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!

  7. Wow, what a gorgeous post! I lost my dad almost 8 years ago, so the part where you saw him as you ran by totally did me in.

    And congratulations on your time! Made me laugh to see the photo of Sarah since I am trying to remember, “hands straight up for photos!” for my next run!

  8. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I am so thrilled that it was a great race in every way. Thank you for your honest, beautiful words.

  9. Beautiful post. I love how running does this for many of us and provides peace and comfort. I always know when I need to just run and get out of my head. Great job!

  10. When I read your post today it brought tears to my eyes – what an amazing experience you had this weekend! Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  11. What a beautiful post. I had a lump in my throat while I read it and for some time after. I love that our (mutual) hometown run brought out such wonderful and moving memories. As a mother in my thirties, I still spend the last 1/2 mile of every race I run looking for my dad’s face in the crowd. I know there will come a day when he is no longer there, but I also know the memory of him will fuel those runs that follow and remind me of how alive I am in that moment. Until then, I cherish every finish that he is there. Thank you for sharing such a priceless piece of you with all of us!!

  12. For me, every time I cross a finish line I feel so “alive” and am greatful for my family and all that I ahve (and I should also think that way every time I reach my mailbox after any run)!

    Have a good one Dim (even coming down off of that mountaintop you were just on). It sounds as if you were living in the moment and then got to RE-live it for us.

  13. Dimity, you have outdone yourself – with this post (so beautiful, you are such a talented writer) and your race! Your race! From beginning to end – so well done and sounds like just what you needed. I am so, so happy for you! What a special race and what a weekend! xox

  14. Hey Dimity,
    Congrats on a great race. You have an amazing talent as a writer, capturing thoughts and feelings that so many of us share but can’t find the words to express. So happy for you that your race brought together some powerful moments of remembrance and gratitude and gave you the speed to fly. Well done!

  15. That was beautiful! Makes me cry and think of my own losses. I am so happy for you and that you had this wonderful experience. Gift is truly the right word to use…

  16. Beautiful post. I lost my dad too, when I was still a 27-year-old brat. 20 years later, I still talk to him and let him know that I grew up okay.

  17. I have a lump in my throat…nice work Dimity…you and SBS are sole sisters no doubt and wonderful examples of mother runners to the thousands that follow you…what a glorious day and I am not talking about the weather!

  18. Dimity, thank you for your beautiful touching words. Snuggled up in bed this morning drinking my coffee with tears streaming down my face. So happy for you and your incredible race experience. My dad passed away unexpectedly in August and your words really touched me. Your father would be so proud to know you are such a strong and beautiful light to others.

  19. Dimity,
    I lost my mom almost 9 years ago, before I became a mother myself. There were so many conversations I never got to have with her, about being a wife, a mom, a woman. I LOVED this post. I have conversations with her while I run and some times can just sense her with me, encouraging me, talking to me, being snarky and telling me quit whining and just do it! I kind of thought maybe I was just imagining all this, but you are the second person in 3 days who have shared this spiritual connection with those departed while running and I thank you! Oh and congrats on the kickin’ time!!!

  20. I was not expecting to cry alongside my morning cup of coffee. This is absolutely beautiful. Honest and heartfelt and beautiful.

    I am traveling to San Francisco from Portland to run the Nike Womens Half next weekend. My father courted my mom there long before I was thought of. We spent family weekends there growing up. It was the big city we ventured to for a fancy dinner. My father passed away last year and I know he will be so present with me Sunday as I pass the landmarks he taught me about. I’m looking forward to it for so many reasons.
    Thank you Dimity!

  21. I can hardly see to type with the tears welled in my eyes. That was so well written Dimity. You captured so much. I am glad you had one of those runs where you go so far beyond yourself – and an awesome race time!

