Every Feb. 28, Keith and his buddy Pete go out at midnight to celebrate March's arrival with a run. (Update: It's actually got a name - The "In Like A Lion" Run. Forgot to mention that!) They've never managed to get anyone else to join them.
Until this year. I said yes.
And Cedric said yes.
And Dan said yes. Ladies & gentlemen, we have a five-runner field!
So, we start gathering a little bit before 11 p.m. at Keith's house to find that his wife Marcia not only created race-day number bibs for us (I'm number 42 – the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything), but she's also put them in manila envelope Race Day Packets along with glo-sticks, green-sprinkled sugar cookies, temporary St. Patrick's Day tattoos, green bow ties, and a single McDonald's straw for each of us for the traditional post-run enjoyment of Shamrock Shakes.
A crepe paper Finish Line is draped across the table.
The guys arrive one by one, and as midnight nears, we gear up in layers upon layers and don our numbers and headlamps. I decide to run with red and green glo-sticks in my hand.
At 11:55, we head outside. It's colder than I've ever run: about 12 degrees. Dry, though, with low scattered clouds. And even though it's not a race and totally just a goofy fun thing to do, and even though I've been assured that we'll keep an easy pace and it's all stress-free, I've got a not-unenjoyable little knot of nerves and adrenaline tensing in my chest.
We count the final seconds down, and take off hard for maybe 15 or 20 seconds, just for fun, then ease alongside each other while we head through the neighborhood and up toward the nearby hike & bike trail.
It's unlit and runs in and out of wooded areas, across roads and bridges, up and down a few not-too-severe hills. I jog with Pete awhile at the head of the pack. He drops back for a traditional round of calisthenics with Keith at an intersection, then takes a detour up a potentially neck-breaking set of steep concrete steps and for a few minutes, I'm alone at the front. Even though Cedric is close enough behind me that I can hear his footsteps and see my shadow leading me in the glow of his lamp, I still feel the darkness and the quiet, and I realize how much I'm enjoying this. The stars are bright in the empty spaces between the clouds, which are reflecting the streetlight glow of suburbs and, more distantly, the city's center.
I'm not cold at all.
Pete catches up with me again with an insanely effortless dash down a bramble-packed hillside and picks up our conversation again.
At his next calisthenics break, he jogs back to meet up with Keith.
Cedric pulls even and we keep on going, not saying much, just running through dark woods where you can hear water running in the valley below and the occasional snapping of a twig or rustling of a leaf. At about the 2.5-mile mark, we decide we'll turn around at the top of the massive hill we're climbing and call it an even three before turning back.
Two-thirds of the way up, we're stopped by hollers from Keith and Pete.
“Guys! We were turning back at Mile Two!”
We turn around, set paces again, and I wind up finishing the stretch home with Pete.
After a cool-down walk - which doesn't take long, since as soon as I stopped running, it got cold real fast – the five of us stood on the front porch and stepped in unison through the Finish Line stretched across the top step.
An then we went in for the Best Shamrock Shakes Ever.