By Ashley Fisgus – Contributing Writer
The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. It’s early February and a snowstorm had just rolled in the night before. It’s cold, really cold, and snowy – amounts that make Saturday mornings quiet.
I turn off my alarm, ready to turn over and go back to sleep under the warmth of my winter bedding. I call my dad to let him know my plan. After two rings, in his usual cheery-early morning voice, tells me he’s on his way over.
Here we go!
It’s marathon training and no matter what the weather, we have miles to run and a lot of them! Thankfully, on days like this, I have my dad as my running partner.
When I was 12, I decided I wanted to be a runner. I didn’t grow into it, or find myself doing really well at it. I just decided I was going to be a runner.
My best friend came from a running family and they made it look easy. They ran the local races, participated in summer community track programs, and made running part of their family life.
I can’t be sure of my dad’s reasons for starting his running journey, but he joined me. Did he look at my best friend’s family the way I did and think running had to be the coolest thing ever? Or did he decide that, at 37, his bad habits should take a back seat because he wasn’t going to be in his 30s forever? Whatever his reasons, I knew mine. I was going to be a runner.
A couple evenings a week, my dad and I would put on our reflective vests and run under the dark, starry sky.
Early Saturday morning, my dad would wake me to run the quiet country roads. While my dad embraced the quality time together and movement forward – his distances lengthened, his times improved, his body changed, he quit smoking – I didn’t share in his enthusiasm.
I enjoyed his company, when he ran slow enough to stay with me, and I felt tremendous guilt for wanting to quit the very activity we were doing together, but I hated running. I despised running, in fact. Don’t get me wrong, I did feel the joy of crossing a finish line. The runner’s high found me, even then, so I continued running for many more years, but I always hoped my dad would quit. It would make it easier for me to quit.
Running was hard! It hurt – my feet, my legs, my arms, my chest from breathing the cold air, the hot air, no air! It wasn’t easy, therefore, in my mind, I couldn’t do it.
He didn’t quit. I, on the other hand, did.
Fast forward through college, two children 13 months apart, and suddenly, my body wasn’t what I had remembered.
I tried many forms of fitness and my body did come back, but it wasn’t the same. Of course, through all these years, my dad kept running, continuing to make strides in his fitness, approaching 50 and in fantastic shape.
Unbeknownst to him, I conceded. I started small at the gym and kept my milestones, mostly, to myself, but I began to understand the reasons why he started running in the first place.
Our reasons may not have been exactly the same, but, like him, I found my reason for starting, and it wasn’t out of guilt, or regret of being a former quitter. For the first time, my running “career” was about getting in touch with myself and taking care of me.
It was then that I could begin training with my dad again.
By this time, however, he had accomplished so much! He had improved his race times significantly and even completed his first half marathon. But, if he could do it, I could do it!
I may be a mom, but I was not going to spend the rest of my life in “mom jeans!”
My dad may have worked toward his first half on his own, but he wasn’t going to leave me to navigate the journey by myself. He encouraged me when it hurt, and when I was scared of seeing miles I had never seen on my GPS before. He told me his stories of difficulty, of feeling defeat, of wanting to quit…
Wait, what? All this time, I thought his athletic upbringing – national pairs champion figure skating parents, siblings whose names graced the high school record boards – made him a natural!
My dad wasn’t superhuman. He just set goals and had the strength to push through the ups and downs to see them through. I guess, in a way, that did make him superhuman!
Like many parents, my dad tried to find words to help build me up, to give me the strength I needed to finish … but he gave me so much more. He gave me a true partner in training.
I no longer felt bad about myself; about the fear of hard work, the achiness in my muscles. I wasn’t alone. He fought through the same challenges. I ran my first half, from start to finish with my dad. He helped me navigate the unknown and together, he paced faster than his previous half. Back in my “quitting days,” my dad forecasted completing a full marathon together, but I scoffed at the mere thought, yet now, here I was, setting that as my new goal!
We trained hundreds of miles. Through snow storms, stress fractures, sore muscles, lessons in fueling, and hitting the wall at 22 miles, and from start to finish, together, we did it! Running for that long, for that many miles, created a bond few can understand.
Though, these days, our mile goals aren’t always the same, we are still very dependent on our running partnership. When my 22-mile run beckons, it’s my dad waiting for me at the half-way point with fresh bottles of fuel and fresh legs to pace my second half. When he leaves me after 12, my fuel is missing at 20, and I’m delirious at 22, it’s my dad I call, for few know it’s nothing a bottle of Gatorade can’t fix! When I’m on my way to a PR full in Cleveland, and pass out from heat exhaustion, it’s my dad, who after running his own strong Cleveland half marathon, helps me pick up and runs me through the first half of the Buffalo marathon the next week.
My dad says we are equal running partners and I like to think the nutrition advice and pacing I offer to help him reach his time goals makes for an equal partnership, but what he has given me, well, let’s just say I made out in this partnership!
Ashley Fisgus, of Clarence Center, is a personal trainer and nutrition and wellness instructor.