I learned this running thing from you, Dad

04/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Times/Review Newsgroup sports reporter Jake Williams is training to compete in the Long Island Half Marathon. This is another installment in a series of articles about his quest.

The tables have turned.

I used to think my father was the crazy one when it came to running. Now he thinks I’m looney-tunes.

We were on the phone last weekend while I mulled possible rationalizations for bailing on yet another long training run. But when my father asked what I was doing, I told him I was psyching myself up for my run.

“How far are you going?” he asked.

“Twelve miles,” I answered.


I think he is still trying to understand the significance of this exploit, along with the fact that I will be running the Long Island Half Marathon — 13.1 miles — in less than three weeks.

Maybe it is because I have taken up what, for decades, was his favorite recreational activity, to a very high-intensity level. But going slightly overboard with running was something I learned from watching him.

My father would go out running every morning, whenever he woke up, be it morning or in the middle of the night. But his preference was to head out between 5:30 and 6 a.m., having left a pot of oatmeal to cook on the stove while he was gone. Three or four miles later he would be home and the oatmeal would be perfectly cooked and ready for breakfast.

For my father, four miles was standard, five miles a solid run, and anything over six, a very long run. He enjoyed it, though, particularly when my brother and I, as young kids, would ride our bicycles alongside while he ran. I don’t know if he waited for us or was going for a second run of the day when he did this. I rarely woke up as early as he did, and when I did, it was not on purpose.

But I remember one morning I could not sleep. I was in Chicago for winter vacation, and in my insomnia-induced state, I let my father talk me into going running at 5 a.m. The wind chill was 18 degrees. While my father dressed for 40-degree weather, which is the coldest temperature I contemplate running in, I ransacked the closets and dressers for whatever I could find.

I came out prepared for sub-arctic conditions. From top to bottom I wore two winter hats, four or five sweatshirts — more than one of which had a hood — long underwear, two pairs of sweatpants and several pairs of socks.

Apparently we had diametrically opposed impressions of what our run would be like. I thought he was underdressed. He knew I was overdressed. He laughed through much of our five miles as I peeled off layer after layer like an onion. I probably smelled like an onion by the time we finished, a pile of my own discarded clothing in my arms as we ran.

Those were the coldest conditions I ever ran in. For my father, they were almost mild. He said he would go running in sub-zero temperatures, like what I had dressed for. He remembered being frightened only once, when he came around a corner and was met by a freezing gust of wind, which he inhaled. It burned the back of his throat, he told me, and made breathing difficult for a short while.

But he just told himself, “Breathe through your nose, dummy,” and kept going.

Personally, that would have been it for me. Anything below 40 degrees and I head for the gym treadmills, if I head out at all. I do not have my father’s iron constitution.

The only thing that will keep him from running is thunder and lightning. I remember once when I was 9 or 10 being awakened in the middle of the night by a torrential thunderstorm. I came downstairs to the kitchen with my brother, where we found our father outside his regular mode of cuisine. Apparently the lightning bolt of an idea that struck him when the thunder jolted him from sleep was to make rice pudding. However, his twist on the pudding arts was to boil down a 12-hour recipe into an hour. Needless to say, it did not turn out quite right.

So, maybe it was better for everyone involved when my father stuck with oatmeal, or pancakes, and running. I still haven’t acquired his taste for oatmeal, but I’ll eat the pancakes any day.

I inherited his running bug, which somewhere along the way turned into an infestation. In my own way, like my father, I cannot get enough. I just go about my running differently, and I know he’s proud of me even if he has difficulty contemplating the distance I run. By the way, I ran the whole twelve miles.

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