Running As Sustenance

AJWs TaproomOver the last few years, from time to time, I have reflected, in this space, on the importance of my daily run. For me, my daily run is the foundation of my life as a runner and, I dare say, as a person. While it is often most valuable as a tool to maintain a consistent and regular training routine, it has increasingly become just as important as an emotional and psychological stabilizer, a steady reminder of what it means to remain balanced and clear in an increasingly complex life.

I was reminded again, first hand, of the importance of my daily run over the last week. Earlier this month, while my family and I were enjoying a mountain vacation out west, my father had an unfortunate accident. While taking a break from watching the Women’s World Cup Final, my 75-year-old dad, a relatively big guy at 6 foot, 4 inches and about 225 pounds, fell and broke two bones in his neck. After a few hours in the emergency room and an urgent-care surgery, he was stabilized and discharged to a rehab hospital. Yet, my mom knew something wasn’t quite right. After a few frantic hours, my father was returned to the emergency room and I decided to jump on a plane and get up to Massachusetts to be with him and my mother. That was last Sunday night.

For a little context, my dad was staying in a room in the very same hospital in which I was born 47 years ago. To say our roots go deep in the sandy soil of New England would be a gross understatement. Given their network of friends and history in the area, my parents had an ample support team around them. Yet for me, in this moment of crisis, I felt the need to be with them and I am glad I made the trip. Now, a week later, I am back in Virginia, my dad is back home, and my mom is handling his recovery well. However, for three important days, in the midst of the challenge of addressing my dad’s and mom’s needs, I was on edge. Thankfully, for those three days, I had my daily run.

In my hasty departure from Virginia last Sunday, I was cogent enough to toss into my bag a pair of running shoes and a kit. After visiting my dad on Sunday, I went back to my ancestral home and had a long, deep sleep. Upon waking at the crack of dawn, I padded downstairs, put on the coffee, and laced up my shoes. Almost on autopilot I stepped out into the salty, humid Cape Cod air and began trotting down the road. My pace was slow, my breathing was labored, my body was achy from travel and stress, and yet slowly, inexorably, as I ran down the streets and through the villages I had run hundreds of times before, I found a little bit of peace. After a couple miles, my mind turned to the task at hand and by the time I returned to the house 40 minutes later my day was planned and things were moving forward.

Wading through pain-management protocols, doctors’ visits, and family phone calls proved to be the biggest test for my mom and me. My dad was slowly recovering and we were beginning to see beyond the crisis at hand. On Tuesday morning when I stepped out the door and began to run, I had a bit more spring in my step. I took note of a few changes in the neighborhood that I hadn’t seen the day before and my focus became even more clear. When I returned from that little four miler and my dad’s surgeon called, I was prepared with questions and an action plan. We were going ahead with the discharge and bringing the big guy home.

On Tuesday evening, we celebrated his return home while preparing him for the long road to recovery. We moved furniture, rolled up rugs, and took delivery of medical supplies. We made lists and charts and I prepared my mom for my departure on Wednesday. I knew she could handle things but I also knew she needed a pep talk that only a son could provide.

Wednesday morning dawned cooler and sunnier. My dad and mom were still asleep downstairs when I put the coffee on and snuck out for my daily constitutional. Immediately, I noticed that there was something different about this run. While I still had to shrug off the morning rust and shake myself into being awake, there was a ray of hope about the run. I am not sure I can accurately explain it but there was a calm awareness that emerged from running that familiar loop that made me optimistic: optimistic for my dad’s recovery, optimistic for my mom’s ability to manage, and optimistic for me to just be and do what needed to be done.

Now, I am sure that people can do what I did without the benefit of a daily run. Many people deal with far more difficulty and do so on their own, perfectly acceptable terms. However, what I can say, with absolute clarity and conviction, is that three innocent, slow, four-mile runs over familiar roads in midsummer gave me all I needed to persevere through my father’s adversity and my mother’s desperation. And, I must say, if running can provide me with that, then that’s about all I think I’ll ever need.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Allagash Brewing Company CurieuxThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. Over the past few years, the good people at Allagash have dipped their toes into barrel-aged beers. Recently I had a chance to get my hands (and lips) on a rare bottle of Curieux. This beer, aged in Jim Beam barrels for a year, weighs in at 11% ABV and flows smoothly and easily. I loved sipping this with my chicken pot pie the other night as it is the beer version of comfort food.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What life crises has running pulled you through? What did the action of running add to or change about those times that you needed?
  • What is it about running that makes the action of doing so calm, healing, and invigorating?

There are 6 comments

  1. ClownRunner

    The Cross-Training gods are very disappointed. You should have run on Monday, biked on Tuesday, and swum with the sharks on Wednesday. You and your father got lucky this time. 3 runs in 3 days is asking for trouble :)

  2. pnwmutrunner

    Thank you for this article, Andy! I can related to this on many levels as my father was sick with cancer and passed away in 2013. I found that I was not only running during this time because he could not, and used that mantra with my daily runs to motivate me to keep going, but that it helped me to deal with the difficulty of the situation and process my thoughts easier. It allowed me time every day to take care of myself during a period when I had to take care of someone else. Running is a truly a gift! Sending you and your family all the best.

  3. senelly

    Another thank you to you, AJW. It's just regular running. for goodness sakes… and, even after sooo many years since Frank Shorter and Park Barner (or Ted Corbitt!), any long distance is still considered by most folks to be an oddball activity. But… it saved my life… and more than once. I used to tell people that I ran because I didn't have enough spare time to walk… or that I wanted to be in good shape when I died. The truth is that when challenging stuff happened in my life, like a divorce I didn't want and the resulting loss of access to my then young children, or the death of relatives and friends, or a particularly stinging professional failure, or… well, you get the picture. We all face challenges, some of which test our very existence. Yet, getting up early day after day and padding down a vacant road in the still dark… allowing my mind to wander and heal kept me going. It taught me that no matter how dismal the present may seem, just keep running and things will improve… which they always did. I am eternally grateful for my mindful movement down the road, down the trail, down the path of my life.

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