MICHIGAN CITY — Jumping in a hot shower after a hard run in the face of brisk October winds is a simple pleasure I have grown to relish.
You feel the blood rush to the surface of your skin, in firm contrast to the chilled and hard-earned sweat that has encased the body, a certain release is achieved. For hours after, the body and mind softly vibrate in harmony producing positive feelings, which is where my runner’s high exists.
The complexion of Saturday morning took a pleasurable turn shortly after I arrived at the Salvation Army Red Shield 5K. Initially, I was in a reporter mode, scanning the trickle of participants and race organizers pulling into the parking lot. I saw the Michigan City Fire Department and race volunteers gathering. A family of runners jogged in from down the road, followed by a man on his bike. Cars began filling the lot.
I found Jessica O’Brien, Development Director for the Salvation Army, doubling as race director, sitting inside Krueger Elementary School, busy with the hustle and bustle of registration and various odds and ends. As we talked, I learned of the history of the 3rd annual event, which aims to help local families in need.
“This is the perfect time of year to donate to the Salvation Army,” said O’Brien. “It is right before the holidays. Last year, we helped 640 families with food and toy assistance.”
Later, I learned that the Salvation Army also helps load back backs of food for students in need of assistance.
O'Brien asked if I was running in the event. I explained that if I ran in each event that I covered for the project, my profit margin would hardly cover the large black coffee that steamed in my grasp. A smile gracefully emerged from her face as she asked if I wanted to run, free of charge. Without thinking, as if I already had a response chambered, I enthusiastically accepted, without knowing with certainty if I had shorts and running shoes in my truck.
Luck shined upon my cluttered mess as I pulled casual shoes, and a wrinkled pair of gym shorts from underneath my golf clubs in the back seat. I figured it has been there, soaking up God knows what toxins, since mid-summer. Little mind to that, small potatoes.
I snapped into pre-race mode as I descended through the wet grass down to the black and dusty track sitting at the side of Krueger. I pondered the ones who have been on that track before me. I saw an old football sled sitting near old-fashioned goal posts. I sensed that I was somehow on hallowed ground while I lightly trotted under the sun which had given shine and brilliance to the morning dew on the windy grass.
The topography made for a quick start to the race. A small straightaway followed by a nice downhill near WIMS radio station helped catapult me just behind the three lead runners, who were decked out in green Valparaiso attire. For a fleeting moment I thought I could keep pace with them, but by the first mile they had a healthy lead.
One of the boys wearing all green, was Nathan Nova. Nova, a sophomore Valpo cross country runner with four years running experience, won the race with a time of 18 minutes, 34 seconds. He chose to run the race to get fired up to watch his teammates run at sectionals at New Prairie.
The picturesque route directed us through Pottawattamie Park, which surrounded the runners in colorful fall colors. Small areas of acorns and walnuts lie smashed from cars allowing subtle yet distinguished smells to enter the atmosphere and into the olfactory. As I passed through the aromatic pockets being swirled by the wind, a man passed me with encouraging words, something that is abundant in the running community.
The man, 26 years my elder, was Rob Earl, a Michigan City native who now resides in Carmel. He finished in fourth place, just ahead of me in the standings but long away in distance and time. Pride used to prevent me from feelings of gratitude while being passed in a race. A bit of wisdom and humility however offer more optimistic outlooks when an older runner, or anyone for that matter, passes me. The best is yet to come, right?
As the last straight-away up Springland Avenue looped us around the school, a relaxed and congratulatory finishing line presence began to assemble. Each runner received cheers upon finishing as some runners stuck around to motivate others crossing the line. Admittedly, I was relieved to see my friend Ron Bede at a distance behind, rather than before me at the finish.
A firefighter whose head was shrouded in steam was Nick Palmer of the Michigan City Fire Department. Palmer had just finished the race, fully suited in 70 pounds of equipment, oxygen mask and all. He was one of several fire fighters in a strong showing by the department, who run these races for the great causes they stand for.
Overall female top finisher Suzanne Fredel, with a time of 25:08, perhaps had the take-away perspective of the day when I asked her why this run was important to her: “To feed the hungry,” she replied.
Fredel was probably finishing with the Chicago Marathon as I wrote this story Sunday.
Perspective is something I have honed since writing about these races. Each person is filled with stories of accomplishment, community, grief, or kindness to name a few virtues. Those who run, walk, and put on these events generally have an air about them that is fulfilling and refreshing to witness. Perhaps even more so than the hot shower that follows a blustery morning after a beautifully cold run.