Running to Catch Up

It was a last minute decision.  After two years of standing on the sidelines, I decided that this was my year.  I was going to run a marathon – and it was only 2 weeks away.  I was young, I was stupid and it was 2 years ago.  Elena was 4.  Grace was 2.  Even the girls thought I was crazy.


It was more of a challenge.  Could I actually run a marathon with no training, no experience and nothing other than pure and complete determination?  Even I had doubts.  Brooke never gave me a chance, but Elena stood on the sidelines in her “Run, Daddy, Run” shirt that we purchased for her the previous year when her mother ran the 5k.  I ran it too, only I came in last.  As I said before – no training, no experience.


Maybe it was the shoes, I thought.  Perhaps if I just had the right shoes I could finish.  Who knows, maybe I might even win.  It’s amazing the lies you tell yourself when you’re delusional.  So that night I took Brooke and the girls shoe shopping.  For this trip we went to the specialty shoe shop – you know, the one with the picture of the runner on the window.  And for the first time ever I opened my wallet and spent more than $50 on shoes.  They cost $52 – and I remember every penny.  There while the clerk sized my foot I decided to share my plan.  “I’m going to run a marathon”, I told him.  He smiled and kept lacing.  “So you caught the bug too”, he said, “About this time we get lots of people who start to train.  So have you run before?”  “Nope”, I replied.  “Oh, so do you think you’ll be ready for next year’s marathon or are you training for 2 years out”, he asked.  I told him I planned for neither – instead, I was running in the one tomorrow.  He stopped lacing.  And for the next 10 minutes I was treated to a lecture about how irresponsible it was, how I would never make it, and how I could expect to die before I reached the fourth mile.  Still, I was young – I was stupid.  I bought the shoes and thought about breaking them in on the walk to the car.  And yes, I drove to the shoe shop – the one less than a half a mile from the house.


Still the girls were supportive – even up to the starting line.  Brooke, meanwhile, planned out her visit at mile 4 to catch me before they loaded me into the ambulance.  But before then, she wanted to catch a bite to eat.  After all, I got her up at 5am for this stupid stunt, she reminded me as she dropped me off at the corner with the other runners. 


There they grouped us into mile times.  There were 5 minute milers, 6 minute milers, 7 minute milers and beyond.  I quickly took my place in the 5 minute mile group.  After all, yesterday I drove a mile in less than 1 minute – they never asked how we got there.


25 miles later, I was near the end of the pack, slowly being outpaced by 70-year-old men and women pushing baby strollers.  Still I kept running and I was still alive.  I was young, I was stupid and I was sore.  Really sore.  But as I neared the crest of the last hill, I saw a little girl racing my way.  And on her shirt was “Run Daddy Run”.  For the second year, Elena jumped from the sidelines and decided to join in.  Soon she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the finish line, letting go only because I was too slow.  My knees ached, my head pounded and my heart was ready to burst.  But off ran Elena towards the finish line.  And as she ran out of sight my thoughts quickly shifted from the pain to the thought of losing her in the crowd.  I passed those women with the strollers, flew passed the 70-year-old men and trailed her as she neared the finish line.  Spectators that had previously cheered the hundreds of runners ahead of us now stopped and glared.  What kind of father was I to make my daughter run a marathon?  Never mind that she was beating me; this was child abuse.  Still I looked past the glares and in complete silence we finished the race, together.  First they took her finish line picture and then mine.  She even got a medal.  And as far as everyone knew, she was the youngest child to ever compete in a marathon.  At least our finish time was competitive for her class.


I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards and I’ll never run another marathon again.  Still, that picture of Elena with her medal is the picture that remains clearest every night as I sit in the backyard and tell her goodnight.  It was pure Elena.  Enthusiastic, honest and joyful in the achievements of others.  It didn’t matter to her that I was still young and stupid.

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