The Gifts That Running Gives

The only picture of my dad I have displayed in my house. Doesn't take a shrink to read  volumes into that situation.
The only picture of my dad I have displayed in my house. Doesn't take a shrink to read volumes into that situation.

I was feeling a bit sluggish on Saturday morning. I had 10 solo miles on tap from the Train Like a Mother Half-Marathon: Finish It plan, and although Colorado isn't Arctic anymore, it's not exactly toasty at 7 a.m., which is when I had to go. Basketball game, cookie baking, life chores awaited.

"Where are you going to run?" Grant asked me as I was tying my shoes in our bedroom.

"Right here," I said, laying back on our bed, "I think I'll just lie here and visualize the run."

I somehow got my badass out the door, and turned on the Fresh Air interview with Delia Ephron, who was talking about the closeness and complexity of sisterhood. I have two sisters, so I couldn't resist. As Delia talked about her older sister Nora, who was her writing partner and died last June, she had a handful of insights about family that I shook my head in agreement with.

My parents divorced when I was 11, and I went to a school—and lived in a town—where it felt like nobody else had divorced parents. I'm sure that wasn't the truth, but that was how I created my reality. And I took out my embarrassment on my dad, who also didn't fit the suit-every-day, work-long-hours paternal mold that I was positive all my friends had. Although he was quick with praise and a smile, I couldn't see that. I just saw him as a failure.

As I progressed through my teenage years and twenties, our relationship didn't improve much. It wasn't for him lack of trying; although I cringe to write this, the harder he pushed, the more firmly I shut down. "I wouldn't pick him as a friend, so I'm not going to foster the relationship as a child," I justfied my snotty behavior to myself. If I were to have categorized our relationship, I would've filed it under "chore."

He died, in his mid-fifties, from a combination of cardiac issues and Lou Gerig's disease. (Thankfully, his heart took him before most of his muscles shut down.) He was physically withering and flailing around in other parts of his life, and I, at 26 years old, was self-absorbed and intolerant. His death predictably zapped me, but in the years since, I've reverted to a closed-door mentality whenever our relationship flashes through my head. Just done with him and done with it.

And then I ran 10 miles on Saturday. The Fresh Air interview put me in a nostalgic state of mind. When it was over, music from the Broadway show Matilda came on. (My daugher Amelia and I just saw it, and she was using my phone before I ran.) My dad loved Broadway shows and their music; I can still see the covers of the cassette tapes from "My Fair Lady" and "42nd" Street on the floor of his Suburban. Within a minute or two of listening to "When I Grow Up," I was just flooded—and floored—with such love for my dad, I almost had to stop and catch my breath.

Love like I'm pretty sure I never felt for him when he was alive. And love I'm very sure I never expressed to him once my tween world was rocked. Love that poured through me with such alacrity and intensity, I was certain I could rip off a 7:00 mile right then. Love that muted every regret, every I-was-such-a-sh*&-daugher feeling, every bit of anger I had at him for not measuring up to the person I wanted him to be. Love that was so powerful, it felt like a healing balm, letting me know that while he wasn't thrilled with my perspective, he could at least understand it.

Mostly, though, just pure and simple love that I honestly didn't think I had when it came to my dad.

I occasionally go to church. I've sat on a few therapist's couches. I've tried meditation and am off-and-on again with yoga. But nothing has ever come close to how running unfolds the layers of my life and summons raw emotions that I can't—or don't—tap into in my day-to-day world. On really great runs, the miles put my life on a slide show. As I zoom in on each film, the colors grow increasingly vibrant, the corresponding clarity is almost tangible, and I feel like I'm almost running in another world.

Every family relationship is complicated, and pondering it solo—and especially pondering it on a run—is about a thousand times easier than when you're in promixity to the other person in said relationship. It doesn't take a shrink to tell you that either. If I were celebrating Christmas with my dad in person, I know it wouldn't feel half as jubilant as I felt on my run; even typing this now that I'm back on earth feels a little corny.

But I was jubliant—and teary—as I climbed the last hill home.

And so grateful for the gifts that running perpetually gives me.

49 responses to “The Gifts That Running Gives

  1. What a lovely post. You are an excellent writer, and I can totally understand where you are coming from with this post. Sometimes that moment of clarity can only happen when you’ve pushed your body past some unknown internal limit.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. It seems like we all have similarities and at times, running is our outlet for so many things. My parents divorced when I was five and my father died, rather unexpectedly, at age 54 not long after I greaduated from college. Our relationship was not great and had been through many rough years after I turned 13. He suffered from manic depression and other health ailments. We had just started to talk a bit more and I was planning to visit when I recieved the phone call.
    You can never turn back time and I so wish that I could so that I could tell him that despite what he thought, I did love him. It was only after he died that I truly began to understand the relationship between his behavior and his illness and how much he truly loved me. Thank you again for sharing and Merry Christmas.

  3. You have the most beautiful, real way of sharing your stories, and most importantly, your heart. Bless you and thank you for allowing us in.

  4. Thanks Dimity. That was brutally honest and so raw! You are a Brave woman for shedding your feelings like that. Thank you for sharing with us. ((HUGS))

  5. Dimity, such wonderful heartfelt writing that really resonated with me. You have an uncanny way of taking something so complex and painful and making sense out of it. All the while we are processing our own issues thru your beautiful prose.

