Friday, December 23, 2016

For Keith

A great friend of mine died last week. I've known Keith since 8th grade when we met on the cross country team. Through high school we shared countless memories, many of them while running or racing together, and we became best friends. After I moved away we stayed in touch and in the last 15 years a group of us would get together annually for golf and a race.

Five years ago, Keith got pancreatic cancer which was already in his liver. Stage four. It was a terrible blow and we all figured he had few months left. Yet he fought hard through multiple chemo treatments and kept running. He made it into remission and was cancer free for a while. He got to see his daughter get married and his sons grow into adults. He ran more half marathons and 10Ks.

But it came back and eventually cancer won. Or as he put it, "we ended in a draw. I died but the cancer died too." Yesterday I attended his memorial service which celebrated his life. Included was a table with many of his race shirts and medals.

I wanted to get a run in while I was in town, and we quickly came up with a good idea to honor Keith. We would run the race course of the local 10K that he ran for the last 40 consecutive years. He was the only person to have run that race in all 40 years of its existence and was very proud of this streak. He scheduled his chemo so that he would not miss it.

So six of us hit the road just a few hours after his service, on the First Annual Keith Ainsworth Memorial 10K. It was a beautiful sunny day; Warm for a Minnesota November at over 50. (But still a little chilly for one Californian)
The rest of the runners were locals who had done countless runs with Keith over these roads. We ran at conversational pace and shared stories about Keith. The course was along Lake Minnetonka and I loved being back home. It brought back many memories from long ago when I trained on these roads and in this weather as a teenager.

We certainly missed his presence in the group but we had many happy memories of him to carry with us. Afterward we downed a six pack of his preferred beer - Bud light - and toasted him. I'm sure Keith would have been pleased.
Cheers, buddy!

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