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Michael Sandrock: Boulder-area runners have much to be grateful for Thanksgiving, every day

Runners participate in the 2018 Boulder Thanksgiving Day 5K.
Runners participate in the 2018 Boulder Thanksgiving Day 5K.

You can imagine my surprise when the organizers of Thursday’s Alpine Bank Boulder Thanksgiving Day 5K sent along a press release announcing the race, along with an image of this year’s medal, which features yours truly. I called race director Lee Troop to respectfully decline:

Michael Sandrock

“Hey, Troopy, thanks for thinking of me, but I’d rather hold off. Put someone more deserving on the medal.”

“Too late. They are already printed up.”

Troop, a three-time Olympian for Australia, went on to explain how he likes to honor volunteers, which is why Boulder Road Runners founder Rich Castro was on the 2018 medal. There are many runners out there who selflessly put in hours of volunteer time and who do not get any attention (except perhaps when they are splashed with water at an aid station); and so, on behalf of all the unsung volunteers in the running community, this medal is for you.

The Alpine Bank Boulder Thanksgiving Day 5K is set for 9 a.m. Thursday at Flatiron Park, 55th and Central Avenue. Also on tap for 9 a.m. Thursday is the Adventist Hospital Louisville Turkey Trot 5K. Both races benefit local food nonprofits, and cost $30 — through noon Wednesday for the Boulder race, which is expecting roughly 550 runners and walkers this year. The formerly free Louisville Turkey Trot has had nearly 15,000 entrants in past races.

Both 5Ks depend on volunteers for myriad duties, the reason, Troop said, “I appreciate what all the volunteers do. They give up their time to help others, and they contribute to making their local communities better.”

Having an appreciation for all those who help us can contribute to a sense of gratitude that is appropriate on Thanksgiving. Runners in Boulder have much to be grateful for, from miles of trails, a bike-friendly vibe, city recreation centers, health clubs, healthful food, and above all, a community that values the outdoors, nature and open space. It is gratifying, is it not, to live in a place where working out is not the exception, but the norm?

These thoughts all came to mind when I was told about the Thanksgiving Day medal. Something else then came up for me unexpectedly last week. While listening to the House impeachment hearings, I heard Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman talk about the privilege of being an American citizen and being grateful his father sacrificed so his children could grow up in the United States. “Dad … you made the right decision,” he said, before adding, “This is America.”

Suddenly, I felt a surge of great gratitude for my late father, who came to many races and group runs with me over the years. I felt so grateful for my dad, who helped give me the opportunity to attend the University of Colorado and put down roots in Boulder. Like many of you, I was encouraged to pursue running and supported by my parents, who bought my first running shoes and spikes. We do not do this alone, and sometimes — I hope this is not the case for you, but it could be — we don’t always fully appreciate the efforts of others while they are with us.

That’s why, after running the Thanksgiving Day 5K, I’m going to ask around and see if there are a couple of the finishers medals left over. If so, I’ll take them on my next trip back to Chicago, where my parents were both born and are buried. I’ll take one, put it over my head, and go on a run along the Des Plaines River, in the forest preserve, retracing the steps of my first training run many years ago. I’ll head south, past Lawrence, Belmont, Grand and North avenues, to the cemetery where my mom is buried, and I’ll leave one of the medals there atop the grave marker, along with a nice piece of sandstone from Flagstaff Mountain, where she used to hike as a CU undergraduate.

Then, I’ll drive out to the cemetery where my dad’s ashes are interred, and take a run through the acres of trees and manicured lawns. I’ll take the medal off, say some silent words of thanks, knock three times on the brass container to let him know I’m there for a visit, and leave the medal hanging on the ledge. Then I’ll head back to Boulder.

The finisher’s medal for the 2019 Thanksgiving Day 5K.