  22. Dimity,
    Love it. To run, spiritually, with those I love or with those I have lost, keeps me going too. I will be 54 this month…my mother, who is 81 was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis at this same age and is now nearly crippled from the disease; my favorite Uncle Bub (maybe like your Uncle Ham) died from Lymphoma this age. When I start feeling sorry for myself during a long run, I am reminded about the gift I have been given to be able to endure this physical pain at my age, something my mother, and many others, wish they could feel. These thoughts keep my pain in perspective and I embrace every step and every twinge and every drop of sweat. Thank you for inspiring me to work on emptying my tank. I tried yesterday. I shaved off two minutes from my previous ten mile race just two weeks earlier.

  23. I teared up, reading this. What a wonderful gift to receive! Glad you had SBS to share it with, and glad you shared with us. Thank you!

  24. Such a great race for you, Dimity. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    I lost my Dad to cancer in June. He was always my cheerleader and my champion. thank you for reminding me he’s running with me, any time i need to have him there.

  25. What a beautiful post. I’m choked up reading it. Between the color of the sky and leaves in your photo, and the power of family to strengthen the soul, you brought me back to my own childhood in Minnesota. (That and the Burger King comment. So funny. My first kiss was at a Minnesota Burger King!)

    I’m so glad you (and Sarah!) had such a magical experience. That’s what running is about. Beautiful.

  26. Running is a powerful sport, isn’t it?

    I ran a half marathon yesterday worried about my slightly agitated ITB. As I hit the double digits, I was still doing ok but I really wanted to stop and walk. Over and over, I repeated, “Forward is a pace. Forward is a pace.” I thought too of how I wanted to finish strong for my kids. Somehow those two thoughts on constant reply got me to the finish with a time I was truly proud of. Thanks for providing the fellowship of moms from which I can draw upon when I need it most.

  27. What a beautiful trip that I can relate to. And, the proof that you are stronger than you think and that this there are people in our lives that are mental steroids—lingering if we just reach out to touch them. Teared me up.

  28. Wow, Dimity, I am so glad everything came together for you in a race that brought you a perfect day where you felt like you were flying (and a finish time to go with that!), memories of beloved family members and thoughts of your good friend to share it all with. That’s as good as it gets! Makes me look forward to my run today.

  29. That was beautiful, Dimity, and I’m going to save it forever. I lost my mom 3 years ago. I have felt her presence most strongly on random runs and it does amazing things for the soul. I am so glad you had such a great run!!!!

  30. Wow, Dimity, this was beautiful.
    I ran 11 miles “with” my grandmother on her birthday, 2 months after she passed away. I can’t think of any other way I could have spent a few hours just the two of us. It was so peaceful.
    I love this sport.

  31. Dimity – I’m so sorry I missed you when you flew by the aid station I was volunteering at yesterday morning! This was one of the most beautiful things I have read in a long time…and it sums up some very similar emotions I have about that course and what I conjure up when I’m running. I’m so happy you had a good race yesterday. It’s my absolute favorite event, hands down. Congratulations. Feel the glory and the peace.

  32. Thank you so much for the beautiful post and for being brave in sharing your mystical experiences with us! I think what you said about the rhythm and movement of running is right on. Thanks again!

  33. What a moving, beautiful experience – thank you for sharing it with all of us. I know I’ll be carrying this close to me all day!
    Congrats on achieving your goals for the run — and what a wonderful gift to have your dad and uncle and Sarah with you.

  34. I am SO happy for you Dimity – that race sounds so perfect! As I drink my coffee after a cold early run with one of my BRFs I am a bit teary b/c you have put in to words all the running is for me! Thank you!

  35. I love this…one glass of wine and I’m a bit teary! Congrats on a wonderful run but more importantly, I’m so glad you had such a great run.

    I have a big race on Sunday. I have a feeling that ”This is what I love to do’ may be a very important phrase for me!!

  36. Priceless moments!! Love it! Watched a dear friend race in the St. George marathon Saturday, got to listen to the amazing Bart Yasso with her(thanks Cathi for bringing me). I think I just rediscovered my running mojo. Thank you for this final thought to bring me to it. Lova ya!

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