RADJournals: Eve Gruschow shares her father/daughter running journey
I did not grow up running. In fact, I made a point to avoid it. I did track in middle school (4x1 relay) but otherwise felt no inclination to run any sort of distance. I looked at the girls who ran cross country and just couldn’t see myself running with them. They were crazy people. Amazing – but crazy.
My dad had tried encouraging me to run. He himself was a runner and had soaked up that culture in California. The half marathon was his favorite distance. He would tell me stories about running with friends up and down the hills of San Francisco. After he married my mom and moved to Maryland, he didn’t run very much. Shortly after I was born, we moved to Washington. He continued fishing and hunting but sneakers were only worn for walking the dog, yard work, or strolling around Westport beach in the summer.
When my dad turned 70, he decided to make a change. He was feeling older and less in shape than he was used to. What better way to start getting fitter and healthier than to pick up running again? But this time he wanted a partner – and I was selected.
It’s safe to say that I was surprised. I was worried I would hate it or (worse) that I would be so terrible that my dad would regret asking me to join. But I was also aware that we didn’t have many father-daughter activities anymore. We had been fishing together since I was seven years old, but I was in my mid-20’s at this point and other things competed for my time/attention. So I agreed to start running with him and we registered for a local 5k in October 2012.
Running with my dad quickly became a staple in my life. It brought a new sense of discipline and gratitude. We ran together most Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings, starting small and slowly building up endurance and distance. Running was basically new to both of us and we made sure neither person got burned out or injured. After the first couple of years, we started signing up for more races. We completed 10 events in both 2014 and 2015, and created new traditions of running certain series each year (longest streaks are 10 years of the Burien Brat Trot and 8 years of the Seattle Hot Chocolate).
I thrived off the energy of races, especially when the weather was terrible. During a March 5k, we ran in a constant downpour for the entire (very uphill) course. A December 10k had us running in clear skies but 17 degrees and required me to stuff hand warmers in my shoes. My dad and I would look at each other and grin at the masses of people doing this beautiful thing in ugly weather. I felt amazing. Crazy – but amazing.
In December of 2016, my dad had a bad fall that resulted in fractures along his face and skull. The doctor told him if he didn’t run (or move much) for the next few months that things would heal straight and he wouldn’t need surgery. Suddenly I lost my running partner. He was in his mid-70’s and recovery was more difficult. He encouraged me to keep the race schedule we’d already outlined but it felt impossible. It wasn’t like before when I couldn’t see myself running with these people. It was that I couldn’t see myself running at all without him with me. My love for running was a direct extension of my love for running with my dad. How could I have one without the other?
Thankfully he did recover after a few months, but we didn’t pick up our original cadence. We tried a couple times but both left feeling discouraged and my dad in pain. I felt this need to run for both of us so I kept going even though my heart wasn’t in it. My discipline evaporated and it was harder to get motivated for even shorter runs. But he kept encouraging me, excited to hear about my plans or look at my latest swag.
I pulled things together to complete my first full marathon in October 2017 – exactly 5 years from when my dad and I ran our first 5k. It was the first time the happiness at my own triumph overshadowed the sadness that my dad wasn’t running too. I had finally made a connection to running that was 100% mine, and it felt good. Since that moment I’ve worked to build my connection with the sport and its community. And while I have ups and downs with running, they are at least my own.
Today, my dad and I still participate in our favorite series (although through COVID we had to settle for walking the registered distance on the day-of in our own neighborhood). At 80 years old, he doesn’t try to run as much anymore thanks to knee issues that popped up last year. And while I still miss our sessions, it gave me years of memories that I will always cherish and a new favorite topic of conversation for us.
My love for running will always be connected with the love for running with my dad. I’ve checked the boxes on almost every milestone with my him by my side. I’ve discovered the half marathon is my favorite distance too (like father, like daughter). And no matter what happens next, or how much longer I decide to keep running, I will always be grateful to him for helping me feel amazingly crazy and crazily amazing.