By Jenna Schifferle
When my alarm sounded at 5 a.m., I forgot it was my birthday.
I groaned as I hit snooze and shook the sleepiness from my eyes. The fatigue-induced calm quickly turned to determination as I remembered the task at hand: 30 miles for 30 years.
I slipped into my running shoes, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out the door. The world had begun to wake as the sun snuck over the horizon. Before me, the streets glowed with the morning rays, not a soul but me to disturb anything. Moisture collected in the air around me, as the humidity built. I knew it would eventually downpour, but that wouldn’t stop me. My watch read 5:45 a.m. as I took the first step of my journey and settled into a slow, comfortable pace.
I planned to head toward Buffalo for five miles down the bike path before turning and heading back. If I had extra time before work, I’d do a loop or two around Tonawanda to complete between 10 and 15 miles. That afternoon, I’d do five to 10 more. The final leg of my 30-mile journey would wrap up with 10 miles the next morning. Thirty miles in 30 hours for 30 years — I still love the symmetry of it.
I made my way toward Buffalo, plucking a small piece of paper from my pocket at the first mile marker, then a different piece of paper at each mile marker that followed. The week before, I’d written a list of achievements and goals — 30 to be exact. My list comprised an even split of accomplishments I prided myself upon over the last three decades and dreams for the three decades ahead.
In those early miles, I reflected on all I’d done to date: publishing poems and short stories, completing a rough draft of a manuscript, finding a passion for volunteering at the hospital, falling in love, creating a home, building a beautiful life. As the miles rolled, I found myself floating on gratitude. I ended up taking that loop around Tonawanda, and the skies held out long enough for me to clock 14 total miles before the storm.
Later that evening, I met my “run friend,” Alex, at Outer Harbor. We cruised along the water’s edge and caught up on life. I ran stronger than I thought I would after that morning’s effort and found the second leg passed by with ease. That, I suppose, is the power of good conversation.
Afterward, my fiancé and I celebrated with a low-key dinner at a vegan restaurant called Big Mood. (Delicious food and friendly people made it a place I would 10 out of 10 recommend to everyone.)
Admittedly, I hit the hay early to rise at the crack of dawn and clock the last of my 30-miler. I slept like I was hibernating, and when I woke up, I felt a bear-sized anger. Everything hurt — my shoulders, my neck, the arches of my feet. Despite my body protesting, I pushed through and got ready.
My childhood best friend and her partner, Will, showed up around 7:30 a.m., and we hit the road by 8. This time, we headed toward Pendleton where I grew up. At the end of the journey, there would be a pool, shower, and breakfast at my favorite diner — the Country Cottage. We just had to run there.
I needed to take it easy, so we decided to walk a bit between each mile to ease the stress of the run. This proved to be beneficial as we made our way down the bike path next to the canal in Tonawanda, down Old Falls Boulevard, and headed to Bear Ridge Road. We ran strong through the halfway point, but ached by mile 7.
Christa had ‘90s music blaring on her phone, and we did our best to distract ourselves by singing out loud. We took in the water and stopped for photos in front of a towering concrete T-Rex. Instead of worrying about pace, we let ourselves enjoy one another’s company. Slowly, surely, we inched toward the 10-mile marker. At 9.5 miles, elation carried me home, and I threw my hands up in triumph. I’d done it with a little help from my dearest friends, and it felt empowering.
That moment brought a renewed sense of accomplishment and gratitude for everything in my life over the past 30 years and for all the possibilities over the next 30. It was the perfect way to celebrate, and breakfast never tasted so good.
Now onward to new adventures!
Jenna Schifferle is a writer from Tonawanda. She’s running toward her goal of 2,021 miles this year, with a mission to do 30 miles for her 30th birthday.