figured out why after I regained consciousness. If you don’t pass out when the giant needle appears, well, a cortisone shot hurts so much that you’ll probably pass out after the medicine is jammed into your tissue. And if you make it through the first round of pain, you will definitely pass out when the doctor starts moving the inserted needle around to make sure he “gets the entire inflamed area.”
No, normal people do not ask for a cortisone shot.
With that cortisone shot, way too much ibuprofen, and multiple bags of ice after dancing or running, I kept training. I made it 5 ¼ miles the Sunday before Thanksgiving before my calf began hurting. I iced that, too. It was sore the next day. I had strained it.
I stayed off of it as much as I could. Which was not much, not with all the standing in airport security lines that comes with air travel. Thanksgiving Day dawned. I dragged Baby Brother out of bed and we went off to chase the turkey.
We found Big Brother & Wife warming up with the Bethesda Turkey near the start line.
Big Brother gave us a smug smile. “You ready for 6.2 miles?”
I said, “I made it to five-and-a quarter. Hopefully race day adrenaline will carry me that last mile.”
Big Brother’s wife told me I would be fine. She asked Baby Brother how far he’d made it on his last run.
He shrugged. “A mile.”
I was incredulous. “One mile? When was this?”
“In high school.”
“You didn’t train at all? No plan?”
Big Brother chortled. “Baby Brother’s gonna gut it out.”
The Bethesda Turkey took off. So did Big Brother and Baby Brother. They managed to sprint/ thread their way out of sight in minutes.
I started slower. My calf settled into a dull ache, matching the one in my hip.
Maybe gutting it out was a better plan than training.
Big Brother’s Wife was nice enough to run with me. I tried not to slow her down. We gradually passed other runners. We even caught up with Team B-Boy, who stepped out of the pack, hit a couple moves, and yelled, “Hey! Who wants to dance?!”
I swerved over to Team B-Boy, did a body roll and few spins, and ran back to Big Brother’s Wife. They laughed and yelled, “She dancin’!”
I could only smile and wave, out of breath. Big Brother’s Wife, on the other hand, chattered for miles about the B-Boys, the other runners, and I don’t know what else. I was too busy hating her effortless stride and non-labored breathing to actually hear what she said.
Until she called out, “Hey! Look! It’s Baby Brother!”
Baby Brother lurched along, looking worse than I did.
We flanked him. Big Brother’s Wife talked for a few minutes. Baby Brother responded in grunts.
Big Brother’s Wife gave up. “I’m off to catch my husband,” she sang, and sprinted away.
Baby Brother and I jogged the last two miles together. When the finish line was in sight, I slowed and told him, “We should probably start our cool down.”
He nodded gratefully, dropping to a near walk.
I sprinted for the finish.
Baby Brother dug deep, and sprinted after me.
Surprised onlookers cheered – most of the serious runners, the ones with a kick, had finished twenty minutes ago. Watching us amateurs stagger across the line must’ve been pretty boring. They were thrilled to see even a little drama so late in the race.
I grabbed Baby Brother’s hand, and we crossed the finish line together, arms raised. Because it was Thanksgiving, and we were family, and we were together.
Or maybe I thought he was about to pass me, and I grabbed his arm to slow him down.
Unlike the previous year, I made it to the parking lot in time to get one of the virgin Bloody Marys. I compared times with other runners. My time did not totally suck, which was nice (Baby Brother and I clocked in at a little over 50 minutes, if anyone is wondering.) The other racers cheered and toasted me when Big Brother’s Wife said, “Autumn actually DANCED with the B-Boys!” (She was kind enough to leave out the part where it was only for three seconds.)
Best of all, there was no dog poop on my shoes.
The parking lot soon emptied. The Bloody Marys disappeared. So did Baby Brother. He eventually emerged from a porta-potty, looking green, and handed me the car keys.
Baby Brother stayed green. He also stayed in bed most of the day, barely recovering in time for the feast. After eating, he looked at me with sad eyes, a wan smile, and asked if he could go back to bed instead of doing dishes.
I patted him on the shoulder and said, “You really have to train for a 10K.”
Then I added, “DISH BOY,” and handed him the sponge.