The RCC Run the Woods is an annual four-mile cross country race near Earlham that has been held since 2003. The words “cross country” only begin to define it. The race leads through thick woods, cow pastures (yes, avoid the flat, brown patches at all costs!), an insidious rocky terrain, and muddy creeks with slick, steep banks. The path is winding and twisted; so much that I’ve gotten momentarily lost on two occasions. But the most daunting feature of the course is the hills. There is one long steady ascent of almost two miles that includes three inclines that are so precipitous that you expect to find a herd of mountain goats at the top.
I have been participating the last 10 years or so, most of the time with one or more of my kids also running. Kyle was probably 11 or 12 when he first ran. It’s a difficult enough race for full-grown adults, so a kid that age giving it a shot is impressive. I’m sure when I first talked him into signing up, I didn’t fully explain all the hazards. But he did fine, as did Kristen when she ran her first RCC race a few years later at about the same age, and Quinn when he joined the fun after that. I’m not sure all of us ever participated at the same time, but the race became a fun annual event for us, whoever was running.
A very cool coffee mug is awarded for first through third place in each age group in the race. Every time they ran, the kids claimed one of the coveted mugs. Each of them. Every year. Me; not so much. After a few years we had almost an entire shelf of these trophies in our cabinet and I had not contributed one. About three years ago, we were standing around after the awards ceremony – the kids with their well-earned awards – and Kristen, dripping with sarcasm and holding up her prize so I could get a good look, said, “Dad – you know; we really need to make this a family tradition.” I knew she was referring to my failure to ever win a mug, but I said anyway, “Well, yeah, this is a tradition.” She just held up the mug again and gave me a disgusted look.
She was right. From that day forward I changed how I looked at that race and running in general, and how I prepared. I didn’t run track or cross country in high school and had never been a “serious runner” – I just did it to stay in shape. And even when I was in decent running shape, I still wasn’t very fast and I never worried about how I finished any race. That was okay; until Kristen waved that mug at me. Being average wasn’t good enough; keep improving – all the time. That’s what Jennifer and I had always taught our kids about athletics, the classroom, and life in general, after all.
So I gave it a shot. Every mile I ran the next year, I had the RCC race in my mind. As it got closer, I worked harder. I ran hills; I ran in the rain and in the heat; and I ran more hills. The work paid off. That year I claimed my first mug; and the year after that I got another.
For this year’s race, I decided I needed to work on lowering my best time. Who knows how many fast, 50-year-old whippersnappers new to my age group are out there taking aim at my mug? So I started working, picking up the pace after the summer heat dissipated. But that’s when I noticed a conflict. The RCC race fell on the same date – this Saturday – when Kristen would be running in the NCAA Division II Regional Championships in Joplin, MO. A big deal; but the RCC race is a big deal, too.
I really didn’t give it much thought. In my mind, I would be copping out if I didn’t run just to watch some other race – even if it was one of my kids. And I figured that Kristen would probably be disgusted with me if I didn’t run. Since the boys had all but retired from running anything longer than 90 feet in the past couple of years, the RCC had become “our” race. She understands it.
So Kristen and I have separate races this year. When we’re toeing our respective start lines at about the same time Saturday morning, a piece of my heart will be in Joplin; and I’m sure a piece of hers will be in Goeldner Woods.