I had heard the stories about the Turkey Trot, the oldest road race in North America. I had seen the stories and pictures in The Buffalo News and the highlights on the television news.
But nothing compares to being there in person.
It isn't a race.
It's a spectacle.
My dad, who drove to the Convention Center to watch me cross the finish line then have a post-race drink with my friends, said that pretty soon, organizers may be requiring everyone to wear costumes.
There was the guy in the green body stocking (how did he see where he was going?) and three guys who ran while holding a canoe. There were plenty of Thanksgiving-themed costumes (from simple turkey hats to stereotypical Native American garb) and several trains of people, who dress in costume then teether themselves together.
It's funny, entertaining, and a bit demoralizing when you realize you're getting passed by four guys pushing one of their friends in a shopping cart.
But as you run down Delaware Avenue you can't help but feel part of something bigger than yourself, bigger than your own race, your own goals, even your own Thanksgiving dinner.
There are two underpasses on the route -- a train bridge and the underpass on the S-curves. As you approach those sections it sounds as if thousands of fans are cheering you on. In reality, it's the echo of the runners ahead of you, yelling to create the audible illusion. And you carry on the tradition for the throng of runners behind you.
Delaware has a few inclines and a mercifully long downhill into downtown. On those crests, the view is spectacular and breathtaking -- thousands of runners shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye can see.
Pardon me if that sounds a bit dramatic. But trust me, it's no hyperbole.
The night before the race, I gathered with some of my triathlon friends for a pasta party. The question raised about the Turkey Trot was this: Are you racing it or running it?
Everyone decided they were running it.
I'm still way too much of a newbie to have "race" speed and "run" speed. When the gun goes off, I pretty much just run with very little strategy.
And in my inaugural Turkey Trot I had no strategy. My only instructions from coach were to have fun and to not wear a heart rate monitor.
Oh, I had fun.
And I decided to push myself a little bit.
I thought of all I was grateful for -- my friends, my family, my ability to run and train. I thought of my dear friend Tom who was somewhere watching me and telling me what a good job I was doing.
About halfway through the 8K (which is just shy of 5 miles) I backed off my pace a bit to catch my breath, take of my gloves and my neck warmer. Do I need to walk? No. Of course I ask myself if I need to walk pretty much every time I run. I never do, but knowing I have the option is comforting.
I saw the 3-mile banner and checked my watch for fun. I would hit the 3-mile mark somewhere in the 27-28 minute range. I was running my best 5K pace. I felt pretty darn good. So I picked the pace up ever-so-slightly and settled into it for the duration.
The final stretch of the race goes past City Hall, continues down Delaware, turns left on Church and left on Franklin. That part around City Hall is partly cruel, since the convention center (and the end of the race) is just a block up on your left. I didn't have a whole lot left for a kick at the end, but once the finish line was in sight I picked it up just a bit and crossed the line with a huge smile on my face.
That, in all honesty, was just plain fun.
My final time: 46 minutes, 9 seconds.
My only other 8K race was the Shamrock Run in March where I ran a 49:45.
So then, this was faster.
And what I'm learning is that what's most important is how I feel. If I feel good, if I'm having fun, if I have a smile on my face (even if it's a grimace at some points) then the results seem to follow.
But Thursday wasn't all about results.
It was about being a part of something larger than yourself.
It was about being thankful, grateful and happy with 10,000 of your closest friends.