So, ends our 12th Fall50 Relay Race in Door County, Wisconsin.
And, with it, perhaps a changing of the seasons that goes beyond the Fall colors that welcome us each year for this wonderful gathering of family.
We found the Fall50 in Green Bay, Wisconsin as Mary-Helen and I picked up our packet for the first marathon I ever did – The Green Bay Marathon.
I was taken, not by the description of the glorious colors of Door County in the fall.
Rather, it was the really cool medal that had a big metal “Fall50” logo with a huge chain you used to hang around your neck.
We missed the first year of the Fall50.
But, we have been back ever since.
Not all of us at the same time. I have missed one Fall50 during that time. Mary-Helen hasn’t missed one since we began running the race.
Over the years the names, faces and participants on our Fall50 relay teams have changed.
It’s mostly been family, but in a pinch, we’ve had family friends participate as members of our team.
A constant each and every year is the excitement that begins with the moment that registration opens to the moment we all arrive in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and start to excitedly talk about the upcoming race.
The Fall50 has become a central pivot point in our family life.
Over the years we’ve had both of our children with us for the event.
The first few years they would stay behind at the hotel with the children of Mary-Helen’s cousins, Grandma from Green Bay and other Aunts and Uncles and enjoy in the warm comfort of the pool, hotel room and play area.
Parents have gotten older. Runners have gotten older. Our bodies have gotten older.
What hasn’t gotten older is the joy I feel every year when we gather together to enjoy one another’s company for a race that we are confident each year we will beat the previous years’ time.
This year we did not.
I could care less.
Some of our team from year’s past have had to take a break due to school obligations, sore bodies and schedule conflicts.
We’ve had an addition of a new Team member the past two years, Chris, who along with my son, Owen, have become the anchor of our Team.
Their youth and enthusiasm for this race is not about beating a time or setting a record.
It is about the entirety of the experience from beginning to end.
This year we were down to four runners – Owen, Chris, Mary-Helen and me.
As the oldest and heaviest of the Team I undoubtedly weighed down our time this year.
Yet, despite my increasingly labored running and gait, I am always grateful for the support, encouragement and enthusiasm of my Team as they clap, and cheer and honk along the way of my route throughout the day.
There are already too many memories to recount from this year’s event.
Every year we walk away with memories that we relive year in and year out.
They represent a rich fabric of lives that have been well lived.
Next year’s Fall50 has already been scheduled.
Who our Team will be next year remains to be seen.
My son, Owen, may soon find himself off to college somewhere in the world. Perhaps it will be next year that his school schedule and life outside our home will be a conflict that keeps him from joining us in Door County.
Along the way of the next 365 days other changes may take place that alter the course of who will, and who won’t, make up the composition of our Fall50 Relay Team.
I am content to believe that I will continue to do this race, along with Mary-Helen, as long as we are able to move – and as long as others on our Team allow us the privilege of joining them along the 50 miles of joy, fun, celebration and family we have had over the past 12 races.
Today, I am sore. My chest hurts. Tomorrow it will all hurt even more.
Yesterday, I cursed my way up a muddy, wet hill that seemed to never end.
No matter. When the race was done we gathered together and celebrated another year of being together as a family and a team in Door County at the Fall50.
The smiles. The laughs. The complaining of traffic, parking and horrible weather. The hot tub and the cards and the food and the 8-hour long car ride through Door County as each member of our Team begins and ends their leg.
This isn’t a race we are trying to win.
It’s a race we simply don’t ever want to end.