One (More) Perfect Saturday


Gary Griffin,


One of the questions usually asked of those chosen for the “Featured Feet” portion of the Fleet Foot is for that person to describe “the perfect day.” I always enjoy that part because, as much as anything, it gives me a window into the personal life of the respondent. What is a perfect day? Inasmuch as this is a running club, the response normally begins (or, in most cases, after the part about having a big cup of coffee) along the lines of “a nice run with friends” at some special venue. That is usually followed by time with family or friends, perhaps a nap or a book, and then it ends with a nice evening amongst dear ones. That all sounds pretty “perfect” to me and, if asked, I would respond in much the same way.

I got to thinking about the running part though. Would it be too far off the charts of reason to think that maybe, just maybe, we as members of the running community have a vision of “perfect” that surpasses those of other passions? Suppose the respondent had a passion for cross country skiing or poetry writing or reading or gardening or stamp collecting? Would that passion bring to that person the same level of joy that we – us impassioned runners – seem to experience?

What brought me to contemplate such a thing is the fact that I came face-to-face this past Saturday with one of those perfect days. To be honest though, I feel as if I have had a good many “perfect days” – days that just seem to soar with joy. Since many of you experienced the same things I did that day you can be the judge and the jury as to the level of perfection that was experienced through the course of just a few hours. We gathered in the pre-dawn darkness and chill at what I consider our local running Mecca, Old Centerville Road. And, we gathered there because Jerry and Jackie McDaniel had invited us all to run either 9.3 or 18.6 glorious miles over the rolling hills of the old Florida – a course they designed with just such a special day in mind. OCR is the sort of venue that exposes us as runners, i.e., if you are not ready, if you’ve not done your homework, well …. prepare to have that revealed in spades. And yet this past Saturday, even when we felt ourselves in the unrelenting grip of the Old Centerville Road hills, there was still the realization that we were in the midst of something deeply special. There was that heightened sense of difficulty, that heightened sense of grandeur, and ultimately that heightened awareness of pure unbridled joy. The day was made for running, and there was no better place to be doing it than on Old Centerville Road. It was that special, and thanks goes out to those responsible for making the experience possible — Jerry and Jackie and the many others who fed us, gave us drink, captured our times and cleaned up after us.

With the day off to such a perfect start I was totally content with it ending right there. It was already destined for my 2009 “Memorable Moments” list, which I’ll explain in a bit. Yet that day still had more to give – more joy to add — that put it over the top in the perfection category.

For years, my e-mail signature has referenced a portion of a verse from the Letter to the Hebrews that reads, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …” In the interests of brevity, I leave out the beginning portion of the Scripture which begins with “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses ….” The “witnesses” who the writer of the Epistle is referring to are the Old Testament “heroes of the faith.” This past Saturday night, the great cloud of witnesses took on new meaning for me when my dear friend George Palmer presented me with the GWTC Male Runner of the Year Award.

As runners, we work hard to get to whatever level it is that we strive for. As wonderful a sport as it is, running obviously is not without its travails, which is part of what brings those incredibly perfect days that we experience more into focus. And so, it was rewarding indeed to be recognized for something that is truly a gift – the gift of good health and the gifts of the running life. But, the best part was being surrounded by that “great cloud of witnesses” – some of whom were present that evening and some who are far from here or no longer with us. For you see, as I tried to express the other night, I truly believe that each and every step that we take alongside another who holds a passion for the sport makes us better than we are and equips us “to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” It meant more than I can ever express to have had George Palmer up there. Some of my first steps into the competitive running world were taken under his guidance, and the toughness and determination that he has always demonstrated have set a high standard. And there were the others who George named that evening – Bill, Dana, David, Ed, Gordon, Jeff, Jane, Ron, Peg, and any number of the rest of you who were there and some who were not – we’ve had our times, for sure, and your gifts to me have been life-changing. You know, I trust, who you are.

And finally, there was Peg — the one who is always in the background and the one who is not only my life but to a large degree the lifeline of this club. Unlike me, the very last thing she would ever want would be recognition. The hours that I put into training are miniscule when compared to the time that she puts into her efforts in support of GWTC – and, as David noted that night – the product she puts out is pure quality. Her selection for the Hall of Fame was the direct opposite of anything that she would ever dream of or consider herself worthy of, and yet as we all know she was the perfect choice on one of those perfect days.

For the past ten years, on December 31st, I have plopped myself down at this keyboard and composed my annual list of what I have dubbed “The Ten Most Memorable Moments of [fill in the year]”. It is really not a very good title for the compilation because rarely is there any such thing on the list as “a moment.” No, most cover a memorable incident that comprised a few hours or, on occasion, a day, or maybe – just maybe, a day plus a bit of another. For example, my good friend Ed Baggett got me into the endurance side of adventure racing a couple of years ago, and the 30-hour events in 2007 and 2008 that we took part in ranked high on the annual lists. To say that wading through a central Florida swamp in a cold rain at 2 a.m. is “memorable” may rank up there with one of the biggest understatements of all time. The point I am trying to make is that when I look back at these lists, the common denominator tends to be some sort of run in some sort of wild and wonderful place. And herein lays my argument that as runners, we may be blessed with a heightened sense of difficulty, a heightened sense of the grandeur around us, and ultimately a heightened awareness of the pure unbridled joy that is part and parcel to the perfect day.