Marathons, masochism, and my main man

19 Mar

This weekend, my dad came to DC to join me for the Rock and Roll Marathon. The idea was hatched over the winter holiday, when I visited home and expressed an interest in running the race. My dad, still an avid runner, who regularly braves Michigan winter weather extremes to get in a few good miles, said he’d like to join in the fun in Washington. Before I knew it, he had registered for the race and made travel arrangements for him and my mom, who also decided to come.

Having already run two marathons himself, my pop was happy to try his hand at the half-marathon, and let me take up his baton in the full, 26.2 mile painfest. I think we both viewed this as a special, father-son experience. My dad has passed me many wonderful gifts – discipline, patience, and resilience – but a love of running is one of my favorite of these inter-generational hand-me-downs. As I went thru my own training, I often thought of my dad’s marathon preparation, and wondered if I would be able to grind thru the taxing experience, as he did, twice. We both considered, I think, the weekend’s race as the consummation of a love passed from father to son.

When race-day came, and I met my dad a quarter before 7 in-front of his hotel, there was nothing left to do but run. We had both prepared. The worried, pre-race chatter of other participants was not for us. Instead, we turned our conversation to lighter topics, including Russian literature and the near-impossibility of finishing “War and Peace” (more difficult than running a marathon, perhaps). As the two of us fist-pumped and headed to our separate start groups, I felt a steely calm set-in, soon replaced by a bubbling excitement for the quickly approaching starting horn.

As the runners set off, I couldn’t resist a smile. The race was finally here and, with it, a chance to take my running to a new height. It was a chance to put my training to the test, but not the training of some program plucked off the net or from some magazine, but rather the training borne of a raw love of running, something which I drew from my father and which has become a core part of my life for nearly a decade. I had trained in my own way, and was now ready to have my own marathon experience, armed with the stripes and physical grit earned by pumping out mile after mile, and the mental fortitude passed on, quietly and humbly, by my father from.

As mile stacked onto mile, as my legs grew heavier, and as my lower-body muscles seemed to start to eat themselves, one message from my dad stood at the forefront of my mind: in a marathon, you run 20 miles, and survive 6. Happily, I was already at mile 23 when the necessity to shift into survival mode set in – but when it did, I knew what my father had been talking about. I felt like I had very little command over the lower half of my body. What had over the first 15 miles of the race seemed so easy suddenly became agonizing. Every step hurt. My groin screamed. Waves of pain pulsated throughout my lower half. Three miles seemed like an eternity. Even after passing mile marker 25, I questioned whether I could make the finish. Here I had gone a quarter of a century, and, with the stadium marking the finish point coming into view, I didn’t know if I could make it. But with a million questions rushing thru my mind, chief among them how the hell I was going to finish this, I remembered my dad’s advice of how to handle these moments, as simple as it is brilliant: just keep going.

So, go I did, and, shortly, I had done it. I had completed my first marathon. It was over. The pain would last. But the achievement would be irrevocable. I felt closer to my dad, because I now knew, too, what it felt like to brush up against the wall, but to dig down and find the will to, as he says, just keep going.


I’ve been all around the world, met with presidents, prime ministers, and other government and private sector leaders. I’ve staffed secretaries, deputy secretaries, and presidents of international organizations. But, in all of these meetings, in all of these experiences, I’ve never met someone who I respect more than my father (except, perhaps, my mother), a man who has worked diligently, endlessly, honestly, humbly, quietly, and with unimpeachable integrity, to build a good, secure life, full of opportunity, for his family. That is my measure of a good person. Perhaps most tellingly of all, as my brother has wisely pointed out, I have never met someone who dislikes my father. That is not a description you can attach to many people.

So, I’m glad we had this excellent race experience. Unsurprisingly, my dad also finished his run, exceeding by quite a bit his half-marathon finish time goal. In his steady, persistent way, with full understanding of his body and how to use it, he got the job done – just as he has in so many other parts of life. I’m lucky to have drawn from his experience. And I’m lucky he’s my dad.


One Response to “Marathons, masochism, and my main man”

  1. fabifabiana March 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

    “I’ve never met someone who I respect more than my father (except, perhaps, my mother), a man who has worked diligently, endlessly, honestly, humbly, quietly, and with unimpeachable integrity, to build a good, secure life, full of opportunity, for his family.”

    That is exactly the same way I feel about my father.

    What a beautiful story. I now want to run a marathon less than ever, but I love my father even more (if that’s possible.)

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