Recently this blog has bent more towards sermons than reflections on the run. Such is the life of a parish priest who finds himself in the pulpit most Sundays. But today was my daughter’s tenth birthday. That’s 1-0. Double digits. One decade. And it’s got me thinking…
This morning began with a deluge of rain here in San Antonio, accompanied by claps of thunder and lightening. While I’m not adverse to running in the rain, I’m not so crazy about lightening, so I didn’t make it out for my usual morning run. After visiting several parishioners in the hospital, I set out for an afternoon long run. Thankfully the storms brought with them cooler temperatures. It was in the mid-70’s, which feels cool after a long, hot summer.
Anyways, long runs always provide a good opportunity for reflection. I don’t listen to music when I run, so I have a lot of time to think. It occurred to me today that I have been a runner just about as long as my daughter has been around. Just before she was born I figured it was time to get in shape for this parenting gig. While I’ve never been terribly out of shape, I knew I needed to do something to make sure I’d be around a good long while for my daughter. At first it was just twenty minute jogs around the block a few times a week. Elizabeth and I were living in a small apartment in Birmingham, and we didn’t really have the expendable income to join a gym. I figured running would be the quickest and cheapest way to get in shape. If I ran 2-3 miles I thought that was really something.
Six weeks after she was born I ran my first 10k, which is probably the furthest I had ever run. Soon after that I caught the marathon bug and set my sights on the Mercedes Marathon (Birmingham, AL).
I can still remember my first several long runs of that training segment. There were times when I would envision carrying my baby girl across the finish line, and I would just lose it, just start sobbing in the middle of my run. In some ways marathon training turns you into an emotional/hormonal Jekyll and Hyde, always pushing the limits of what your body can handle. In truth, I’m probably more moody while marathon training than Elizabeth ever was pregnant. And I’m sure a newborn and lack of sleep didn’t help either.
About four months after my daughter was born I carried her across the finish line of that first marathon. Elizabeth had handed the little bundle to me in the last hundred yards before the finish line (although Hattie still insists to this day that I carried her the whole 26.2). At the time it seemed like an enormous feat just not to drop her as my legs had turned to jelly. She gummed the finisher’s medal and the spectators all thought it was adorable. It was at that point that I knew that being a father had also made me a runner.
So, ten years now. Ten years I’ve been a runner. Sure, there have been plenty of fits and starts and giving up and starting again. I had once hoped to qualify and run the Boston Marathon before I turned thirty. Well, that never happened. Two children and too many beers later, those plans had gotten derailed.
But now I’m back at it again. Since 2013 my running has once again become a lifeline for me. It regularly gives me moments to look up at the stars or rising sun, take a deep breath into my lungs and be grateful to be outside. Alive. Breathing. Running.
I hope that being a runner provides a good example to my children. In many ways, I do it for them as well as for myself. I want them to see that it is okay to attempt something big and fail (as I did at the San Antonio marathon last year, falling a good 13 min. short of my qualifying time.) I remember being emotionally raw at the end of that race. When I sat down on the ground and my kids surrounded me with their “GO DAD!” signs, I started sobbing. My son looked at me, a bit concerned and said, “Um, Dad, are you okay?” I think it must have scared him a bit to see me crying after a race. “Yeah bud, I’m fine. I’ve just given everything I have, and I want you to see what that looks like, and that it’s okay to set big goals and fail.”
But I’m not finished yet. As a runner, as a father, I’m only ten years old.