Our traditions are like our stories; they illustrate who we are, the kind of people we’ve become, our values and priorities. And behaviors become traditions only one way, through repetition. And that takes intentional action. So Wednesday, in honor of tradition, I ran twelve laps on the track at Memorial Stadium, starting at 12:12 PM. A tiny handful of runners - two others, to be exact, and one run official to certify the activity and hand out water - joined me to celebrate the numerically symmetrical date December 12, 2012, or 12-12-12. Why? I had to do it. I could not let it pass by.
This tradition began more than 24 years ago when I was running early one morning and realized that August 8, 1988 was coming up and we should do something with it. The running club came up with the Crazy Eights 8K, to be run at 8:00 PM, the evening of 8-8-88. One club member welded some crooked figure-eight trophies and another, Frank, made wooden mounts. We gave the trophies to the 8th place finisher, and 18th, 28th, etc.
Being proud of ourselves, we started planning for the 9-9-99 9K. Eleven years later, we ran at 9:00 PM on the cart path of the new nine holes at Hogan Park Municipal Golf Course, and Chuck, the Parks Director, gave old nine irons to the 9th, 19th, etc., finishers.
The opening decade of the 21st-Century provided more frequent opportunities for similar races. My favorite was the four-mile race on 4-4-4 near Stonegate Fellowship church. Much to everyone’s surprise it was cold and rainy that afternoon, and we Texans had already packed away our winter gear. We all froze in the cold rain.
But the reason that race is my favorite was what happened at the finish line. We saw an experienced marathoner, Andy, racing with a young high-schooler, Derek. Andy pushed Derek the entire four miles, and he made the boy hurt in a fast finishing sprint. As soon as Derek crossed the line he threw up in the street. He then collapsed into the gutter, still retching, cold water rushing past him, carrying the mess away. All the guys working the finish line and those who’d already finished were amazed, impressed, and proud that a young man would give that much of himself in a race. We stood around for several minutes bragging about him until some women ran over to give him love and comfort and help him inside. We men were so moved by his example of courage it never occurred to us to help him. That young man is now a U.S. Marine. Go figure.
After that, we ran every year, 5-5-5, 6-6-6, etc. We even duplicated the original Hogan Park 9K at the golf course by running at 9:00 PM on 9-9-9.
So with 12-12-12 approaching I wanted to finish the series in style. Some traditions are more fluid so that you have days or weeks to observe them. We take leeway with birthdays, holding parties on days when it’s most convenient rather than insisting on the exact day. But the 12-12-12 thing wouldn’t work on any other day. The very reason for the tradition is the symmetry of the date, and running on the 13th or 11th instead of the 12th just doesn’t swing. Unfortunately, the 12th was a Wednesday, and since we had to run at noon or midnight, that was a problem. Neither twelve miles nor twelve kilometers made sense in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.
And not only that, the hustle of the holidays stole our attention, and there was a fire in our church, the race sponsor, and soon, the initiative to put on a race was gone.
Without an official race, I knew I would do something twelvish on my own, but didn’t think anyone would be interested in joining me. Then another of my road-warrior friends, a past president of the running club, Carla, now a letter-carrier in Colorado Springs, Colorado, stirred me into action. I sent out emails and posted on Facebook about running twelve laps at the track at noon on Wednesday, 12-12-12.
I understand that to many people the whole symmetrical date thing sounds more like an obsession than a tradition. I can’t explain why it is important to me, except that it’s fun.
I also understand, or am beginning to understand, or maybe learning, that it was more important for many of my friends to know I observed 12-12-12 than it was for them to actually participate? Why do I know that? I got a lot more feedback from the announcements than participation at the actual event.
That’s OK. I didn’t mind. In a weird sort of way I’ve learned to appreciate the expectations people have of me. It feels tribal.
We often laugh at traditions; especially baby boomers who think we carry the rebellious sixties in our hearts, wondering why we have to do what we’ve always done merely because we’ve always done it. As I’ve gotten older I realize that the fact we’ve always done it is often reason enough to do it again. In a fast-changing world it is even more important to hold on to simple traditions … especially the simplest traditions.
And so, let me be the first to invite you to join me for a two-mile race on Wednesday, February 2, 2022. You have ten years to train, so get started. You’ll have fun. It is a tradition you don’t want to miss.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32