My dad can run fast. And he can run far. He never broke a 3 hour marathon but he came very close. My best friend in college teased that breakfast at the Murray’s always included a trophy. On our weekend visits home we would roll out of bed from a late night on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to breakfast and a 5k or 10k winner’s trophy on the bar.
There were a lot of trophies!
In August 2006 another Ole Miss friend convinced me to train for the December Dallas Half Marathon- “the Rock.” I had some extra baby weight to lose and lived half a mile from the most popular running trail in Dallas, White Rock Lake. I could not come up with any good excuses, so I agreed to give the training program a try.
Being a somewhat self-absorbed only child it never occurred to me that my dad might be pleased that I was trying out his favorite hobby. Luckily, my mom pointed out what probably should have been obvious, “you know your dad is so excited that you have started to run.”
As December drew closer and I had almost completed the half marathon training program my dad said to me, “if you are interested in running a marathon, I will come out of marathon retirement and run one with you. My treat. We can go anywhere you want to go.”
He had not run a marathon in 8 years and was about to turn 60. I was high on a successful training program and excited for the prospect of a few nights away with my dad, without my almost 3 and 1 year olds (to be completely honest). The decision was made. We signed-up for the 10th annual Rock ‘N Roll San Diego marathon set in early June of 2007.
That December, at the post party of my first half marathon, I met two girls with whom I had a lot in common. They both lived in my neighborhood and they had both just signed up for their first marathon which just so happened to be the next San Diego Rock “N Roll. One of them, Michele, had just paid a private trainer a good bit of money to design and then coach her through a marathon-training program. It worked out perfectly because the 3 of us met 4 days a week and followed the expert’s tailored workouts together. My dad drove in from the suburbs to join us for our Saturday long runs.
I was not prepared for all of the new conversation topics forced upon my father and me during those training runs. Our Saturday morning group was usually 4 or 5 women and Dad and there were several of us that got through the mileage by talking or listening to someone else talk. “Lord, help me, ” I prayed often as someone brought up boobs, sex or some other topic that I would have never in 8 million years dreamed of discussing with my sweet dad. By the race in June he was just one of the girls and our relationship had grown in ways we had never imagined.
The day before we left for our marathon, about 5 minutes before my OBGYN office closed for the weekend, I took a pregnancy test that came back positive. Thankfully I got through to a nurse to ask the doctor’s opinion on running a marathon in this condition. I was not thrilled with her answer. “Yes, your baby will be fine if you run 26.2 miles on Sunday, but no we do not advise this. You are more likely to get dehydrated running a marathon pregnant.”
I just couldn’t let the training go to waste so I opted to risk the dehydration, but decided not to tell my dad for fear he would refuse to run the race and risk my health.
We started the race strong and ran the first 12 miles around a 9-minute pace. For me, the race was already starting to feel long, so I decided to entertain myself by whispering about my pregnancy surprise to each of my friends. I saved my dad’s ears for last, and broke the news at mile 17.
While my mom later worried how all of us would handle three children under 4, my dad’s first reaction was, “thank you, thank you! The more grandchildren the better!” Then, “do you think we better walk?”
At that point I was ready… so we ran/walked it to the finish. I will never know if I finished that marathon in 4 hours and 44 minutes, 30 minutes over my goal time because I was pregnant or because I just wasn’t prepared (I’ve known in the back of my mind that means another marathon is in my future, so I can figure that out) but I do know I will never forget the look on my dad’s face when we crossed that finish line hand in hand.
After that baby was born in January 2008, dad came back to the Lake most weekends to meet the group for our long runs and before we knew it, it was time for Dallas’s White Rock Marathon. Our group had grown a little bit bigger and the 8 of us decided to sign-up for the half marathon.
2 years before I’m not sure I had considered my finish time until the day of the race. That day I had heard chatter about a 2-hour completion, so I felt pretty good when I crossed the finish line of my first half at 2 hours and 4 minutes. At my second White Rock Half, our whole group (except for speedy Greg, who leaves us all in the dust on race day) thought it would be fun to break the 2 hour mark, but with no particular strategy in place to make this happen. I remember just planning to run hard and hope for the best!
Dad and I started out with the group, but it was crowded and we lost them somewhere around mile 8. It was about that time that my dad looked at me and said, “If you want to hit 2 hours, I think you can do it, but we’ve got to get moving.” You see that is what dad does during his races to get him through to the end- he calculates. He is old school. No fancy satellite watch necessary. He looks at the minutes on the stopwatch and starts multiplying seconds by minutes then dividing by miles then multiplying again until he knows exactly where he is in the race in comparison with his goal. That day he was calculating for me- how could we reach my goal?
He said we needed to run the rest of the miles in about 8 minutes 45 seconds. My friend Kendall described it later- “you had your own personal pacer.” So true
It wasn’t easy. For those of you that know Dallas, it was the first year they had changed the racecourse and the last 2 miles or so we ran down the Katy trail. This trail is great for a training run, but not so nice in a race, because (1) there are no spectators to help pull you along and (2) the trees form a tunnel, which became a little monotonous and crowded with the 20,000+ runners on race day.
When we came out of the trail my dad said, “You’re real close, about half a mile left. If you give it all you’ve got, you just might make it.”
So that’s what I did. I sprinted it in with everything I had left. And I finished that race in 2 hours and 58 seconds. I didn’t quite reach my goal but I felt so good and surprised both myself and the rest of the group by beating all of them- except speedy Greg, of course. This group of amazing running friends is really not competitive, but we do notice when someone has a good day- and we celebrate that! So they did- I got a lot of congratulations.
My mom told me later that dad got tears in his eyes when he told her about the race. “Carol, I told her to go and she went! She was flying.” It was such a special day.
Sometime later that next year dad’s hand went numb. The feeling came back but brought with it bad news. Dad had an arrhythmia, which had caused small blood clots that were floating around his body. These small clots then caused a few small strokes with side effects like his numbing hand. No permanent damage, but both the clots and the heartbeat needed to be treated and the drugs slowed dad’s running way down. Literally. He could still run but had to monitor his heartbeat to make sure it didn’t go too fast. On top of that one of the drugs directly affected his performance and the doctor explained that no matter how hard he worked his performance would top out, and prevent him from running at the speed/distance he ran before. And because he needs to take this drug for the rest of his life, a slower performance was something he would need to figure out how to live with…
So he did.
Over the past few years I’ve watched him completely alter his exercise routine. He told me he asked a trainer in the gym to help him design a program that emphasized core strength and flexibility because these skills are a necessity for comfort as he ages. His 6 am runs have turned into trips to the gym or walk/runs. I imagine it would be hard to stay motivated and “show-up” for a 60-minute walk over the same distance that might have taken you half the time to run just a few years prior. But if it is hard, my dad doesn’t let on. He just does it.
I feel so lucky that I got to run with my dad. And now, even though he is not running beside me, he still motivates me everyday.
It is more than his greatly appreciated coaching tips that I cherish. Watching him push himself to be the best he can be does more for my drive than any words ever could.
I think this race with time that we are ALL in is tough. Aging is hard.
But my dad is going to be a winner.
Because he is fast.
Because he is strong.
Because he can run far.
And I will always be there to cheer him on.
Go Dad, Go!