To Dad, From a Runner

Oct 27 2009 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Once Upon a Time, there was a little girl.

This little girl became Scicurious. Her dad had a large role in getting her there. My Mom gave me charm, sparkle, and confidence. My dad gave me his sense of humor. And my dad gave me running.

As little girl, Sci has two main memories of her dad. The first is his hilarious, inspired readings of Alice in Wonderland, complete with all the voices. Nothing beats Dad's rendition of the Mock Turtle's Song. If you have NOT read the Mock Turtle's Song, and have not heard it sung in a truly lugubrious voice, you have missed out.

The other memory was of my dad running. Which he did, and does, to this day. Every day. Four miles, more or less. I'm not sure when he started, though I think I might have been around 8 or 10. I know it was after he stopped smoking (when I was 5). Dad always ran for health reasons, his blood pressure has always been iffy.
Of course, all through childhood, Sci didn't run. She was shaping up to be a total geek, with a room decorated in all things ocean, and a bed on which she spent hours reading. Of course, this meant that Sci didn't get out much (except for the ballet lessons and walking the dog). I often scoffed mentally watching my Dad get up early and run. I mean, get up EARLY?! You're kidding. And RUN?! Sounds like torture.
But all this changed, when Sci was around 15. It was the last year they made you take the Presidential Fitness Tests in high school, and one of those tests is to run a mile. Sci usually took a "Satisfactory" in those tests, walking slowly around the track with her friends. But for some reason, I wanted to try that day. And I tried! I tried for around 8.5 minutes and 0.75 miles, at the end of which I fell over gasping for air. I remember looking at myself in the mirror after that and feeling more like a loser than I have ever felt in my life.
And then, that weekend, I woke up from a sleepy fog, hearing my Dad go out for his run. And I made myself a resolution, that for that summer, I was going to learn to run. And I was going to run a mile.
And that summer, I did. I went out every day, to walk/run, with my walkman (yes, it was still the age of walkmen, if you don't know what that is, damn kid, get of my lawn). It wasn't always early (yikes, no), and usually long after my Dad had completely his 3 mile circuit of the park near our house, but I was out there most days. Things went really slowly, but I kind of liked that time by myself, listing to music, trotting along. The running parts were hell, of course, but the walking was nice. Still, I kept going, feeling the shame of being that girl who couldn't run a mile.
And I ran a mile. In fact, by the end of the summer, I was running the loop of the park twice every day, 3 miles total, with a stop each time at the top of the ginormous hill to catch my breath. It wasn't fast, usually it took me close to 45 minutes. But I could run a mile. I could run THREE. I was pretty damn proud.
Of course, once school started up again, running pretty much ended. But that next summer, I ran again. And the summer after that. I ran at my summer camp (we ran to the top of one of the local mountains once and then back down, cool!). I ran during my winter vacations. When I got to college, I told myself I would run more. Every day. In the back of my mind was my Dad. Out there every day, rain or shine, except when the snow or ice was just impossible. 100 degree heat, he was out there. 100% humidity, he was out there. I told myself one day, that would be me.
During college running increased, I got up to 6 miles a day, though very, VERY slowly. During the summer after my freshman year, I ran 12 miles, just to see if I could. I still didn't like it, but I WANTED to like it. I wanted it to be part of who I was. I wanted to be a runner.
One summer during college, I didn't run at all, for some reason it didn't occur to me. I slouched around the house. I was miserable. I had no idea what was wrong with me, until my Dad and Mom shoved me out the door, and back out to the park. Running became more than something I had to do, it became something that lifted my spirits, something that made me feel better about myself. Dad was on to something.
But it was only in grad school that running became something that I couldn't live without. Grad school is the boot camp of academia, you have to do something to relieve the pressure, and drinking isn't cheap. Running is. I started racing. My first 5k time was 31:15. I told myself I could do better. Soon I started running 10k's. When I moved up to half marathons, my Dad bought me an ipod to encourage me. Running is still not something I LOVE, or even like all the time. It's something I need.
Whenever I'm home, I run with my Dad. It's our time together. There's not necessarily a lot of talking, but knowing you're pounding pavement together is a communal experience. The first time I realized I could run further, and faster, than my Dad, I almost felt guilty. But I'm proud I'm fast, and I think he is, too.
Now I'm like my Dad. I've run in the pouring rain, I've run with snowflakes blinding my vision. I've run in humidity so bad you feel like you're breathing soup. I've run in deserts, in cities, on beaches, in woods. I am a runner now. I can almost call myself an athlete. And for that, I can thank my Dad.
Happy Birthday, Dad. From your runner girl.

