In this poignant piece for Outside, longtime runner Christopher Solomon considers loss and the body’s inevitable decline as he recounts how his father helped him fall in love with running, what running has meant to him over the decades, and the injury that stands between him, daily roadwork, and the peace and joy that it can bring.
And when the Colonel decided that his three children should also love running, it was more decree than suggestion. Other neighborhood kids had to take out the trash for their allowance; my sisters and I ran for ours.
The conventions of memoir dictate that we must have hated our father for this—our own Great Santini. But my sisters and I adored him, and we adored running. I grew up an eager if unexceptional athlete; my medal haul from years of competition would not fill a soap dish. Those early decades of running shaped me, though. At day’s end in college and then later, as a young writer, I laced up. Having run almost every day since childhood, I rarely found the act too unpleasant, even when I was pushing along at a decent clip. On these runs, something curious always happened by the 18th minute. The ragged bellows in my chest grew less insistent. The chaos of arms and legs settled into a rhythm. Thoughts from the day—current arguments, past heartaches, the sentences that resisted being pinned to the page—drifted past as if on a conveyor belt. I reached out and picked up each in turn, considering it from different angles.
These runs rarely produced thunderbolts of insight. But by the time I got home, with streetlamps flickering to life, my brainpan had been rinsed. The world felt possible again. For me, these runs were almost like dreaming.
When the wheels start coming off an athlete’s chassis at middle age, the big surprise isn’t that it happens. It’s that you, me—we—barreled along so blindly for so long, not seeing that the road ahead was really a narrowing one-way street.