Half marathon: running for my Dad

Earlier this month, I ran my second half marathon. This was the first race in a series of four I plan to do this year, and because this month (today, in fact) marks four years since my Dad died of ALS, I decided I’d run this one in his honor.

I didn’t have any particular time goal, but I did hope to set a personal best, which didn’t seem impossible since I’ve only ever run one half marathon. I finished that one feeling like I could’ve given it a bit more, but since it was my first time running that far, I didn’t know just how much I could — or couldn’t — give and still make it across the finish line.

Race day: let’s do this.

runner with American flag

My training had gone well overall, but I pulled a muscle two weeks before the race. It was minor but it was enough to bother me even while sleeping or walking, not to mention running. I rested, did yoga, stretched, iced it… but I was worried whether or not I’d even be able to complete the race.

I only did one short run during those two weeks, but I kept resting and stretching and decided I’d finish even if I had to walk the thing. I was doing this for a man who lost his life to a debilitating disease. Forget setting a personal record. Even crawling across the finish line would be better than giving up.

I could do this.

running Oak Island half marathon

The race started at 7AM, right at sunrise, and the weather was perfect. I felt good starting out, in a positive frame of mind. Sunshine and beach views always help.

As I’ve said before, my dad was a runner. I don’t think half marathons were really a “thing” when he was in his running prime, and there weren’t any official marathons nearby, but I remember him and his buddy Gary marking off a route and running a marathon distance. Gary, an entertaining storyteller, told about that again at Dad’s memorial and had us laughing. Dad ran just about every 5K that came up locally and had quite a collection of race t-shirts. He started running when I was about five and kept on for more than 30 years so I have many running-related memories of him. Plenty to think about during the more than 2 1/2 hours it took me to run this race.

By around mile 8, I was not holding up as well as I’d have liked. But I kept reminding myself of the custom race bib on my back:

Running for my Dad

I knew the most challenging part of the course would be at mile 9, where the course crossed the bridge, then turned around to cross it again. But I also knew that Ken and the kids would be there cheering me on.

That’s my boy’s hand about to high-5 me!

half marathon running up the bridge

We’d made spectator signs because I knew having fun signs would help the kids not get bored so quickly. They got a kick out of it, and especially liked the Nemo “just keep running” sign!

Ken chose their spot right before the peak of the bridge, and he and the kids high-fived runners as they passed. Ken said a number of runners thanked them for being there to encourage them on the bridge. Even if you don’t run, try going to cheer as a spectator if you ever have an opportunity to do so; it’s SO encouraging to the runners!

running spectator signs

Once I’d finished the bridge, I only had 3 miles to go and I realized it was still possible to beat my time for my first half-marathon. However, to do so, I’d have to pick up the pace.

Those last few miles were H-A-R-D.

I’d made peace with walking it in if I needed to, but I wanted to finish strong for my dad. I knew I could take a couple of weeks to recover afterwards so I decided to push hard. My knees felt like buckling and every muscle in my legs considered cramping. When I finished, I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to walk to my car.

There were no doubts this time: I left it all out there. But I did it — and I even got that PR, beating my previous time by more than two minutes.

Biggest. Medal. Ever.

Run Oak Island race medal

I miss my dad. I hate ALS.
I’ll continue to run as long as I can, because I can, because so many can’t.