Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Dad, the runner.

I've been asked a few times lately about my semi-sudden interest in running, particularly long distance running.

The thing is, I don't really remember a time when I didn't run in some form or fashion. I've been running fairly regularly since I was a kid, pre-teen, teenager, young adult, adult, to now, middle aged adult. Sometimes I would pepper my exercise regimen with other workouts--who can forget step aerobics, the Stairmaster, Tae-bo, impact kickboxing, and I must admit--I actually had one of those slide things to mimic speed skating. Whoa boy. And I've mountain biked, hiked, roller bladed, ran stairs, and even tried swimming.

But running has been the constant. After all, I grew up around a running father.

Have I ever really enjoyed running?

Not really. I ran cross country in the hopes that I would make my Dad happy.

He was pleased, as pleased as he showed me in those days. He came to all my practices because he had to drive me there. He became the self-appointed assistant coach which embarrassed me to no end. I wasn't very good as speed has not ever been my gift. So who knows if I ended up embarrassing him as much as he was embarrassing me. I wish I could ask him.

This past weekend I was in my hometown for the dreaded reunion--dreaded only in the sense that it marked time in a very real way. It was actually lovely to see so many of my friends, all of us twenty years older.

While in my hometown I drove around familiar spaces and thought about all the running I did on some of those streets. Runs with one of my best running buddies Phoebe in high school--and after meandering around her neighborhood streets for an hour or so we'd get in her little red VW Bug and drive the route to see our mileage. No RunKeeper or Garmin's back then. I was astonished to drive on the hilly feeder roads that hardly have a shoulder as I recalled running a six mile loop on them as a youth...I have to think my parents didn't really know I was out there doing that and I am frankly amazed I wasn't mowed down by a car.

That was a damn hard route, run in the midst of my eating-and-exercise disordered haze.

I ran in college with the hubs, again, strictly as part of a way to burn calories and hope to get thinner and thinner.

Running is just what I knew. Everyone is supposed to exercise. Running is good exercise. Ergo, I ran.

My Dad started running in 1978. He also started writing in running journals. Clear as a bell in my mind's eye I can see him standing at our kitchen bar, leaning over his running journal, recording his distance and time, and little anecdotes about the run.

"You'll want to read these one day after I'm gone."

Sure Dad, we'd say, and roll our eyes. I could never imagine wanting to read about his runs one day.

Just as clearly I can see him sitting on our back porch in a lawn chair, sweat pooling underneath him, leaning forward, shirtless, tanned, sweatband around his head and maybe on his wrists, as he cooled off from his midday runs. In Texas. In the summer. He loved running in the heat, the hotter the better.

"Walk on my back," he'd say when we were small. My Dad had had several back surgeries and was actually told he'd never run again after the fact but proved everyone wrong, ad nauseum. We'd walk up and down his back to help work out the kinks. I myself have only recently discovered the glorious feeling of little tiny feet under the weight of a thirty-pound body walking up and down my back when it's sore.

I have my Dad's running journals now. From 1978 to 2000 he wrote an entry nearly every single day. And I'm reading through them, and loving and cherishing every single word.

Although he is not gone, his running self is gone. That body has left us. Most of that mind has left us. And so his words are as beautiful as they are mundane, because I have this sense of him. Of how he loved running. Of how important it was to him, to go out and feel the pavement under his feet, to feel the sweat pour off his body, to feel his strong heart beating harder and faster.

It made him feel alive.

I'm sorry I didn't start enjoying running until so recently. Now I would love to talk to him more about it. To tell him that I get it, this addiction he had. That we're not running away from anything but running towards everything. Towards peace. Towards health. Towards happiness. And that running long distances feels good and it has nothing to do with calories burned or pounds shed.

This weekend when I saw him I told him some of this. It doesn't matter what he understands. I told him I am reading his journals and loving every word of them. I told him I have his old running t-shirts, and his marathon medals, and the wool hat he wore when he crossed his first marathon finish line in a winter race. Maybe I'll wear it when I run the 50K I plan on running in the cold this November.

I rubbed his leg, and felt the muscle that has withered and faded so much he is mostly bones.

I heard his heart beat, still slow and strong--a runner's heart. He'll always have a runner's heart.

I showed his picture to Phoebe, my running buddy, who only knew my Dad as a strong runner. She teared up and squeezed my hand, so sorry to see the way he has slipped into this weakened state.

And I went running. Through the trails near the land where he grew up as a kid. I saw the sunlight shining through the trees and I felt happy. I had the hubs take a quick picture so I could try to hold onto the feeling.

Here is a shot of one of his earliest journals, from 1978. I focused in on the words "I am addicted to running" which was written at the end of a week he was injured and couldn't run and frankly felt miserable.

I get it Dad.
Thanks for teaching me about running.


  1. I'm glad you have found this connection with your dad, and I hope running always, always brings you peaceful memories of him and the days that he was out there running too. Maybe this is what you were supposed to discover - at this moment.

    I'm also so sorry you have to watch his body wind down like it is. It is such an unfair process. Many hugs to you...

  2. This is so beautiful. The connection you have with your father through the act of running is so powerful. And what a treasure to have his running journals. Wise man, that one.

  3. This is a really beautiful post. I'm so glad you have this strong connection to your dad, even when other things are fading. Oh, and...a 50K??? Was that a typo? You really meant 5K, right? :-) Holy cow, girly!

  4. Love this. I used to know what it was to love running, but I lost that love somewhere along our IF journey. I only recently rediscovered my love and it is so good. So good. Glad to see I'm not the only one :).

    And, wow, a 50K? Good for you!!

  5. What a beautiful post! I'm sure you will keep and treasure those journals for a long time (maybe forever). It is so special to have those journals as a record of the past and a connection with your dad. Thanks for sharing. Heather

  6. I love this post. As someone that is addicted to running, I so identified with your dad's entries. I am glad that you have found this way to connect with your father trhough time. And, I don't know the details of your relationship with him...but I have to think that he must have been so happy to see you running and doing something that he loved. Regardless of whether my children are fast or good, I would love to share running with have them understand that feeling of BEING ALIVE and FREE and VITAL that a good, sweaty, hard run can give you. A 50 miler, eh? WOW. That takes grit. Running Mama from More Room in My Heart

  7. I didn't know that there WERE 50Ks.

    This is a lovely post, A. I hope you have told your Mom all these feelings - I bet it would mean a lot to her.

  8. Second what Claudia wrote MTL...

  9. Love this. I started running because of my brother. It's not something I've talked about to many - but I ran to be closer to him after his death. He ran in high school, and running helped me find my way to a rhythm that felt like him. It's nearly nonsensical, and actually, for years I only ran alone (physically) because it was this (albeit strange maybe) connection to him.


  10. LOVE. Every bit of it. A part of you is mostly certainly your father's daughter. May you feel close to him when you run.