Why do you run? For some, it may be that you’re trying to burn off that extra scoop of ice cream you inhaled or maybe because you had a crappy day at the office. For my good friend Ashley, running meant chasing more than pavement and keeping one foot in front of the other.
All About Ashley: She still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, but she is proud to have accomplished as much as she has since graduating from UGA. Ash is a former/recovering reporter who is enjoying the marketing side of life. She truly believes in pay it forward. Ashley drives an old beat up car, much like her dad, and most the time she doesn’t care.
Likes: Beautiful horse May, local news, painting, outdoors, Facebook photo albums, flying
Dislikes: Odd work hours, going to bed at 7 PM, getting lost in a corn maize, oversold flights
WARNING! Whip out the closest boxes of tissues. You’ll be tearing up quicker than a celebrity during a Barbara Walters interview.
When I started out training for my first half marathon, it was at most a personal goal. At the time I was working in an industry I no longer had the heart for and I was beaten down to where I needed to see myself through a challenging goal. Having friends in Nashville, I decided to sign up for the Music City Half Marathon and make an experience of it.
I’ve always run, never longer than about 45 minutes at a time and the farthest I’d tracked was in a few local 10Ks. I knew 13.1 miles would be hard, but within reach. What I could not know was in the coming months running would take me through my family’s most heart-wrenching time. Just before I started training, my father called me and the only word I heard him utter was cancer; cancer is everything everyone says it will be and everything you cannot possibly understand until it threatens your family. I cried and I immediately thought, would dad be there to walk me down the aisle? Would he become the grandfather I envision with my future children? Those questions and so many more chest constricting what-ifs entered my thoughts uninvited.
The moments where I didn’t feel like I was suffocating came when I was running. Being able to leave the front door with my dog and just go welcomed for me the part of my days when I could breathe. Sometimes my runs were fueled by anger and questions directed at God. How could this happen to my dad of all people? He is the best person I have ever known. When he told me he had cancer, he felt badly—not for himself, but for having to upset my sister, mom, and me with the news! And throat cancer for a man who’s never smoked? Most frustrating for me in all this—there was not a single thing I could do to ease my father’s pain. The only thing he asked of me was to pray for him, and for some reason that became hardest of all… maybe pleading to God about my dad made it too real, made all of us too helpless? Whatever the reason, it became difficult to just be still, and so only when I ran was I able to formulate prayers.
During other runs, I refused to think, my feet carried me away from it and into the pleasant scenes of families playing, dads mowing lawns, and mothers planting flowers along the tree-lined streets of Atlanta.
Dad never complained, just told me what hurt when I asked, but you could see he was suffering. Dad couldn’t eat, swallow, or talk, and so each smoothie was a battle to keep the weight on. I wouldn’t think of this until later, but as Mondays became “chemo Mondays” and the treatments dragged on making him sicker, the longer and more intense my runs became. I used Hal Higdon’s training guide, and posted it to the calendar in the kitchen. As the anger wore off and I needed more motivation to keep adding on miles, I thought of my dad and figured achy knees were little in the way of pain. So as he fought fevers, nausea, and constant pain, his strength began to carry me through my runs.
As race day approached, it was clear to me I was going to run it for my dad. I had a shirt made with his picture in his pilot uniform on it and the words “This run is for the Captain.” I know it’s not unusual to run for someone with an illness or for a cause, but now I understand how deeply significant and personal it is. The last 3 miles in Nashville, I hurt. My knees throbbed, my muscles were stiffening up… but I never took a walking step; it became a mental battle. I kept thinking, we’re gonna finish this Dad and we’re doing it in 10 minute miles. It was the best run I’ve ever had and I finished in 2:10. Because dad had no voice left, my first text was to him, saying we did it.
And my dad, “The Captain,” is recovering now. I hope next time he’ll be able to be there to meet me at the finish line with my mom. The two of them are my heroes.
So to answer the original question of what running has meant for me? When I didn’t have words to talk about my dad, running became wordless therapy. It’s an escape, a place to sort through my thoughts, to pray, to just be, and to appreciate what it feels to be healthy. It was a source of strength for me in a time of weakness; it kept me sane and brought me closer to both my family and my wonderful friends.
Thank you to everyone for cheering me on, checking in, and for the prayers I had trouble finding words for. I found this quote in the chemo room where I spent Mondays with my dad and the patients there: “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” –Marcel Proust
Training for 13.1 miles was quite the unexpected journey, but worth every mile of it. Next goal… keep up with Nic!
This has Oprah written all over it. Three cheers for Ashley!! Appreciate the honesty about her experience and sharing her story with us. We all wish The Captain a speedy recovery. And most importantly, Ashley definitely shows us that running may keep you grounded but at times you can certainly feel like you are flying.
If you have a story to share, fire over an e-mail. Always great to hear personal triumphs!