Yesterday I woke up early at a hotel in Indianola, Iowa and pulled on the running clothes. The weather was damp and spitting rain, so I wore a rain jacket and took off south into town. I was heading for Simpson College, the school where my friend and former teammate Keith Ellingson coached for many years.
I ran a mile to campus and it felt good thinking about all the miles we’d run together in our years at Luther College. Over the last few months I’ve learned much more about Keith’s life by connecting with his former athletes in Zoom calls. He was a tremendous influence on the lives of so many people.
The track gate was open when I arrived. I said a little, “Thanks, Keith,” out loud and began trotting around the inside lane. It was humid so I tossed the jacket on the fence and started picking up the pace. It still feels really good to run on a track.
Running at eight minutes a mile these days feels like five minute pace once did. The sensations of moving at an age-appropriated pace aren’t much different, you see. The breathing. The attention to foot plant. The flow.
These are things I shared long ago with my friend Keith. I shared them again yesterday in memory of his prodigious running talent. He was a joy to watch run.
The memorial service later that morning was heartfelt and bittersweet. Keith’s patient perseverance through ten years of Parkinson’s disease was on everyone’s mind. Yet it was his dedication to others that came through fullest in every word about his life. I’d cried hard earlier that morning so that I would not lose it emotionally during the eulogy. Part of me regrets that aspect of my talk about our friendship. It was not for lack of feeling. My knees were shaking as I walked carefully up the stairs to address those in attendance. The goal was to be fully present, and composed. I think that’s what Keith would have asked of me.
Or he would have laughed at my careful preparations and shared some lilting anecdote about a speech he’d given in his life. That’s what made him so special. His abilty to knit experiences together into a meaningful whole. And when that wasn’t the goal, he’d often introduce ideas through stories meant to convey some sort of standalone truth.
I feel blessed to have reconnected with him this past year. That was not some prescient notion on my part. I just enjoyed talking with him again. His passing due to a cardiac event was a shock to us all, but especially to his daughters, to whom Father Keith is the parent who served as both mom and dad these past ten years after losing Mother Kristi to ovarian cancer.
So I was sad but felt embraced in the moment by all the wonderful people who joined in celebration of his life. Then we said goodbyes in parking lots and I got into my Subaru for the ride back home. I’ve driven plenty of miles this past week, including two back and forth six-hour stints between Tampa and Panama City last weekend for my wife’s triathlon.
On the return trip from Indianola I turned on an Indie station on Pandora and let the subtle music wash over me. For some reason I took special notice of the pavement sliding beneath my vehicle. Time itself. The sun was setting behind me as I crossed into Illinois and curved home on I-88 toward North Aurora.
That ride back was an ideal time to reflect and process what it means to be alive with all its joys and tribulations. It made me consider that the title of this blog, We Run and Ride, has an alternate significance. The pastor at Keith’s service talked a bit about that when citing the Bible verse,
2 Timothy 4:7-8
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8
We’re all on this “run,” this “race” of life together. If you keep a sense of wonder about you, it can be a wonderful ride as well. That’s what I encourage you to do. Enjoy the run, but appreciate the ride.