After further review, my original ranking of highlights in my 30-something years as a runner has been changed.
The events that closed out 2014 top anything and everything that’s ever happened in my life as a runner. Initially, the recent events appeared to be destined for a No. 3 ranking. But no, after further review, there is no question where the 2014 events stand in the history of Jim.
Here’s the deal.
I had a goal to again run 1,000 miles during the year. I did it in 2013 and I wanted to do it again in 2014. I found myself in a situation on Dec. 21 where I still needed 59 miles. That’s a lot of miles to cover — for me, anyway — in a relatively short period of time.
Someone near and dear to me in my running family recognized that this goal was important to me. So what did Coach Barrett Hopper of the Rockwall Running Club (RRC) do? He made my goal something important to himself and members of the running club.
He challenged my running club brothers and sisters to run with me. Their efforts would help me reach my running goal, but it would also benefit Rockwall County Helping Hands. He pledged to donate $1 to Helping Hands for each runner who ran with me during the last days of 2014. And he challenged them to donate $1 for each mile they ran with me.
Now, do you get an idea why that tops my list?
You know I had to overcome miles. I also had to overcome medical problems. Injuries. Even a trip to the emergency room.
In 2013, I turned my ankle at the 999.5-mile mark when I stepped off the sidewalk onto lumpy ground off Townsend Drive in Rockwall. Fortunately, no harm was done and I sprinted (my definition) the last half mile to reach 1,000.
I had to top that story in 2014, so, on Dec. 30, with less than 10 miles to go, I tripped and fell on Preston Drive in my Royse City neighborhood. I ended up in the emergency room with a dislocated pinky finger. I thought it was broken, but no fracture, just dislocated. Four stitches were required to close the wound on the underside of my finger. Why did the skin break? I was told that my finger could only bend backward so far before skin starts tearing.
I also had sidewalk rash on my face, broken glasses, a skinned knee and bruised kneecap.
I’m not going to go into the drama that ensued, but let me assure you I could turn it into a miniseries. To make it a single episode, let me say that I was determined to run the next morning with my RRC supporters at a special New Year’s Eve run and get the required seven miles that would total 1,000 next to my name on the running club’s official mileage spreadsheet.
And I got to 1,000 miles. That’s how it ended, but I can’t leave out some people and events that got me to the milestone.
It’s only fitting that Amanda Self was the first to respond to the coach’s challenge. We started running together two or three years ago when she was a neighbor. She has run a big chunk of the 1,000 miles with me during our regular one-, two- and sometimes three-day-a-week runs.
Deanna Theobalt, who recently joined Amanda and me for our runs, was there. Deidra Roe drove over from Rockwall and Crystal Morrison came from around the corner.
Having those runners there was special, but Deidra’s presence was extra special because our running history with the RRC dates back about four years. We had not run together in many months.
For eight of the next nine days, I was racking up running miles on the streets of Royse City and Rockwall. Christmas Day was my only running day off during that span.
I had planned to give a step-by-step account of my end-of-the-year running effort and name all the people who helped me reach my goal. I can’t do that, however. There’s just not enough space.
But I’m going to try to squeeze in some events, like the Christmas Eve double feature. I got to run 2.44 miles with the Running Royse City group at 5 a.m., then many of us went to Rockwall for the RRC’s Christmas Eve run at 6 a.m. There were 33 runners in the latter group for that 5.36-mile run.
The hardest run was when I had the most fun. Does that make sense? Of course not. And, no, I’m not even going to try to explain that part of running mentality.
Part of the joy that day — on Dec. 27 — was my running group of Kristen Berka, Doug Collings, John Gillespie and Matt Petty. We ran in Royse City and, oh, it was a miserable cold, windy, damp day. I’ll never forget that day and the friendly Rottweiler that was determined to make an impact on our running lives and become a part of this story.
The dog was big, had a big bark and menacing appearance, but as it turned out he was just a great big teddy bear, so to speak. And we are all glad about that.
Before I get to my goal-reaching day, I’ve got to single out a few friends who helped me get there. Chad Mason drove over twice from Garland to run with me. I got to run with Kathy Kreider, who is the most seasoned female runner in the RRC. She got her 1,000 miles for the year just ahead of me.
And I can’t leave out Christine Dietz, a running friend and encourager for several years. She’s a member of FourFifteen, a group that runs at 4:15 a.m. Yes, that’s 4:15 in the morning. On the morning of the 30th, I got to run with Christine and three other members of the group — Stephanie Stewart, Sonja Cox and Nancy Summers.
That afternoon, I ran in my neighborhood because I wanted to knock a few miles off the number I would need to reach 1,000 the next day. I wanted to go into the day needing three miles, not five as planned. But because of the fall, I needed seven miles on Dec. 31.
On New Year’s Eve morning at the RRC store on Interstate 30 in Rockwall, there was a brief ceremony honoring me and my efforts to reach 1,000 miles running for the second consecutive year. Let me tell you that 48 other RRC runners logged more miles than me. Twelve exceeded 2,000 miles and five — Jose Lopez, Jim Pultorak, Coach Hopper, Greg MacInnis and Estus Barron — recorded more than 2,500 miles.
I was recognized because — as Coach mentioned — I am the group’s “elder statesman.” For a 67 year old man to run 1,000 miles in two consecutive years is a pretty big deal. It is for me and I’m thankful and humbled that many of my running brothers and sisters agree.
The words Coach said about me were nice, but the highlight was when he called for the formation of our prayer circle. This is a tradition started several years ago with the first RRC-sponsored Patriot Half Marathon. We join hands and I get to say a brief prayer before we run.
On New Year’s Eve, we joined hands and formed a tight circle inside the RRC store. And it was my honor to say a brief prayer before we headed out on our final run for the year.
Before the prayer, I expressed some words of heartfelt thanks to my running friends for their support, encouragement — and, yes, even love.
After the “Amen,” 30-plus runners headed out on a seven-mile run. And where do you think I was in this parade of runners? Well, let me just say this. I’m known as “PapaTurtle” at the RRC.
I was blessed to be accompanied again by Amanda Self. And Laban and Edith Grey drove over from Mesquite to join me for my goal-reaching run.
And wife Becky was with me. She’s not a runner, but she’s my greatest encourager. And the woman who loves me prays for me. Yes, most definitely, Becky was with me on that run — and every run.
As we were finishing our run, I reminded my running partners of advice I give every new runner. When you are finishing a run — a training run or a race — “finish strong and listen for the roar of the crowd.”
We finished strong and I was a little disappointed that only a few runners were outside to watch and roar as we finished. Thinking back, though, I realize that I had already heard the roar of the crowd as they pushed, pulled and encouraged me to the finish line.
Gotta run ...
Jim Hardin is a former Herald-Banner reporter and now contributes to the Rockwall Herald-Banner and Royse City Herald-Banner as a correspondent.