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A Thanksgiving run to remember

Many things have changed between 1978, when I ran the Turkey Trot the first time, and this week, when I ran it for the second time, but not the reason: My father made me do it.

"You know, I'm not getting any younger," he said in September on his birthday. "I keep hoping that my son will run with me again -- before I die."

As this annual guilt trip got under way, I buried my face in my hands and shook my head. I didn't even bother with my usual list of excuses -- bad knee, too fat, too busy -- because when you're having this conversation with a 65-year-old long-distance runner, who has to stop and count the number of marathons he's completed and was about to embark on his yearly many-hundred mile bicycle trip, what's the point?

"First of all, you're not going anywhere," I said. "Second, your youngest son and your wife go with you. And third, I wouldn't actually run WITH you; you'll be finished and I'll be having a coronary near Forest Lawn."

What he didn't know was that this was the year I was going to try to join him. My motivation was my older brother, who had recently dropped 30 pounds and was running up to seven miles and was planning to run the Turkey Trot for the first time. I had been looking for a reason to get in shape. So I did.

Whatever DNA my father has that made him into a runner missed me completely. He had been trying for as long as I could remember to get me to join him, but I always found running boring.

He was briefly successful in my early teen years, persuading me torun cross-country my freshman year in high school. (It did not go well. Ask anybody.) But that same year, I told him I would try the Turkey Trot. He had already run it twice by then and convinced me that, despite not being the fastest person around, I had the stamina to do it. He was right. I finished the race, never really knowing my time. I was thrilled by my sense of accomplishment, but my running career came to a halt after that.

What never stopped was him asking me if I would run that year's race. He's nothing if not persistent.

We both like surprises, but my father lives for them. A couple of years ago, he took me aside on the day my nephew was baptized in April and told me that for Christmas that year, he and my stepmother were sending my brother and me and our families to DisneyWorld. I had to keep that secret for more than eight months. The payoff was well worth it.

So two months ago, without telling him, I started training. Shockingly, I got in shape and was able to run five miles without dropping dead. My daughter decided to join us on race day. I signed up and began imagining the look on his face when he saw his granddaughter and me there with numbers on our chests.

The weather on race day was amazingly like it was 29 years ago: cold and rainy. I had some doubt about whether I could pull this off because I had injured myself 10 days earlier and stopped running completely to try and recuperate.

A gang of Andriatches stood under a restaurant awning waiting to meet up with him. My father told me later that as he approached he thought he heard my voice. When he saw me standing there in shorts, I got the shocked look I was hoping for.

Then came the hard part: the running.

When the race started and I looked south on Delaware Avenue at the mass of runners ahead, cheering as they went, the adrenaline rush was huge. I think that got me halfway through the race.

My worries about my injury subsided and I kept the pace I was hoping for, finishing in about 52 minutes, a couple of minutes behind my father.

I had forgotten what the "runner's high" felt like, but finishing that race and knowing how much my father appreciated it made for a memorable Thanksgiving.

When I left him hours later, he was still shaking his head and smiling. I told him that this surprise was the most expensive gift I had ever gotten anyone.

Next year, I plan to actually run with him. But I have no idea what we're going to talk about on his birthday.


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