Sunday, December 11, 2011

Runs for Dad

I often write about how running has given me the ability to connect with my dad in ways I had never been able to before. However, something I don't write about much is how I lost my dad. I don't speak of his death often because it's something that happened a long time ago. On November 27th, 1997, which happened to be Thanksgiving Day that year, my dad died in a car accident. Since that day, life has never been the same for me, my mom, or my two older brothers and older sister.

Being only 12 at the time, I didn't really know how to handle the whole thing. To me, my dad was invincible. Nothing bad could ever happen to him. So, trying to comprehend that he was gone didn't add didn't make sense.

Following his death, I experienced so many different emotions. Sadness led to confusion. Confusion led to anger. Anger led to denial. Denial led to acceptance. I missed my dad terribly, but rather than talk to anyone about it, I bottled up my emotions. I thought I could work it out on my own.

As I progressed through middle school, high school and onto college, my heart was always heavy. I thought of my dad often. Not having him around was hard to get use to. In fact, I don't think I have ever gotten use to it. Rather, I have learned how to live in his absence.

Eventually, I hit my breaking point. My bottled up emotions were like a ticking time bomb.... and 8 years after my dad passed, it finally went off. I remember calling my mom one night and breaking down. Many times before she had suggested I see a therapist, but I was stubborn and would always reject the idea. However, when I spoke to her that night, I told her it was time for me to see someone.

To my surprise, I found my therapy sessions to be very helpful. I was certainly feeling a lot better, but I could tell something inside still didn't feel right. I still was missing that connection to my dad. Some people say they see signs and swear that it is the deceased speaking to them. I, on the other hand, had never experienced anything like that.

In the spring of 2007, I started running. I didn't start running because I thought it would help me connect with my dad. Instead, I started running because I was horribly out of shape. Once I started running, it didn't take long for me to sign up for my first 5K and after finishing that 5K, I was hooked! I started signing up for every race I could find. 5Ks led to 15Ks, and 15Ks led to my first half marathon.

My first half marathon in the fall of 2007 is a race I will never forget because it's when I had my first "encounter" with my dad. I had just crossed the 6 mile mark and was running under a beautiful canopy of trees. Between the tree branches, I could see the brilliant blue sky. I was taken away by the beauty and in that moment, I truely felt my dad's presence with me. After 10 long years, we were finally reunited and to say the least, it was an awesome feeling. I looked skyward again, smiled, and said, "Hey Dad."

So, here I am now, 4 years later, still running and having the time of my life. I've lost count of the times I've run into my dad (no pun intended) while I'm out running. It doesn't even have to be in race. Sometimes during a training run I feel him running right next to me. Perhaps he's training with me as we prepare for our next race?

My encounters with him usually don't last very long. Most times, only for a couple of minutes. But, during that moment in time, it's an incredible feeling. I never know when he is going to show up, but when he does, he certainly lets me know!

It's hard to express in words how grateful I am to have my dad with me when I'm running. He provides me the strength and courage I need to achieve my goals. Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to do something for him to say thank you. Since running is my connection to him, it only made sense to do some special runs for him. I knew I was going to be in my hometown of Newburgh, Indiana for Thanksgiving. So, I decided the first of my two planned "Runs for Dad" would happen then. My second planned run would be on his birthday, December 8th.

Before I speak about my Thanksgiving run, I need to backtrack to November 2010 and the last 365 yards of the New York City Marathon. I was lucky to get into the NYC Marathon on my 2nd attempt using their lottery system. As excited as I was to be running in the NYC Marathon, I did not have a good day on the course. I started out too fast and was bonking by mile 18. Not good. The last 8 miles were extremely slow and painful. As the finish line came into view, I was overcome with the sensation of my dad's presence. It was almost as if he was behind me, pushing me in the back to make sure I got over that finish line.

I'm not quite sure why my encounter with him at the NYC Marathon has stuck with me the most. Perhaps it's because my dad grew up not too far from NYC on Long Island? Whatever the reason, that race holds a special place in my heart.

