*Disclaimer: This article is not to say that my dad and I weren’t close, or had trouble connecting before I became a runner, or to say that the only way we could connect was through sports. That would be a narrow-minded dishonor to our relationship. But I will say that running has kicked down new doors in our relationship, allowing us to communicate above words, through the magic sound of feet pounding pavement.
My mother and I have the type of connection that can only come from sharing the same birthday. There is some inextricable link between us, akin to the bond I imagine twins share. My mother is the heart and soul of our family. She is vivacious, talkative, expressive, and loving. For whatever moodiness, or brooding that the rest of the family, myself included, brings to the table, my mother’s kindness softens those edges and envelops us all. I am my mother’s daughter in so many ways, words and feelings seem to bubble from the two of us incessantly, but for all of our similarities I have a very prominent streak of my father in my makeup as well. If my mother is the heart and soul of our family, my father is the backbone.
My father is a diamond in the rough. He is the type of man by which I measure all others, and most fall very short. He is quiet, stoic, brilliant, modest, quirky, and deeply kind. A man of few words, he makes what he says count. As a daughter, I think I baffle him. I talk a mile a minute about trivial teenage girl drama and I’m not deluded enough to think any of that could be of interest to him. I know though, that he cares. It is through his words and pep talks that I have found the strength to overcome all challenges, both athletically, and in day-to-day life. When I have stopped believing in myself, my dad has always been there with a steely faith to keep me going. It is through his even keel and unwavering support that we connect.
He may not say much with his mouth, but I’ve learned that he speaks through his feet. For as long as I can remember, my dad has been a runner. Through good times and bad he has disappeared outside to pound out his grievances on the pavement, returning sweat covered and lighter in demeanor. While he was never disappointed in my decision not to be a distance runner in high school, I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t give him that common ground between us. Instead, he learned about jumping, came to my meets after long days in the office, standing far enough away as to not distract me, but close enough that I could feel the comfort of his presence.
When I finally got into distance running, I wanted it as much for myself, as for my dad. I didn’t want to take his hobby, but I wanted to be a part of it. My dad shares so little of himself in the ways that I consider conventional, but I realized it wasn’t an issue of sharing, so much as learning to listen. So I laced up a pair of running shoes and started listening to the pavement.
Two days after my first run, that fateful DC spring day when I decided I was going to be a runner, I went to NYC for a family member’s wedding. I asked my dad if he wanted to go running with me. We did a five-mile loop around the Central Park Reservoir. No matter how many races I run, or how many training runs I go on in the future, this run will keep a very special place in my heart. Since that run I haven’t felt as undeniably happy and invincible while running. The weather was crisp and cool, the view was beautiful, but it was the companionship that made it so special. My dad and I didn’t talk much, but our feet were communicating. Sharing such a triumphant and trying experience such as running, with another person is the stuff that unbreakable bonds are made of. The simple sound of my father’s panting and the crunchy beat of his feet on the gravel was the most comforting and beautiful way for him to say I love you.
Another trait I get from my father is my hyper-competitiveness. Every run for me is a competition with myself and I am constantly looking at all things with a competitive mindset. My father though, always lets me set the pace, staying a half foot behind so as to never pressure me to go faster. I never thought much of this until doing a race with him and seeing the speed he is capable of. When we first started running together, I was running 10:15 miles, well over 2 minutes slower than his average pace. Knowing how competitive he is, I realize how much it means for him to slow down to run with me. I love running with my dad, and true to my personality, I am vocal about it. My father, also true to his personality, is not. I could easily interpret that as meaning he doesn’t enjoy running together, but that would mean I wasn’t listening. Our side-by-side footfalls mean the world to the other.
While I will have the art of running my entire life, running with my dad has meant, and will mean, more than any other accomplishment I ever achieve in running. Running has been a part of my father’s life for more than 40 years, and it is an undeniable privilege and honor to be able to share in this world that has meant so much to him.