10 Miles with Dad + Sarah + Ham

This poster, of the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon, accurately represents my day. Gorgeous setting--and me running my own special race.

I had three goals for the Medtronic TC 10-Mile--finish between 1:30-1:35; start slow and finish strong; get to the starting line energized and healthy--and I'm happy to say, I nailed all of those.

What I didn't know was that another trio was actually going to make the race one of my most memorable events ever.

I'll just put this out there: As a child, I was rich in imaginary friends. In our playroom, I taught whole classes of students you couldn't see; on the trampoline, I taught hundreds of virtual kids how to do a seat drop; and most importantly, I had an imaginary friend named Elizabeth who was my BFF for most of elementary school: We sat next to each other at dinner every night, and I was allowed to call her once a day (which entailed dialing our home number and talking to the busy signal--as complicated as phone tech got back then).

So when I returned to my hometurf--the Twin Cities--I was caught between childhood and myself today, as often happens when you revisit your youth as an adult. I shouldn't have been surprised when, at Mile 4, I was suddenly caught off guard by my dad, who died before I got married. Our relationship is too complicated to explain here, but one thing to know: he was a tall man with a booming voice, and was quick to broadcast his pride in me, which always felt ridiculous. Any compliment or accolade he gave me in any kind of public arena--I'm talking Burger King here--never failed to make me just want to shrink to the size of a beetle. For whatever reason, I couldn't handle it.

Dad, this is what love to do now, I mentally told him, as I pictured him today on the side of a parkway, yelling for me. I wasn't embarrassed when he cheered. I hugged him, high-fived him, told him to head on up and look for me in a few more miles.

Spring break in the early 80's. Maybe I was really just embarrassed by my Dad's melon pants. (I'm standing right next to him.)

I'll just put this out there too: I ran 1:24, which blew me away. The sea-level, mostly flat course was a real gift. As I saw my splits in the mid-8:00, I kept thinking I should slow down, but I didn't feel like I was flying-and-dying, which is my forte. Like I said: a real gift.

Around Mile 5, the 10-miler joined the marathon course, and I saw the red flags that read mile 21, 22, and so on. I knew Sarah would be in my footsteps in a few hours, and poof: there she was, running along side me. After two days on our feet at the expo, I wasn't sure what kind of race she could pull off, and I wanted her to soak up how strong I felt, I wanted to give her the feeling that slowing down wasn't even an option.

Stay with me Sarah, I told her as I mentally placed her beside me. Stay strong and with me.

Dad, this is what I love to do. Sarah, stay with me.

Turns out, SBS didn't need my strength, but it was there for her if she did.

Completing the trio was my Uncle Ham, my mom's youngest brother who died almost exactly two years ago. He was my Godfather and the uncle that loved to sit at the kids' table at Thanksgiving. I'd always volunteer to clean the kitchen after family dinners with Ham because I knew he'd crack me up. As an adult, I realized he lived a really difficult existence, a life I didn't know very much about.

Towards the end, he was a near hermit, and I still have a hard time reconciling the goofy uncle I couldn't get enough of with his severe, life-ending struggles. The crisp fall day, full of yellow and orange leaves and bluebird sky, reminded me of his service, and there was Hambone along for the ride.

I hope you tasted this kind of peace, Ham, I told him, The kind of peace running brings me.

Dad, this is what I love to do now. Sarah, stay with me. I hope you tasted this kind of peace, Ham. I repeated those three things again and again, and got into such a meditative zone, I didn't want the race to be over. (Truly. Told you: This was a one-in-a-lifetime race for me.)

Running doesn't just bring me mental peace. It soothes sore spots I didn't even know were bleeding; it brings back memories, both lovely and cringe-worthy; it lets me realize when I'm being petty and should let things go; it gives me confidence to take on things I shouldn't let go (but want to); it solidifies friendships; it connects me with branches of my family I thought had withered; it lets me relive and laugh and wander and chat and connect and imagine.

And when it all comes together beautifully, as it did today, I can't help but cry, as I did a couple times on the course and as I wrote this. I am so thankful for this sport, which brings me to so many places. Places I would've never thought--or been able--to visit had I not been moving forward on two feet at a rhythmic pace.

Dad, this is what I love to do now. Sarah, stay with me. I hope you tasted this kind of peace, Ham. 

75 responses to “10 Miles with Dad + Sarah + Ham

  1. This is simply lovely, Dimity. I spent Sunday watching my own father, at 71, complete his first marathon. He bested my time from 2011 TCM by 1 minute. I am touched by your comments about a complicated relationship with your father. For the first time in my life I have a connection with my dad because of running. And your post validates that I will never lose that connection, even if he is not physically running with me. I’m thrilled that both you and Sarah had good races on Sunday. Thank you for inspiring me to get back in the game.

  2. What a great post. My dad who past away 2 years was a paraplegic and never had the opportunity to run with me. I often think about how hard it must have been in the 1970s ,a very young man with 3 kids in a wheelchair. He never complained. He was there for me when I got home from school, when I needed a ride to the mall, anything.

    When I run, I think about him in heaven running with me. I really miss him.

  3. Dimity, I read this one yesterday and was so teary I couldn’t even comment. And even now, as I look at the title, the tears start to flow again. Hits so close to home… So beautiful! Such a gift! Glad that you had such an amazing experience!

  4. Dimity, this was a very timely post for me as I just lost my dad about 6 months ago. I used to be a runner and did a few halfs and tri races in my early thirties, but I hadn’t been running since 2006 or so… When my dad died in March, very unexpectedly, all I could think about was running, so I ran and did my third half this August (now 41)It was a great day, but bittersweet too. This is a beautiful post, I just loved it. My dad did the most embarrassing things in his pride for me too, so I had a good chuckle over some of those memories that used to be embarrassing to me, and are now so sweet! Thank God my dad got to meet our daughter and she him, before he passed… his biggest proud moment was me finally being blessed with a child. This mother runner misses her daddy too.
    P.S. You met one of my peeps in Twin Cities, Kaylan Groen, a trainer from Mayo. She was one of my vocal music students way back when, now a great friend and a very knowledgeable trainer! I was so excited when she texted me that she was hanging with you this weekend…she got me a AMR shirt too, I’m totally psyched! Much love to you and thank you for continuing to be so transparent and truly share big stuff with us.

  5. Dimity, thank you for putting into words what I feel on almost every important run. I lost my dad many years ago and he was always my cheerleader, sometimes tough, but having him with me on my runs to talk to is something I cherish. We talk about my kids, my brothers and sister and how he thinks I am doing in this world without him. He was with me the whole 26.2 this last weekend. I cherish this website….

  6. As someone who has only been running a year, this filled my eyes will tears. I just completed the Portland 1/2 yesterday, my second 1/2 in the year I’ve been running and just committed myself to a full. I am learning to celebrate, I may not be fast…I may not be pretty but I need and crave the time with my thoughts. The excitement, the sadness, the letting go and the acceptance. Running allows you the grace and space to work through it all. I’m so glad you had that precious experience in on a gorgeous MN fall day – magic!

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