On the 8th Day of Christmas, Running Gave to Me: a Running Dad

Lonn running me to the finish of my fourth marathon.
Lonn accompanying me to the finish of my fourth marathon.

I like to write about feminism and being tough, but way down deep in my heart there has always been a little girl who wished Santa would bring me a daddy so I could be his girl. I never had a father who loved me the most, someone to run to when things got hard, someone who knew everything and could fix whatever needed fixing. I walked myself down the aisle at my first wedding, and my son accompanied me at my second.

At ten I found out the distant, unloving man I called dad wasn’t actually my dad. Instead, my father was an anonymous medical student who donated sperm back in 1978 at Oregon Health and Sciences University, years before conceiving with a donor was anything resembling normal. While this was quite a bomb to drop on a tween girl, I primarily felt relief that it wasn’t my real dad who didn’t love me. However, this discovery kicked-off years of fantasies of my real dad. Who was the faceless, nameless medical student? He must be wonderful! Surely if we ever meet, he will get me and love my deeply like a real father should!

Running didn’t bring me my biological father, though I thought it did for a day or so. Running brought me the next best thing: my friend Lonn.

In 2010, while I was training for my third marathon, Boston, I attended a speed group put on by my local running store. On a dark night in February, an older guy I hadn’t seen before mentioned that he was putting on a Boston-Simulator long run. We talked, and there was instantly something entirely comfortable and familiar between us. In fact, on the first day I ever talked to him, when he saw I only ran with a Timex stopwatch, he lent me his Garmin for the remainder of my training.

That first long run started a relationship where right at the beginning I felt oddly understood and supported. Why believe in me so much? I’m just some girl. After I crossed the finish line at Boston with a 13-minute PR, my cell rang and it was Lonn. He was absolutely ecstatic and bursting with pride for me. The little girl in my heart twirled.

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Over the years the runs, races, and memories we have shared have become countless. The pump-me-up conversations, the bring-me-down-to-Earth ones, the laughs, my emails in the middle of the night with a training question, me crying on his shoulder after a shitty race, him holding my daughter in the hospital room the day she was born, our talks about God, death, life, beauty, and faith, drinking too much wine and eating plenty of good food, trips with our spouses and friends, the feeling that he believes in me no matter if I’ve earned it or not.

While I never observed my real dad loving and supporting his own children, wife, friends, and family, I have observed Lonn doing all these things. Sometime after 2010, I stopped asking Santa for a dad because I don’t need one. Plus, Lonn happens to have placed second in his age group at NYC last month with a 3:04 at the age of 60. So there. My (running) dad is faster than yours.

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There’s definitely a resemblance, right?

Oh yeah. The whole thinking running brought me my biological dad thing. Funny story. One morning several years ago after a 5 a.m. run, Lonn mentioned to us all he was going to his 30th dental school reunion from Oregon Health and Sciences University. “OHSU?” I asked while my mind did the math, realizing he was there around the time my biological father made his donation. My heart started pounding. My mind, the mind that had fantasized for years about this very moment and envisioned a fairytale ending for twenty years, was ready for it to finally happen! “Oh my God. Did you donate sperm?!” I blurted out. Our 5 a.m. running group fell apart at the seams laughing so hard as I tried to explain why I had asked such a thing.

SO???

Unfortunately, no. Running did not bring me my biological dad, just the next best thing.

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For the previous 12 Days of Running posts, go here!

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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4 comments

  1. I absolutely love this. I have a dad, while our relationship hasn’t always been the best- he’s always ‘Dad’ and is supportive and loving. Our relationship has gotten drastically better the last few years- growing up can do that I suppose. BUT, I also have a running dad, in fact a few of them. I used to see this same couple at races all the time, I knew they were from my hometown but that was about it. Eventually we got to talking, and they invited me to ride with them to some races, join on some of their weekend long runs and so on. Since then I have always referred to them as my running parents.They took me under their wing, and so did their friends who are all now like family to me. I don’t see them as much as I’d like anymore, but like with family- when I do, it’s the best.

    I’m so happy you have a “running dad” in Lonn. Because whether you have that ‘other dad’ or not, having a running dad is really special,I know that first hand.

  2. I feel SO fortunate to have had what you described as your Santa-wish father in my real father: athletic (tennis and basketball coach at Whitman College), mentor (to hundreds of college students and kids around town), friend, teacher, and father to five kids. We of course each thought he loved us the best, with the long talks, the bicycle rides, the early morning tennis lessons in the summers between college, the road trips with his college teams. In fact, his heart was so big and his smile so encompassing that he was a father to many, not just his biological children. He didn’t run but he encouraged me in most anything I did, believing completely in me, whether with law school, being a single parent, taking risks, doing my first 100 mile bicycle ride, running my first half marathon. Fathers come in many shapes and sizes. I’m glad you found this love and support in Lonn. This is a wonderful tribute to him.

  3. This is so beautiful. Lonn sounds like an amazing person. Running has also given me some amazing people and friendships – many of which morphed into much more than just friendships and became more like the family members I would have chosen were we to choose these things.

    I also love how brave and honest so many of your posts are. I really love your writing.