Sometimes I run and all I think about is the air I breathe, the crunch of the gravel beneath my feet and the coolness of the wind I make as I cut a path through the air. And sometimes, I run with ghosts.
When I first started running (again) I was running most of the time with the ghost of my father. I ran to lose 60 lbs of guilt and sadness piled on by endless amounts of food and alcohol and I ran away from becoming what I didn’t want to be: My father, dead at age 70, because he didn’t take care of himself.
I remember my Dad running Bloomsday when I was a kid and the shirt he proudly wore until there were holes in it, and I remember him wearing it anyway, holes be damned. I was a runner off and on for most of my life, but not much of a competitor since junior high track & field.
I could never quite understand his attachment to the race t-shirt, cotton no less. With or without his ghost, I ran anyway, and off came the pounds and the guilt of not being a better daughter melted right away with them. I logged a lot of solo miles during that time, and I often talked to him while I ran, on those runs where I knew he was most certainly with me.
Mostly I promised to take better care of myself, and also how much I missed him. I still do. As I was searching for photos to use with this post I cried. It’s been 3.5 years since I lost him, and I still miss him terribly. I did run my first race shortly after “starting” again, and I still have that shirt. I earned it. And now I get it.
Sometimes I run with the ghost of my former self. In all honesty, I’m running from, not with, that particular ghost. Every step, every mile, every negative split, every PR and every race puts me further and further from the person I don’t want to be again: unhealthy and unhappy.
And yet, I can’t stop looking over my shoulder to make sure she’s not right there behind me. That’s the worst kind of ghost, the one you think might still be chasing you. Some folks know just what I mean.
On rare occasions I run from the ghost of cancer, that damn breast cancer that popped up just as my running adventures were hitting full speed. Almost exactly 1 year and 11 months to the day since my father passed away I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. I’m fine now, though maybe a little more wary about my health than I was before.
That first year after my diagnosis I ran with the ghost of “what could have happened if I hadn’t found that lump” which then turned into the ghost of “I hope it never comes back.” These days (it’s been over a year and a half) I almost never think about that ghost when I run, but every now and again it creeps up anyway and scares me all over again.
But nowadays, the greatest thing, the thing I love the most about running with ghosts is that sometimes they give me just the motivation I need at the very moment I need it the most. When I have a quarter mile left in a 10K race and I’m worried I don’t have enough fuel in the tank, I can think about any one of these ghosts, and sometimes I run faster, and away, from cancer, from sadness, from the person I used to be.
But sometimes, when I’m really lucky, the ghost of my Daddy picks me up and carries me to the end and I’m lighter, faster, and free. And it doesn’t matter how I placed or what my splits were. The only thing that matters is for that moment I felt the presence of the man who inspires me to be better, even after he’s gone.