Becoming a runner is like receiving a gift. I have my DD to thank for this gift. If it were not for her, I would not be a runner today. I certainly never would have run on the Grand Corniche, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to the west from the bluffs of Dakar, Senegal. Dakar, with its modern port and three million inhabitants, is the capital of this former French colony perched on the western bulge of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert, a destination for both European tourists and drivers in the annual Paris-Dakar Rally. The Grand Corniche, a wide path that snakes along the coast, is popular with tourists and residents alike. As my DD and I ran along the path a couple years ago, I reflected on the seemingly random and disconnected series of connections that had brought us there, and the credit she deserves for giving my life a new direction.
The first connection was watching and supporting my DD as she ran in cross-country meets in high school. Lacking an abundance of running talent, she nevertheless tried hard and was on the cusp between the varsity (seven members) and JV (about 100, X-C being an open sport at her high school) teams. The camaraderie and mutual support was inspirational. When I, an occasional jogger at that time, ran with her on weekends, it was obvious that she was the faster runner.
A couple of years later, when she was off at college and her participation in athletics was limited to an occasional Ultimate Frisbee game, my DD decided to accompany her roommate as she began training for a Half Marathon. The roommate was not a runner but wanted to support her sister who was planning to run the Half to celebrate her 30th birthday. When my DD mentioned this training plan to me on her Winter Break, I offered to run with her every other day or so for the remainder of the Break. By the end of the Break, we hoped to build our distance up to four miles. This would be a considerable leap from my jogging pattern of 2 miles (10 min/mi pace) on most weekends, but seemed manageable. As I recall, we got up to three miles before she had to return to college. It was apparent by the end, though, that I was now the faster runner, and could maintain a pace of 9 min/mi. Inspired, I kept running through the spring, maybe four times a week, and even wondered whether I could do a Half myself.
Randomness intervened. The sister developed a stress fracture, but not before doing 13.1 miles in one training run (success, sort of). The roommate developed shin splints and stopped running. My DD just got busy. I persisted, and got hold of a training schedule for a local 20K in June. I followed the schedule religiously, even finding my way to the local track when the schedule called for intervals. There I fell in with members of the local running group. I received lots of encouragement from them and was touched by their concern for my health and wellbeing. It was also obvious that their shared love of running created a tremendous bond of understanding and support of each other. Several of them ran in the 20K, one running with me most of the way, and I finished with a respectable average pace of 8:45 min/mi.
After my proud achievement, I had to decide whether to continue training or to return to my slothful ways. I continued, sometimes on my own and sometimes with the group on the track and in long weekend runs. I tried my hand (and legs) at local 5K and 10K races and found that I could come away with ribbons or trophies. In the fall, just for fun, my DD and I even ran together in a trail race.
The next spring, my DD was spending a semester abroad in Senegal. She had a runner friend, and they discovered the Grand Corniche, a popular path for walkers and runners (the adjacent road may go by the same name). The name of this path sounded so regal (the Petite Corniche to the south just didn’t have the same ring to it) that I was intrigued. When my wife and I decided to visit our DD in Dakar, I knew that running on the Grand Corniche would be almost as exciting as seeing my daughter. We ran together, I with my warm-up pants tied around my waist; I needed the pants for modesty while walking to and from the Corniche in this mostly Muslim country.
For me, running has become a big part of my identity. It is a great way to get the half hour or more of daily exercise that physicians recommend these days. I feel fortunate, in a way, to have discovered running so late in life, as my knees may not have lasted this long if I had started earlier. I have read that someone who starts running at 50 can often look forward to several years of PR’s. So far, this pattern is holding for me. I have improved my 20K PR to a 7:46 min/mi pace and I ran the California International Marathon last fall in under 3:44, an improvement of 28 minutes over my first marathon time.
My CIM time qualified me for Boston, and the memory of running it this past spring nearly eclipses my memory of running on the Grand Corniche. Whatever good things await me in my running life, I will give credit where it is due, to my DD. I owe her a lot. Some day, if she stays healthy, she will again be the faster runner. Who knows, perhaps my experience can inspire her, once she has more free time, to make that day come soon. It would be nice to return the favor.
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