It was a crisp 18 degrees Fahrenheit with a gusty breeze at the start line of this 9 AM Thanksgiving Day race in the Upstate New York town of Hilton. Though the Race With Grace has been a Thanksgiving Day tradition for thousands of runners since 1991, I’m late for the party, as this is my first one. I was swayed to run this race, to a great extent, because of my friendship with one of its founders, Bob Dyjak. I met Bob through our local LIFE Runner chapter. He’s a man who kindly witnesses his Christian faith through everyday living, and his hard work to build this race into a well-established community charity event is just one example. Proceeds from this race benefit the CURE Childhood Cancer Association, a Rochester, NY-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families affected by childhood cancer and chronic blood disorders.

I saw these wild turkeys in my neighborhood as I left for the Race With Grace on Thanksgiving morning. You better run for cover, guys!

The race itself is a fast country loop on paved two-lane roads, beginning and ending on the pretty campus of the First Bible Baptist Church. Prior to the start, a wonderful young family affected by childhood cancer provided heartfelt words of encouragement, and Pastor Grace gave a Prayer of Thanksgiving, with a special remembrance for family members serving in the military who would be having Thanksgiving far from home. At the start, I slipped into the middle of the 603 runners and set about a 7 minute, 30 second pace.

One is never quite sure how their body is going to react to the reality of inhaling and exhaling brisk winter air while churning their arms and legs under race conditions. In my case on this Thanksgiving morning, it stung my lungs and strained my muscles, but I could tell right away that I was in business. After the first mile, and intermittently thereafter, I pulled unnecessary items off…an extra shirt…my gloves…the hat, and shoved them into my shorts pockets or underneath the elastic band of my compression pants. Despite the frigid conditions, I was enveloped in the heat of my pounding metabolism; I was a furnace on two legs!

A view from the race course. Photo credit: Lynne Coddington Defendorf

Funny how the mind works. Despite my confident “read” of body systems, I was convinced at about the halfway point that I was really having trouble or, more accurately, that I was about to begin having trouble. If allowed to fester unchecked, this kind of “anticipatory anxiety” breeds more anxiety, and, eventually, to faltering efforts; therefore, I consciously rejected it and focused on maintaining my pace.

When I hit the final mile, a flat, seamless stretch of Manitou road, I knew I had it in the gas tank to take it home. The term “manitou” is a Native American (Algonquian) reference to “life force” or spirit. Running with throttle wide open on the final mile of a 10K on Thanksgiving morning certainly puts one in touch with a definite sense of being fully alive! In the final run back up to the First Bible Baptist Church, I accelerated to a 6 minute, 10 second pace before entering the chute and crossing the finish line. Made it! My time was 45:46 (a 7:23 overall pace). This was a podium finish for me, as I came in second in my age group for males, though I was not nearly as fast as James Anderson, who came in with an overall first place with a 33:27 time (5:24 pace). Now, that’s fast!

After the race, runners and their families enjoyed an awesome spread of post-race/pre-turkey foods (e.g., bagels, bananas, yogurt, hot coffee) in the welcoming, spacious interior of the church building. The hospitality, openness, and genuine spirit of charity of this faith community and its running guests was evident in this good-hearted celebration, from the food pantry to the sanctuary. On that cold Upstate New York morning, I think everyone there felt that rich gratitude that manifests from great freedoms – practicing one’s religious beliefs without government reprisal, challenging one’s physical boundaries in heated competition, and connecting with neighbors by way of handshakes and fist bumps, kind words, and good humor. We have much to be grateful for in this great country on Thanksgiving Day. Despite the cold brace of division and anxious anticipation of events yet to be realized, we thrive as One Nation Under God and the opportunity to Race With Grace.

The awards ceremony inside First Bible Baptist Church, Hilton, NY. The message over the door of the sanctuary (right wall in picture): “Love God, Love People, Serve Others, Tell Everyone”. Thank you Bob and friends!