Sunday, May 18, 2014

Promises to Keep

In December of 2012, there was a shooting in a local mall and another in an elementary school in Connecticut.  During that time, we listened to NPR a lot.  Perhaps we listened to it a little too much.  My daughter, E, suddenly became obsessed with death, shooting and guns, and began to ask a lot of questions - questions I wasn't quite ready to answer, but because we had exposed her, we had to answer.

We talked a lot about choices people make, sometimes they are not friendly, and they cause a lot of people to get hurt.  We talked about death, and what it means to be dead.  She had some experience with it, since both our cats died in the years after she was born, but it was a little hard for her since she didn't quite remember the cats.  Sure, she saw pictures of them, and pictures of herself as a baby with them, so she knew they had existed, but she didn't quite get the feeling of loss, when something (or someone) you love so much is suddenly gone, and you will never get to see, touch or speak to them again.  She just didn't understand that kind of devastation.

And then one day, out of the blue, she turned to me and said "Mommy, I don't want you to ever get dead!" 

I grabbed her and held on to her as tightly as she held on to me.  She was crying and shaking, and I felt myself doing the same.

"I promise," I said, not knowing exactly how I could keep such a promise, "that I will do everything in my power to keep myself from getting dead."

We held each other a little longer.  I kissed her and stroked her hair.  I inhaled deeply as I sniffed the last little strands of innocence passing away.  My daughter finally figured it out, and realized that I could die.  That I could no longer be there to hold her, pat her back to go to sleep, take the spiders out of the house, cut her meat, or read her Charlotte's Web at bedtime, one chapter at a time.  That was heartbreaking.

In January, I started to make good on my promise.  I decided that I would take a walk on the berm trail around the Nike campus on my lunch breaks.  After all, it's right next door.   I had no idea how long the trail was, nor did I know if it was even legal to walk around it, but that is what I was planning on doing.

It was a sunny day, and unseasonably warm for January.  Come to think of it, it was unseasonably sunny for the Pacific Northwest.  It felt good.  I felt good.  I was beginning my journey to not get dead for my daughter.  I was strong and smart and capable.  As I stepped onto the trail, something came over me.  I can't describe it, nor do I know where it came from.  But what I did was a complete surprise.  What I did, was run.

I am was not a runner.  I ran cross country in high school so I wouldn't get fat, but I was the slowest person on the team.  My coach would always yell at me, telling me to "stop having conversations with the wind!"  I attempted running one day in college, and gave up immediately.  When I moved out to Portland, I tried the couch to 5k program.  I lasted a week.  I didn't like the way my body felt when I ran.  Everything hurt - my joints, my lungs, my feet, my hair - it sucked.

But there I was, running on the Nike trail, and I kind of enjoyed it.  I remembered the last time I ran, and how much I hurt.  My joints didn't seem to hurt the way they did before.  My lungs didn't feel like little knives were stabbing them from the inside.  My feet were happy.  What was this crazy dimension that I had just walked into?  Does Nike pump chemicals into the air so that anyone on campus breathing it in suddenly enjoys hard, physical work?  That had to be it.

I didn't run far, and I didn't run fast.  But I ran.  I ran until the song on my iPod was finished.  Then I walked.  When the next song came on, I decided to run again.  I continued this run/walk combo until I found my way back to the start of the loop trail.  I hadn't planned on it, but that day was the beginning of my journey to be a runner.

I returned to the trail two days later, and two days after that.  In the next few weeks, I was there every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I was soon able to run for two songs without stopping to walk.  Then three, and four, and then I was running the entire time.  I couldn't believe it!

I told my friends, my husband and my doctor about this new activity I had taken up.  P was pretty sure the reason I didn't find it painful this time around is because I now have the experience of childbirth, which is the gold standard of comparison to all pain.  My doctor encouraged me to sign up for the Shamrock Run.  It was a 5k - 3.1 miles.  The Nike Berm trail is 1.97 miles.  I just had to run one more mile for the race.  No problem.

The Shamrock Run was a blast.  I wanted to finish in 35 minutes, give or take, and I did.  I felt strong.  I felt accomplished.  I felt that I was not getting dead.  I was keeping my promise.

I found myself signing up for more races, and bettering my time with each one.  My children and husband were always there, my biggest fans, cheering me on.

I signed up for a race on Mother's Day, called Run Like a Mother, which is what I did.  I also wet my pants as soon as I crossed the finish line, in true motherly style.  I packed a change of clothes because I knew that would happen.

