About a block into this morning's Jingle Bell Run through downtown Seattle, on a slight incline up Fifth Avenue, I pulled out a stock M&M joke: "Who put this giant hill here?"
Franny, with the hubris of youth: "Dad, it's barely even a hill!"
That was the last time I saw her. She bounced off up ahead of me and disappeared into the sea of Santas, elves, penguins, gift boxes and other cleverly costumed runners.
No shock there. Last weekend, Fran joined Michelle and me for a one-mile practice run around our neighborhood -- or, really, she didn't join us, she just sprinted through the loop and waited for us back at the house. So this morning, before we started, I asked her if she was going to run with me or go fast and leave me in the dust.
"I'm not going to go fast," she said, "but I'll probably still leave you in the dust." Ho ho ho. Can you put a kid on the naughty list for telling the truth?
With the timing of a practical joker or old St. Nick himself, this year's Jingle Bell Run happened to coincide with what the Seattle Times might call "a significant weather event" -- snow, ice and, they tell us, the coldest temperatures forecast around here since 1990.
Truth is, the ultra-frigid temps haven't materialized yet, but Franny and I did wake up to several inches of snow and slick sidewalks and roads. We'd already paid our entry fee for the 5k run -- that's 3.1 miles to you and me -- and we weren't about to pass on the "free" long sleeve t-shirt. We scraped the snow off the car and headed into town. Gina and Michelle had contemplated joining us but thought better of it and stayed tucked snugly in their beds.
The Jingle Bell Run is a great event, one Michelle and I have run together a couple of times. Except for a few dedicated racers who get their own starting gun 10 minutes before everyone else, the focus is on fun, costumes and the spirit of the season, not on running. They hand out little jingle bells that everyone ties to their shoes, so the run lives up to its name. When the course enters a tunnel, runners spontaneously break into a group singalong, "... jingle all the way ..."
Now in its 24th year, the event is a fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation, which expected to collect a quarter of a million dollars today. Runners go off in three groups. The serious competitors wear red number bibs and start first, followed by the vast throng of green-bib joggers like us, and then the white-bibbed walkers and baby strollers.
Without the pressure of keeping up with Franny, I slowed down, dropped back and stopped several times to walk or take pictures. Between the early hour, the icy patches, the crowd, the years, the gut and last night's gin (a key part of my training regimen), I probably only ran half the course. It was cold, but dressed in multiple layers I got warm fast, even at my slow pace.
At one point the course turns and doubles back on the same stretch of closed-down freeway express lanes, so I thought I might see Fran coming back the other way -- especially when I spotted a running gift box that started the race right next to us. But no. She was too fast and long gone by the time my straggler group hit the turnaround.
In fact I looked up eventually to see a bunch of white bibs around me -- the walkers! who started after we joggers! -- and decided I needed to kick it back into gear. I finished strong, by which I mean I jogged the last block or so to the finish line.
Afterward, panting and sweaty, I found Franny back at our meeting place, downstairs at Westlake Center. She was fully rested and told me excitedly about her adventure -- only stopped briefly once or twice, found herself competing with a little group around her -- and we drove home to an awesome "victory breakfast" of eggs, bacon and blueberry pancakes, by Michelle and Gina.
Very fun day.