This is the second part to The Allure of the Runner’s Grin
The First Run
We lace up together and walk down our long driveway. I sheepishly look at my dad and assess the situation: I am heading out on my first run with a multi-marathoner, competitive athlete. What did I get myself into? Doh! [Insert head smack here]. New worries saturate my mind: What will we even talk about? Will I be able to talk? Will I even be able to breathe? Panic is setting in and we haven’t even begun.
We reach the end of the driveway, and I am so nervous I just want to turn back. Why am I doing this? Two measly miles aren’t going to make a difference, so I’ll just turn around and march my way back up that driveway. I flash my dad a tight-lipped smile and as I’m about to tell him to forget the whole thing he says, “And we’re off! Let’s go!” Embarrassed by my insecurity I take a deep breath, force myself to fall in line and blindly follow him down the road.
All of my energy is focused on simply moving forward. Just keep moving. Don’t stop. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right. I can do this—I think.
As we run in silence, my worries resurface. Is it too slow for him? Of course it is too slow—he does this every morning! Needless to say I am intimidated by his athletic ability and do not want to let him down. In my mind I am not out for a friendly jog with my dad, but on a serious run with a competitive athlete. He must hate this! He’s never going to want to run together again. My self-pity is quickly silenced as I realize we were approaching a monstrous hill. Simply moving forward is challenging enough, now you want me to go up this beast?!
I bark at him, “You didn’t tell me we were running hills today!?” In a matter-of-fact tone he responds, “You know where we live. There are hills wherever we turn. Just one step at a time and we’ll get to the top.” His deadpan response fails to reassure me. I whine, “Dad, I don’t know about this. I want to go back.” What I didn’t realize was that ‘turning back’ was never an option. He calmly, yet firmly responded, “Not yet, we’ve got to make it to the top. Then home.” I begrudgingly agreed and plodded onward up the mountain.
While I want so badly to experience the sense of accomplishment from finishing a hard run, I never realized exactly how challenging running can be, both mentally and physically. I don’t want to let him down. And I don’t want to be a failure—in my eyes or in his.
On we march. His legs are like springs on a pogo stick as he swiftly bounces up the mountain, while I huff and puff like a coal-fueled choo-choo train in a slow ascent. He glances back in my direction and I shake my head in defeat, holding back tears. As I look up the tears roll down my cheeks but my dad is no longer ahead of me; now he is beside me. My dad—the serious athlete, multi-marathoner, no B.S. competitive runner—suddenly breaks the silence as he erupts into song, “Oooooh, you’re half-way there!!!” Any feelings of self-pity and frustration instantly vanish as I chip back with a grin, “Ooooooh, livin’ on a prayer! Take my hand and we’ll make it I swear.” (Who knew Dad listened to Bon Jovi?)
I immediately laugh, willingly absorbing my dad’s encouraging lyrics and regain focus as we run in sync for the remainder of the hill. When we finally reach the top we high five, turn around and make our way back home. I am red in the face, dripping sweat, reek of B.O, and am smiling. Wait a second, am I smiling?!?
I wear my runner’s grin with pride for remainder of my first run.
As my father and I walk towards the house I realize that a runner’s grin doesn’t suddenly appear when the run is completed, rather it evolves as the runner perseveres through the mental and physical challenges of each rigorous mile. It is a medal you earn by confronting your fears and accepting life’s challenges, one step at a time.