I began training for my first 10k, because I felt that it was time to move forward.  I was feeling strong, and I was certain that if I could run 3.1 miles, I could run 6.2.  I was dedicated to my training until my father passed away and I didn't have any desire to run for a while.  I also didn't have any desire to finish reading the Run Like a Mother book I had checked out from the library and hadn't put down for the two days prior to getting the news.  I had three chapters left.  I still have no desire to read it.

My father wasn't the healthiest person.  He was overweight and had heart issues which are what eventually ended his life.  It was sudden and unexpected.  It was preventable.  A few years ago, he lost a lot of weight and was able to get off some of his medication, but lately, he seemed to have put on some weight, and had some issues that he didn't really go into detail about, but they were his reason for not coming down for L's birthday party that spring.

At the Tulip Festival for L's 1st birthday 2012
My dad and I didn't have the best relationship for almost half my life.  I was so mad when he died because I felt that I had lost the best years I would have with him.  I felt robbed, and I was angry at him for not taking better care of himself.  I'm slowly getting through that, embracing and cherishing the time we did have together, because that was spectacular and special.  I've also realized that the best way to memorialize him is to keep my body and heart in good shape.  In the weeks after his death, as we made arrangements, flew down to California and laid him to rest, my daughter's plea played in my mind.  "I don't want you to ever get dead."

I started running again.  I started running while I was still in California.  I signed up for a different 10k.  I signed up for a 5k the week before that.  I trained.  I trained hard.  I was not going to get dead.  I was not going to have a weak heart.  I owed it to my daughter; I owed it to myself; and I owed it to my dad.

I completed the 10k, and got a PR that I have yet to break for the 5k I ran the week before.  This year, instead of running the Shamrock 5k, I ran the Shamrock 15k.  That's 9.3 miles.  NINE POINT THREE.  For someone who, a little over a year before, could run for only 3 1/2 minutes at a time, that's quite an accomplishment.

I love to run!
I ran like a mother again this year.  I was faster than I was last year.  More importantly, I didn't wet my pants.  I continued running after I crossed the finish line and didn't stop until I got to the bathroom, but at least I made it there.

I'm not the fastest runner, nor am I the best runner.  But I'm a runner and I'm not dead.

Mother Runners
Today would have been my dad's 70th birthday.  Had the significance of the date of the race occurred to me, I would have signed up for and run the Rock & Roll 1/2 marathon today.  I'm not sure I would have been able to make it the whole 13 miles without breaking down into a pool of emotion, so maybe that's why the date didn't strike me when people were talking about it.  I knew I had to do something physical and special, though.

Because the next race I have coming up is a trail run in Forest Park on July 16th, I decided to sign up for a free training plan on RunKeeper called "Running 4 Fat Loss."  I chose it for three reasons: 1. It's free; 2. It has speed training in it; and 3. My coworker/running buddy is doing it, too.  Today was the first workout of the plan for me.  I had to run 30 minutes at a steady pace - 70% of my max heart rate, or (since I don't have a heart rate monitor) at a pace where I can carry on a conversation.

I checked every so often to make sure I could talk out loud.  I wasn't winded or panting.  I was breathing in my nose, and had to remember to breathe out my mouth.  I felt amazing.  I felt strong.  I felt like I could run this way for a good long while.  Perhaps I could run a half marathon.  Perhaps I should have run that half marathon.

And then it was decided.  I will run a half marathon.  I don't know when I'll do it, or which one I will run, but I will run one.  I may not run one until this time next year, to commemorate my dad, but I will run one within the next calendar year.  And not only will I run a half marathon some time in the next year, I will run a half marathon when I'm 70 years old.  Because dammit, I wish my dad could have done that. (mental note: talk mom into running a half marathon)

My pace for this steady run was about the same pace I ran my first 5k.  During that first 5k, I was winded.  I was tired.  I wasn't quite sure I was going to make it to the finish.  Today, I was sure I could run that fast (or slow, however you want to look at it) for as long as I needed.  My heart is strong.  It is not going to fail me, seize up, or stop.  It will keep beating with love for my children, my husband and myself.  I will keep my promise and do everything in my power to stay alive for my children.  I know first hand how devastating it is to lose a parent. If I can prevent pain and suffering for my children, I will do it.

Today, and every May 18th, I will run.

For my dad.  

For my children.  

For my heart.  

For me. 

Let's hear it for running!

1 comment:

  1. You are an inspiration! Best of luck training and the race on July 16th.

    jeannine: waddleeahchaa