12 responses so far

  • Keely says:

    That was inspiring.
    This summer my Dad--my stressed out, type 2 diabetic dad--rode his bike across the country with team type 2 for the Race Across America. It was incredible.
    When my Dad was first diagnosed (with diabetes), he ran from it. Tried to deny. But eventually, he pulled himself together and turned his biking hobby into an obsession, his dieting into an art. And in the year of training leading up to this summer's race, he became an amazing rider.
    While all this was happening, I was 600ish miles away at college, cheering him on from afar while I worked on my own problems--namely, struggles with anxiety and depression that since beginning of college had been kicking my ass roughly every other semester (fall and I don't get along, for some reason). I knew in the back of my mind that my dad's exercising helped him deal with his own stress, his own relentless tension headaches. I knew that the only thing outside of my meds, my therapy, and mediation that has ever made a difference in managing my craziness was swimming. So I started to try to get in the habit of working out.
    Swimming wouldn't work, because there are always excuses. The pool isn't open, or I don't have time to shower afterwards. But it's hard to come up with excuses on why you can't find half an hour to get in a short run. So I thought of my dad, spending 3 hours on the bike after 10 at work, and I ran.
    I've progressed painfully slowly. I'm not built like a runner or any kind of athlete. It doesn't come naturally to me. And every once in awhile, the pounding heart and tight chest somehow reminds my body of a panic attack, and I get to enjoy the lovely experience of panicking for no apparent reason while just trying to get in my run. But slowly, oh so slowly, it's becoming a part of me. It gets me through my days, and if I can ever get through this damn application process, it will hopefully help get me through grad school.
    And maybe one day, I won't feel silly calling myself a runner.

  • Charlie B. says:

    That's me with cycling. I HAVE to go out on my bike. (Running, not so much - knees stuffed up when I was 15). So I ride to work. I ride home. And when the days are longer, I leave the house earlier than I need to, and ride out along the creek, which means I go twice as far to work. If I don't ride, or worse I CAN'T ride, I'm hell to be around. Grumpy, irritable.
    And a week ago, I rode 235km in one day (um, 146 miles). And I was a little sore the next day, and I certainly haven't done much more than the direct route to-and-fro work in a week. But I did it. And so for the next limit/target.
    We're all capable of more than we think we are (unless you're one of those uber-confident X-games dudes, in which case kudos, but chill man...).

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Thanks, second hand. I'm the Dad in this case (sort of) -- mine was never much on cardio. He also died at 62, so my kids never really knew him.
    Running has the lovely property of requiring damn near nothing in the way of support facilities. It's also death to knees and ankles, which rules it out for me, but there's always something.
    Bicycles, swimming, you name it. Just get up and do it. Amazing what it does for your day.
    dcs, who's in sweats at 0430 sucking up water before heading to the stair machine for an hour or so. Just like every morning, barring the ones when I'm in a cast.

  • x-ine says:

    What an inspirational story! It goes to show that you don't have to be a natural-born athlete to be physically fit.
    I used to hate running too. Then, last summer, I was away up north and literally had nothing to do after work, so I would run. And then I got good at it. When I came home, I started running on the "mountain" (Mont-Royal). And I haven't looked back since. I love it.

  • leigh says:

    aww. that's a great story, sci.

  • Sara says:

    My dad also gave me the gift of exercise. It's a great gift.

  • moe says:

    That's a great story! It gave me wispy eyes. *blink blink* *sniff sniff*
    Happy Birthday, Sci's Dad!

  • James Dean says:


  • Lil' Bro says:

    Wait a second, you got charm, sparkle, and humor from our parents and all I got was a nose so large you can eat off it? Not fair.

  • PalMD says:

    Don't worry, the nose just looks bigger every year, but no one cares eventually....

  • SciDad says:

    Thanks, Sweetie! We are very proud of you and all that you have accomplished in science, in running, and everything else that you do. Love, the Birthday Boy.

  • arvind says:

    What an awesome letter!
    Belated b'day wishes, SciDad. And now I just have to say "Run SciDad RUN" 🙂

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