This past Sunday was a bittersweet day for me and my family. My father-in-law had been trying to recover from back surgery for a little over a month and not doing well at all. My wife was in Florida to be with him and her mom. I had been scheduled to run the Heart Mini Marathon here in Cincinnati but I was completely conflicted on whether or not to run the race. On the previous day, Saturday, March 27, the family had decided to adhere to my father-in-law’s wishes, no matter how painful the decision, and remove the life-support machines on Sunday. The doctors had told us that a number of his organs had completely failed, and because of that, he would likely only survive a couple of hours without the machines.
When I learned this on Saturday, my very first reaction (aside from the obvious grief) was to get on a plane immediately and get down there to be with her family. When I talked to my wife, she was adamant that I run the race on Sunday. Absolutely adamant. “You have no idea how important it is to this family that you go a do what you’ve been training for. Run the race, then come to be with us.” As we talked more she explained her position. She knew our boys had watched me (and sometimes accompanied me) while I’ve trained over the last six months and she knew it would be a positive lesson for them to see that hard work has its rewards. That I could understand. What I didn’t expect to hear was that her family in Florida wanted and really needed me to run it as well. They wanted to see some “normal” things in life continuing to go on and they wanted to see me, whom they thought of as “the runner,” doing what I’d trained to do. In then end, although reluctant, I decided to go forward with it.
Early Sunday morning came, and with it a forecast of steady rain and 45 degrees throughout the race. Based on the numbers I saw, that forecast must have kept a good number of people away because it was nowhere near as crowded as I had expected. Based on my recent training numbers, my goal was to run the race at an average pace of less than 9min/mile and I did manage to beat that. I finished the race (a 15K=9.3 miles) officially in 1:22:09, or an average pace of 8:48 min/mile. I also managed to pull off negative splits, which I felt good about.
Midway through the race, I started to think about my wife, her dad, and my family. I replayed the conversation in my head where my wife told me that I had to run the race because it was important to them that I did. It made for a very emotional mile or so. I must have looked pretty silly running along with tears running down my face. Getting to the finish line was emotional as well, but a really odd mix of emotions. Guilt for taking the time to do the race. Happiness for finishing the race and feeling like I still had more. Loneliness as there was no one to meet me at the end. Worry that the end had come while I was running.
By the way, not a drop of rain fell during the race.
As soon I finished, I headed back home for a quick shower, then back to the airport to go be with my wife, her mom, and her family. My flight lifted off at 2:00 PM. My father-in-law slipped away from us at 2:10 PM. I didn’t make it in time.
When I landed and found that he had died while I was in the the air, I was overcome with sadness and guilt. One race that day had gone well, but I couldn’t help but think I had lost the important race. I truly don’t have any way of knowing if it would have made a difference had I made it in time or not, but I do know it’s something I’ll think about when I get back out on the road putting one foot in front of the other.
I need to get back running. I need the physical exertion to help get through this. I need the time to be alone with my thoughts and sort this out. The only way out, is through.
Jack Frost, 1935-2010
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining,
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining,
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Rainy Day