From the April 2012 issue of Runner’s World
A marathoner passes along to his son more than just a love of running
By Kirk Johnson
After running by his side for over two hours, I watched my son Anthony fade into the distance. His back looked broad and strong; his stride was long and sure. I was nearly moved to tears with pride. Anthony, 24, was on his way to finishing his first marathon, blazing past his father – just as it should be in the great rhythm of life. I, age 53, had 14.5 more hard kilometres to go.
There’s a pearl of wisdom in distance running that I heard years ago and have kept close ever since: run your own race. Feel inside where you are, what you need, and disregard everyone else. Only you can plumb your inner place. As a father, it’s a lesson I’ve tried to teach Anthony and his twin brother, Paul. Find your fire and nurture it, in running or in life.
Now my old pearl had turned into a sting. I had once imagined if my love of running ever rubbed off on my sons, there would be a kind of grand passing of the baton, a paired surge across a finish line with hands clenched in victory. But Anthony’s disappearance heralded a different reality. He was surging forward. I was slowing down.
As I descended into an alternating run/walk, I pondered the end of my running life. After 30-odd races of marathon distance or longer, I knew the day would come when I would have to stop by dint of injury or age. But I’d always imagined ripening into a sinewy geezer who amazed people just by being in the race. I envisioned an intervention-like moment deep into my 80s, something like, “Hey, Dad, we’re taking away your running shoes, and the keys to the Harley.”
At the finish line, Anthony stood with his medal around his neck, waiting patiently for my arrival. He had nearly made his goal of four hours. I had run my slowest marathon since my first. He said he felt great and already saw how a marathon could be done faster next time. I hurt and wondered whether I would ever run another. If I’d started out the day as the father figure and guiding hand of experience, I felt a reversal as we hugged – the child becoming the parent, the parent needing comfort. As we slowly walked to the car, a wind kicked up off the lake and Anthony started shivering. I reached into our clothing bag and gave him the jumper I’d stashed away before the race. I was cold, too, but I needed to play the father – perhaps more than ever.
We drove back to Anthony’s, and talked through the story of the race, the kilometres and moments that mattered. In that post-race afterglow, I felt as close to my son as I’ve ever been. I realised that if seeing Anthony charge off into an unwritten future is my fate, I could live with that. But I saw, too, that I am not finished. I have to struggle on. We’ll meet along the way as we chase our own fires, and the finish lines will take care of themselves.
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