So, for my run in Indiana, I decided I wanted to run from downtown Newburgh to my dad's headstone in Evansville, IN, a distance of about 17 miles - My route. My starting point in Newburgh was the head of a nature trail that my dad use to take me, my mom and my brothers and sister for nature walks. I remember during one of our nature walks, my dad carved our names into a tree. While I couldn't find that tree, I started as close to where I thought it was. I chose to finish at my dad's headstone because I wanted to give him something, my New York City Marathon finisher's medal. 

It was a great feeling to be able to finally present my dad with this special medal. This medal represents more than crossing the finish line in Central Park. It represents the special bond I have with my dad each time I run. I'm glad it finally has a home.

Upon returning to Washington, I began to look forward to my second run. December 8th, 2011 would of been my dad's 58th birthday. To honor him, I decided I would run 58 kilometers, or 36 miles. As December 8th approached, the weather had me a bit worried. The 7th was a miserably cold and rainy day. Certainly not great running weather. When I went to bed that night, I could still hear the rain falling. However, when I awoke on the 8th, the clouds had parted and all I could see were blue skies.

I rarely use the word perfect, mostly because I think everyone has their own definition of what perfection is. However, December 8th was a perfect day. I headed out the door and began what would be the 2nd longest run of my life.

For this run, I wanted to show my dad some of my favorite places in DC. Our first stop was in historic Old Town Alexandria. Running past all the docked boats in Old Town's waterfront reminded me of the early mornings my dad use to take me to Newburgh's boat landing to watch people launch their boats. I would beg him to buy me a boat each time we went.

My second stop along the way was Reagan National Airport. My dad knew how much I loved planes. Each time he would return home from a business trip, he would give me the peanuts he got on the plane. It would make my day! One Christmas, Dad, errr Santa, got me an international airport playset. We have a family video of me opening it and you should have seen the excitement in my eyes as well as my dad's.

From the airport, we continued up to one of my favorite parts of Washington, Georgetown. Dad and I ran along the towpath of the C&O Canal. From Georgetown, we ran past the historic Watergate complex and the beautiful Kennedy Center.

Next, we ran around Hains Point and then over to Washington's Waterfront. From the Waterfront, we cut over to Pennsylvania Avenue and then up East Capitol Street. Once we reached the Capitol, we had a little over 4 miles to go.

At this point, my leg were pretty shot, but there were a few more places I wanted to show Dad. From the Capitol, we headed down Madison Drive and cut over to Constitution Avenue. There was a certain point along Constitution where we could see the White House on our right and The Monument on our left.

From Constitution Ave, we ran around the backside of the Lincoln Memorial. From the Lincoln Memorial, we headed back towards The Monument and the National Mall. By this time, the sun was low in the west and was casting an amazing array of colors on The Monument and the Capitol's dome. It was an incredible sight!

Running along the gravel path on the National Mall, Dad and I hit the 58K mark. While our journey had ended for the day, our bond will last forever.

Love you Dad.

Our run

One of my favorite pictures of Dad and I


  1. I won't make any other comment to diminish the power of your post - just Thank you

  2. This was...awesome. That's all I've got to say. Thank you for sharing :)

  3. Beautiful post. Thank you! I think I need to do something similar for my Dad.

  4. Hey Doug, it's good to know what makes people tick or what drives them. As little as I know of u, what is clear from ur social media is the determination, drive, enthusiasm and love u have for running and also respect for life. It is such a sad story to hear about ur Dad but u r clearly setting yourself goals in life to make him proud and for u to gain the satisfaction from every day you need. I lost my Dad to cancer 8 years ago this year and I've missed him and missed having a dad more than ever in the last 18 months. I've also had my own plight with cancer and lost two friends so I totally get and admire your approach to life. I like to give it some myself too.
    I'm quite sure you will tick all those things off your to do list over the coming years. And u def need to step foot on another continent. Be assured u will love it when the time comes!
    Great blog. The changing ways of society and communication may have their pitfalls occasionally and blamed for unfortunate events but things like this are worth sharing.
    Keep up the good work. I'm glad Glenn insisted I follow u:)