My Father, The Runner

My dad has always been a runner, and this is something I have always known, as far back as my memory stretches. In a sense, it was built into the routine of shared family life, woven through sunny Saturday afternoons and frost-tipped mornings that lingered in the wake of a snowfall. He would always tell me (and tells me still) that a real runner can run in all weathers. The specific circumstances were usually irrelevant: my dad is a runner, and so he ran.

I myself was not a runner, not really, until this past summer (shortly before I began this series about running). Yet the impact of my father’s running on my childhood was not restricted to the domain of running itself. It had broader implications; it stretched beyond its literal significance, unveiling truths about strength, perseverance and character. There is a steadiness involved in such dedication that sees the runner leave the house in good days and bad, setting off down the street alone, without celebration, without the mere goal of external achievement. For my dad, running has never been about checking off boxes but about living more fully, connecting on a deeper level with the self.

I remember when my dad ran his first half-marathon and I awaited his arrival at the finish line anxiously from the teeming crowd. Pride surged through me as I spotted the familiar face and followed to the runner recovery station where I could greet him with congratulations. Not all of the races were so smooth, however. The first time my father ran the marathon (at least in my lifetime), I remember watching him from the other side of that fence separating runners from the rest of the world, and saw how much he was suffering after those 21 miles, without being able to go to him. He said that this marathon broke him, but when I think back on that moment, I think only of courage; I think only of how proud I was and am to the be the daughter of a man who never gives up.

In my opinion, that commonly spouted phrase- “never give up”- has a more nuanced and less obvious meaning than what we often attribute to it. To be the kind of person who “never gives up” doesn’t mean that there haven’t been things in one’s life that haven’t turned out well or gone according to plan. It also doesn’t mean that there haven’t been times when the person has wanted to give up, with faltering faith or drowning doubts. I think the phrase can even be extended to include the reality, the inevitability of failure, and the falling short of goals to which we aspire in life, of the people that we hope to be or to become. What, then, does it mean to not give up? Perhaps it is simply in taking that next step, in doing the next right thing; in picking oneself up and continuing towards the future, whether bruised, broken or uncertain; in persevering through doubt and fear and limitation, albeit imperfectly; in desiring to reach the finish line.

Years after that particular marathon, my dad faced another challenge in his running and life journey: a heart attack and his subsequent recovery process. Being away from home during that period was one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience, and I know this was only a fraction of the anxiety, doubt and discouragement my father faced in that time. However, just like after that grueling marathon, his “weakness” or vulnerability did not look like weakness at all to me. It looked like strength. It was strength. In fact, he was stronger than he had ever been before in accepting those circumstances over which he had no control and taking it one day at a time, even when he did not know where the new day would lead.

After his negative experience with the marathon, my dad did not decide that marathons were simply not for him. Instead, he ran another one a couple years later. He trained differently; he trained better. After that race, he said something to the effect of, “Last time the marathon broke me. This time I beat it.” And those words, that message of perseverance and strength, have always stayed with me.

After my dad’s heart attack, he persevered with the same principle, the same determination. I knew it was hard for him to abstain from running for a time, and I also knew it would be hard and was to start running again after what happened. But as soon as he could, he did. He built up his endurance and confidence slowly; he was patient. And one day, he told me that he had run again on the same path he had been on when his heart attack occurred, for the first time after it happened.

It is hard to explain the effect that all of this has had on me and my growth as a person. I consider myself a runner now, though I am not nearly as regular or experienced as my dad, who still goes for a substantial run most every day. However, you might say that the runner’s mindset, the spirit or the “raison d’etre” of the runner is in my bones; it runs in my blood (if you’ll pardon the pun). It’s not just about running, and it was never just about running. It’s about weakness and strength and weakness in strength. It’s about perseverance and hope. It’s about relinquishing control and taking one step after another, and the next one after that.

My father is a runner and I suppose, in one way or another, this is what I have always wanted to be too, what perhaps I am, and what I hope to become as I continue to move towards the future, simply one step at a time.