My family is no stranger to heart disease. My Uncle Billy was one of the heart transplant pioneers. He fought to have it performed, and then he outlived everyone in his test group, including his own doctor. But it was still a shock when my father went into the hospital in February for what he thought was pneumonia and ended up in the cardiac intensive care unit. His pneumonia was actually heart failure. In a matter of days, the cardiologists burned through their treatment options, and touch-and-go became the name of the game.
Three weeks into this tedious game, I had a dilemma.
Months ago, one of my best bros had asked if I wanted to do a series of half marathons in Cape Cod for the chance at glory, medals, and a windbreaker. You read that last part correctly. Before I calculated how many hours I would spend in the car in pursuit of said jacket (fun fact, it was 54+), I signed up. Now the date of the first half marathon was rapidly approaching, and I hadn’t even had time to think about training.
My father was fighting for his life in a medically induced coma. Even the best outcome meant he had a long road ahead of him. The worst outcome was that he would slip away and we’d never know if he heard us say goodbye. Without flowery language, boiling the feeling down to the most basic of language, it was weird, and I wasn’t sure what I should do. My mom and the hospital staff encouraged me to make the trek and run for my dad.
I made it through the first half marathon, and my dad made it through the worst of it. He was weakened and worse for wear, but he was with us. By the time I completed my second race in May, he was home from the hospital and able to go to physical therapy. He is much improved, but the road he is running is still uphill and it is infinitely longer than my 13.1 miles.
This brings me to present day. For the past two weeks, my foot has been in brutally bad shape. It’s not broken, but it has caused quite a limp and made my shoe feel like it’s a size smaller than it used to be. Coming up to the third and final race, my wife asked me if I’d be able to run. My stance was: “I’ll see a doctor when I get back. There’s nothing that’s going to keep me from racing. I didn’t train and cut out most meat, sugar and alcohol for nothing.” Why couldn’t there have been a trilogy of beer races?
I told myself the same thing today when I was running a mostly uphill course. Every time I hit a wall, I asked myself, “What did I come up here for?” “What did I sit in traffic for?” “What have I been pushing my foot aching and injured foot for?” And I made it through. By the end of it, I didn’t break any records, but I did set a half-marathon PR of 2:13:37 losing admirably to a set of incredibly fast Kenyans who could have lapped my best effort.
To what do I attribute achieving that PR? Over the course of this year, of these marathons, and of my father’s hospitalization, I’ve grown up. I’ve become more of a man than I ever was before. My wife and I were hiking last spring when she made the comment: “You know, we’re really fortunate to be able to do this. Not everyone can.” She was referring to my dad, who at the time could barely get out of bed. It was a passing comment, but the sentiment is something that has changed my life. I realized that in this year of half marathons, I haven’t just been running because I could, I’ve been running because my father can’t. He has his own uphill battles to face first.
Thirteen point one miles can’t begin to help me understand the difficulty of the journey that my dad is currently on, but as a result of his journey, I have begun to embrace the roadblocks in my own. I have realized that I have more than a responsibility or an obligation to push myself; I am privileged to do so.
I’m done with my Cape Cod trilogy, and I’m looking forward to many happy years wearing my windbreaker, but this is not the end of anything. It’s the start. As a famous quote goes: “I didn’t come this far, to only come this far.” I have more half marathons in me, and full marathons, and ultra-marathons after that. I have found my personal mountain and I must climb it, “because it’s there.” – George Mallory.