Seven months ago, on May 24, 2017, my Dad passed away unexpectedly. I live constantly with the memories of my Mom’s panicked phone call that my Dad had collapsed at the gym, the initial speaker phone conference with the doctor who proclaimed that the surgery to repair his aortic aneurysm had gone well, and the hours of confusion when my Dad wouldn’t stop bleeding, leading a nurse to call me and tell me, urgently, to get in the first plane home, NOW.
I cried that entire plane ride, spooking my travel companions no doubt, but unsure of what message would await me when we landed. After a frenzied drive through the night, flying through red lights and speeding across town, I arrived in time to share those final moments with my Dad, something for which I am forever grateful.
In the weeks and months that followed, running and I have had a complicated relationship. My Dad is my original connection to running, and the source of my love for the outdoors. A talented distance runner and accomplished marathoner, many of my earliest memories are of fun-runs and mile challenges with my Dad. I remember lining up at start lines with him, proudly pinning on race bibs, and agonizing over painful training runs around the local track. As all good teenagers do, part of my angsty rebellion involved rejecting my Dad’s love of running, refusing his suggestion that I join the cross-country team, and generally distancing myself from the sport we had once shared.
It was only in college that I returned to running on my own, venturing into longer runs and eventually training for my first marathon. I ran my first marathon back in my hometown, and there has never been a more enthusiastic fan than my Dad. As I rediscovered my love for running, my Dad proudly accompanied me to packet pickups, joined me for warm-ups, flew to stay with me in hotels and cheer me on at races, and eagerly dissected my performances with me, always making plans for what might come next.
As I constantly moved cities and changed coasts, only rarely returning home, running became a source of re-connection for both of us. Despite lingering knee injuries, my Dad continued to run well into his 60s and, as he slowed down, made up for it by ramping up his enthusiasm for my adventures, and the adventures of my husband as well. When we moved to Colorado, he picked up hiking, joined us up 14ers and relished days spent on the trail. In January 2017, my Dad had knee replacement surgery. As an incentive for recovery, I asked him to help me crew my husband at the San Juan Solstice 50 miler in June. Three weeks before the race, he passed away.
In the immediate aftermath of my Dad’s death, I threw myself into running as a means of connecting with his presence. Time on the trails gave me peace and gratitude for the love of running and nature that my dad instilled in me. Races gave me a chance to dedicate my efforts to his memory. I ran the Never Summer 100k two months after my Dad’s death wearing a hat that said “What Would Larry Do?” When a race volunteer asked me, in fact, what would Larry do, I told him he would love the shit out of the experience and give it his all. And he would.
More recently, as life moves on and I struggle through a society that has increasingly little patience for my continued grief, running has become the silent space where I can still reflect on what happened and how much I miss my Dad. And that hurts. My runs are often interrupted by raw emotion that bubbles to the surface. I find myself sidelined by bouts of sobbing, or lost in memories of those last hours in the hospital with my Dad. While I typically do most of my running with friends and love the social aspect of a good trail run, lately it’s been hard to share these painful experiences with others.
Shortly after my Dad died, a close friend described the idea of thin places to me. She suggested they are the places where the space between our world and whatever lies beyond grows thin and the presence of our departed loved ones feels particularly strong. For me, my thin place is on the running trail. I feel the breeze on my face, the ground beneath my feet, and am overwhelmed with how my Dad’s love for these experiences lives on with me when I run. Sometimes it’s almost too much, but I keep coming back, longing for that continued connection with running, with the mountains, and with my Dad. Hopefully, one day, it will feel a bit easier. But for now I ask myself, what would Larry do?