After my 63-year-old father completed last year's Marine Corps Marathon, he wanted to go dancing. I was so exhausted from running half the race that my leftover energy was spent finding a comfortable position on our couch. My father will be running again this year, this time I hope to go the distance with him.
That my father runs marathons comes as no surprise: I remember his rigorous routine that would have left Roger Staubach breathless; I recall watching him work out on Saturday afternoons: several hours of squash sandwiched between running and calisthenics, sometimes followed by three lengths in a 25-meter pool without surfacing for air.
Two years ago he gave up squash -- a game he played for more than 30 years -- to concentrate on long-distance running. I figured it would be easy for him, since he'd probably need only a few breaths per mile.
I began running several years ago after an injury-ridden foray into athletics. I spent my first year of varsity lacrosse warming the bench. To pass the time, I consumed the team's supply of Gatorade and oranges. Called unexpectedly into one game, I moved with the agility of any athlete whose stomach was swishing with fluids and whose hands were stuck to his stick with dried orange juice. I saw very little playing time after that.
Next season, in peak condition, I started at mid-field. After three games I had enough injuries to warrant a week in the infirmary. There I made the difficult decision that all athletes must make at some time: to hang up my cleats.
During my next phase of non-contact sports, racquetball, I sustained my most severe injury. A freshman in medical school, I was hit flush on the nose with the full force of a classmate's racquet. My nose bled intermittently for several weeks. We were studying the head's blood supply at the time. Perched on the speaker's podium, my anatomy professor would peer gleefully down at me while discussing the vessels involved in nosebleeds. This made for much merriment in the lecture hall, though I think the episode had a major impact on my classmate -- he became an orthopedic surgeon because, as he told me, "I like to take care of young people with athletic injuries."
Since my college days, I've been able to limit my weight gain to a mere 20 pounds. But when I found myself unable to muster enough strength to unscrew the cap of my Maalox bottle, I realized I was in a state of marked physical atrophy. It was around this time that I also noticed that people were no longer mistaking me for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shortly afterward, my father called to tell me that he was going to run in the Marathon. This would be an ideal time for me to get back into shape.
As the day of the race drew closer, I was still running only five miles a day. I concentrated on teaching my three-year-old daughter how to hand water to runners on the move. On The Day, I thought I was capable of running half the distance; I arranged for my wife to pick me up at the 13-mile mark.
Race day was a perfect mixture of crisp fall air, sunshine and holiday spirit. At the 13-mile mark, I confidently told my wife to meet me at the finish line. Within the next 100 yards I began to regret that decision.
I struggled for the next mile. My mind was obsessed with being at home ensconced on my couch with a cold washcloth on my forehead. My foresighted mother, however, was at the 14-mile mark; I had never been so happy to see her. We drove to the finish line and watched my father sprint in, looking 33. I felt like 63.
Last month, when I visited my parents in Detroit, my father and I ran a 10-mile course; I had difficulty keeping up. Asking a man 30 years my senior to slow down is almost as disconcerting as the six pounds I gained in training for this event. It was obvious that talking together during the race would be impossible unless I increased my speed or found another way to communicate.
Fortunately, a gadget-mad friend of mine is lending me a small pair of walkie-talkies -- headphones with attached speaking devices -- with a range of a few miles. Watch for us: My father will be the elegant gentleman in front, keeping the fast pace with ease, smiling as I tell him racy jokes from two miles behind..