  6. I lost my Dad to cancer when he was 52 and I was 18. He was a runner (he called it jogging) back then I had no desire to run as I had decided in middle school that I hated it. It wasn’t until years later as a mom of two I decided that I needed to run. Since that time there have been many moments during runs when I would think of him and how happy he’d with where I am in my life.
    One particular Sat long run with my running buddies happened to be his birthday. It’s a tough hilly 8 mile loop and I’m usually the one bringing up the rear. Near mile 6/7 I started looking around at the beauty -the sunrise, the desert surrounding me- and just broke down in tears as I thought of him and how I’d love just one run with him. I am grateful for the alone moment and then for a good friend who ran back to check on me who supplied me with the needed support to finish that day.

  7. Once again, the threads of life intertwine us all. My parents also divorced when I was 14, but separated when I was nine. The last vivid memory I have of him when he left the house was after a huge argument between my mom and dad and my grandma at the time. It was a week before my 10th birthday – and it came to a poignant end when my mom shouted out the phrase “if you don’t like it here, then just leave.” My dad walked out of the house, across the lawn and I went chasing after him to go with. He graciously told me that I needed to stay at home and he would see me later. The picture of your father above could be my dad walking across the yard; and this WAS in the town that you grew up in. I would come to hear that phrase from my mom used toward me many times in my teen years. Fast-forward to 2009 when my mom was diagnosed with Lewy-Body Dementia at 68 and needed to be placed in Assisted Living. I was 270 lbs, carrying more in mental baggage at the time, wondering why I couldn’t get healthy – it was this same time I started running. Running literally saved my life – and the both of you were my virtual life preservers when I didn’t know what to do next — thank you “Run Like a Mother, The Book!” I shed so much more than weight, and gained so much more in perspective. Thank you, Dimity, for sharing such an intimate part of your life. We are all so much more alike than different; I just wish I knew that way back then.

  8. Beautiful. Cycling does the same thing for me. I’m so glad you are sharing your emotions and how running(or another sport you are passionate about) can be move than just exercise.

  9. Thank you for your honesty. You are SO right. Running opens us up to truths we just aren’t able to (for whatever reason) face in daily life.

  10. beautiful, Dimity and not at all corny. I had a strained relationship with my dad, too and it took several years after his death for me to accept that even though he wasn’t anyone I would ever choose to hang out with on my own terms, he was my father and likely did the best he knew how. Oh, but I still wish at times it could’ve been different. How lucky we are that we both married solid, steady men. And that running is so good to us. xox

  11. This was so honest, open, and intimately personal. It was anything but corny. I appreciate the trust you have to share this deep, raw, profoundly internal thoughts and feelings aloud with us. That trust is mutual. Thank you, Dimity. You and Sarah are some of my personal heroes, for this reason plus so many, many more. May we all follow your example to keep running and healing.

  12. I agree with the comments above. That wasn’t corny. It was beautiful. Thanks for sharing your soul. Ahhhh – I love the gifts running gives.

  13. The word “corny” never entered my mind as I read this post. Running brought healing to my life as well and I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your heart. Thanks!

  14. Dimity, I was touched by not only your candid writing but the photo that accompanied it. It is a beautiful thing when your mind unwinds and memories stir up emotion. It’s a beautiful therapy and I’m grateful for this forum making my solo runs seem not so much alone.

  15. Thanks for sharing this beautifully written piece. It helps to know that I am not the only one who uses running as much cheaper and for me,too, more effective therapy. Merry Christmas, Mother Runners!

  16. Thank you for sharing and being raw. I find myself the same when I’m out for a run. Sometimes, it is a tough run that sets my mind into motion. I always feel raw and silly when tears start forming that I would normally be able to cover up so easily. I think running breaks down my barriers, allows those emotions to ebb to the surface because you are spending brain waves keeping your body moving instead of protecting your heart.

    Glad you were able to have some processing time. I need to be better about that too and allow myself that time.

  17. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & feelings so honestly. Your story is very touching &, I’m sure, will help many people this holiday season – when we’re forced to deal with family in one way or another. Like for you, running is a kind of therapy for many. And this running community, that you & SBS have created, is another kind of therapy too. Thank you.

  18. Thank you for being so open and sharing this. May dad died when I was 15, and I miss him everyday. It was my mother and I who had a rocky relationship towards the end of her life, and I am sorry for that. I think we, as parents, just try to do the best we can. Sometimes it isn’t good enough, but we are only human. As children, it’s the same way. We can only give what we can give. Running has taught me many things and gotten me through some hard times. I think it has given me much more than I have given it. Again, thank you for this.

  19. wow! what a wonderful story of what can happen,, emotionally to a person, andunmyopinion: especially on a run. way to dig deep by just letting your body be a body as your mind was free to be your mind. this experience would bring me salvation if it ever happened/happens!

  20. Thanks for being so candid. I had not taken into consideration this perspective from a child to a parent – and assumed that my boys will always think I am the greatest person in the world. It was awakening for me and probably something I should consider. I started running after I became a mom (never having done any physical activity)…it was because I wanted to be a better person and I feel that way every day. Amazing what running can do for you!

  21. Thank you for sharing Dimity. It seems to me that running strips some of the protective layers between our daily consciousness and our emotions and memories. Things suddenly become apparent. It’s amazing.

  22. I so understand where you are coming from, or running through as the case may be. I have taken to the roads to work through parental problems, a divorce after 16.5 years of separation and 12.5 years of marriage, board of education issues when I was a board member, and so much more. I am sure, though, that you put it much more eloquently than I.

  23. I was nodding my head in agreement reading this! Parent/child relationships can be very tricky. My mother died when I was 17 and I often “talk” to her on my runs or just reflect on our time together and how much I miss her. It’s amazing how a good run can open you up to all kinds of emotions. I’m so glad you were able to receive this gift through something you clearly love. Good for you!

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