I've been thinking a lot this week about my introduction to the world of endurance. It was by no means intentional on my part. In fact, I've actually been trying to think about something other than running as I try to recover from pneumonia and the failed race I tried to run in the midst of a feverish spell. But it was at my previous race that the flood of memories began to roll through my mind.
As is customary, we tried to make it down a little early for my race to preview the course. One of my favorite aspects of trail running is that this time can be family time and my son gets to run and explore the course with me. He loves maps and he likes to tell us where we are and where we need to go. This trip was no different than many others before it other than the fact that I had been feverish all week and despite the warm spring weather I was layered very heavily and still struggling to stay warm.
As my wife and son jogged the first few miles of the course I tried to hike it and keep up. Though I could hardly keep up, my son's infectious enthusiasm and sense of adventure penetrated some of the layers of compression and wind gear and got me excited about the upcoming event. As we previewed the course I also saw a father running the path with his toddler son riding his bike beside him. Both of these images (my son running effortlessly through the woods and this man and his son running and riding side by side) reminded me of some of my first memories as a child.
As a kid, I was always either on the run or on my bike. My feet, legs, pedals, and wheels got me everywhere I wanted to go and were usually the means through which my dad and I connected.
When I saw that kid riding beside his running father I saw myself riding along side my father as he ran down the dusty dirt road near our home on the North Plains of Eastern New Mexico. I remember enjoying those rides, but I also remember when they abruptly stopped. My dad was not a runner. He was a thinker, a graduate student, working on a masters in religion at the time, and running was his means of escaping our noisy home and thinking. But it wasn't long after that run with me at his side on my trusty white Schwinn that he came down with pneumonia and never quite recovered. He still wore his New Balances and he still walked regularly. He eventually bought a bike and we spent a lot of time biking, but when he came down with pneumonia, when I was the same age as my son is now, his running took the back seat and never quite returned. He and my mom still made great efforts to keep me and my siblings outside. They knew that we would benefit more by the outdoors than by anything we could possibly learn from television.
My dad taught me to take risks. He taught me that I could do anything - even if it looked scary. He taught me that he would be there to encourage me and he would be there to catch me and help me up if I fell. But through all of this, he taught me that there was a lot I could do without the assistance of training wheels. We took the training wheels off my bike before my fourth birthday and before I was five we were building ramps and trying to catch as much air as possible.
My dad also taught me to endure. As I mentioned before, although he never really saw himself as a runner, he had run two three hour marathons off of nothing but a couple weeks of running. He only mentioned it to me when I told him that I might try to do a marathon someday. His real gift was for the long stuff. He and my mother fell in love as they ran month-long survival trips through the deserts and mountains of Southern Utah. Is it any wonder that I have an affinity for the desert and the mountains?
In addition to endurance, my dad taught me about sacred places and he taught me about the sanctuary one can find in the solitude of the desert. He taught me how to find and drink water in the heat of the parched sandstone. He taught me to respect the places that had been preserved and protected for millennia. He taught me a lot of things, but he taught me most by example. He taught me to appreciate books and to appreciate nature. He taught me to value learning and encouraged me to seek learning out of the best books, by study and by faith. He always seemed able to articulate his thoughts, but he also always seemed to be reading, writing, or walking and thinking. Now that I am that age I find myself wanting to do those same things both for their own benefits and because I would like my son to learn to value these practices.
While I hope that my current bout with pneumonia doesn't leave me sidelined from running for the remainder of my life, I hope that my son remembers the times he has been at his father's side and moved in unison with him. I hope he remembers the times he has cheered and the times he has crewed for me and handed me bottles of honey, water, gels, S-caps, and clothing. I hope he learns and remembers that after hiking though tough terrain and biking long distances that he can do hard things and that he can find joy, strength, and meaning in and through them. I hope that as he grows older he won't resent his dad for seeking solace in the solitude of long runs, but will rather seek opportunities to find greater strength and wisdom through similar means.
Until then, I'll leave it to him to entertain:
As we were getting into our sleeping bags the night before the race, ( I was in two and still couldn't seem to get warm) Cairo asked, "Dad. Is it ok if I take the bagel out of my pocket now?" "Yes. Cairo. It is ok to take the bagel out of your pocket."