Monday, August 22, 2011

One Telephone Pole At A Time

The year I turned 35, I decided to run my first marathon.  Dad thought it was a lofty goal for me to set for myself because he knew I didn’t have time to put in anywhere near the kind of high mileage that he used to when he was marathon training.

But he was supportive as always anyway, prodding me with weekly emails and phone calls to get out there and get the mileage in.  Prior to that time, the furthest distance I’d ever covered in one run was 9 miles.  I was nervous about breaking through to the double-digits of distance when it came time for the ten-miler in my training program, and so Dad said that if my husband, my kids, and I wanted to come and stay with he and my mom for the weekend, he would go the distance with me. 

On the morning of the run, my husband drove Dad and me ten miles away from my parents’ house and dropped us off on a country road.  Dad and I started off on the run talking about work and family and running and whatever other topics popped into our heads, and after awhile we lapsed into comfortable silence like we had done on so many runs together while I was growing up.  Every so often, Dad, ever the Pace-Master, offered me encouragement to “keep up the pace” or to try to go "half a step faster" as we went along.  One of Dad’s running mantras was “If you practice slow, you’ll race slow,” yet another of his pieces of Running Advice for the Road, as I began to call it in my mind. 

At one point on our run that day, he told me to keep running and he would catch back up to me in a few minutes, and then he ducked behind an old, abandoned barn to go to the bathroom.  Even with his pit stop, he closed in on me quickly, and we were soon running step for step again as we continued our dual effort on the road.  Over the last couple of miles, my body and my mind were wearing thin, and I told him I didn’t know if I could make it the rest of the way.  “Just concentrate on making it past one telephone pole at a time, and eventually you will get there,” he advised.  "It won't seem so bad if you just divide it up."  And so that's what I did until we made it back to my parents' house, and, with that, I had broken into the double-digits of distance.

These days, I pick up my phone to call or text Dad several times in the course of a week before Reality hits me.  Damn.  Again.  The tears that spring to my eyes are always followed by an emotion, like loneliness, despair, or fury at the injustice of it all.  I sometimes start to spiral into thinking about how much I miss him, what he would say to me at that moment in time, or even who I am as a person without him in my life now.

But, after so many times of this happening over the months since Dad went on ahead, I’ve figured out how to get through it, thanks to the strength, inspiration, support, perspective, and advice I was lucky enough to get from him over the years:  by just concentrating on making it past one telephone pole at a time, hoping it won't seem so bad if I just divide it up. 

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