Why We Run

At 7:33 a.m. last Sunday, my father sent me a text message — “Maman 3h56 moi 3h46” — announcing my mother’s and his time at the Nice marathon in the south of France that morning. My program for the day was to run to the local park to compete in a 10-mile trail race and run back, for a total of about 21 miles. With hindsight, my plan to run long that day wasn’t a coincidence.

For his book “De Rennende Hollander” (“The Running Dutchman,” published in Dutch last month and hopefully soon available in English), my friend D. asked fellow runners including me a simple question: Why do you run? My answer concluded this way: “It’s like asking me why I breathe: I just do. It’s part of me. Maybe I run because my parents run, quite simply.”

It’s difficult not to be inspired by parents who not only run competitively at age 62 and 63, but also do it in the most unassuming way. I got the chance to train with them for two weeks in September, while they were visiting me in the U.S. They stuck to their training plan — for a 3h45 finish time — even through downpours. They followed each run with 30 minutes to an hour session of stretching, abs and core exercise.

(“Let’s go running in the rain!” The Daurat stick to their training plan. Simone borrows a Phillies hat that matches her outfit.)

My parents, who started running in their mid-30s, are as driven as they ever have been: Perhaps more so now that they’ve both retired.
My mother got sick with a sore throat during her visit and took one day off running. The following day, while she was still feeling poorly, she accompanied my father and me to the park, where we would run his so-called tempo run of the day (6 miles including about 4 miles of progressive acceleration). She said she would walk. About 20 minutes later, I left my father and ran back to my mother to tell her where he planned to go. I saw her before she saw me. She was jogging: I knew she would.
My father kept track of all his runs thanks to his Garmin watch, which gives him distance and speed, among other data. Every day, I would pick roads that would fit their training plan and accompany them. On a day that called for an easy run of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), I elected for a road I’d never tried myself. When we arrived at what I had chosen as the return point, my father looked at his watch and said: “It’s only 4.8 kilometers, let’s continue a bit more: an easy run has to be 10 km. I’d rather make it longer than shorter.”

Sunday was my father’s 19th marathon and my mother’s 17th, and their time 1 minute faster than in the text message after checking their real time online. As rigorous and motivated as they are in their training, they’re also realistic. My mother was disappointed by her time, 7 minutes slower than last year. She says she peaked two weeks too soon. Four days before the race, she also caught a bad cold that floored her. My father says he was happy, even though he secretly hoped to do better than last year (he was 2 minutes slower). Both tell me they don’t push as hard as they used to. They’re content to still be running. Hours after the race, my mother said she didn’t know whether she’ll do it again. Two days later, she said she might do three more to round up to 20.
“It’s a nice number,” she said. She says she’ll stop when she doesn’t want to run anymore, when the desire is gone. Clearly, it isn’t.

(The Daurat, enjoying a post-club run slice of watermelon on a warm September night, pose with Delco RRC‘s Byron.)

On Sunday, after texting back to my father that I was proud of them both, I ran to my own race. I had no particular expectation, except having a good time on the trails, enjoy the beautiful weather and log in a 20-plus mile run.
I arrived just in time before the registration ended, signing up at the same time as two tall, blonde women who looked very strong: I was relieved when I heard they would run the 5-mile race, not 10 miles like me.
The 200-runner race started nicely, on an easy path patted with fallen leaves, but soon turned technical, to my disadvantage. Even though I felt like I was at my maximum speed on the steep downhill — the skin of my cheeks flopping at each step — I got passed by runners: only males, to my relief. After taking advantage of a small hill to pass a couple of women, I moved behind one of the two blonde women I’d spotted at the start. She was going at about my pace. I stayed behind: in the back of my mind there was a little voice that called me a slacker for not trying to pass — just because I knew she wouldn’t compete in the two-loop race. The second part of the 5-mile loop was very steep and around mile 3, I managed to pass her.

At mile 4 or so, one of the female volunteers said: “That’s what I wanted to see! First female!” I finished the first loop in first place and set up for the second loop, not knowing who was behind me, or how close. I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me either: Was I alone? On the steep downhill, I came across runners who were making their way up toward the end of their first loop. I got distracted, tumbled, fell (on my face, literally, as I had to remove dirt from my right eye), got back up on my feet with surprisingly limited damage and continued right ahead.
After a short moment, I heard: “Wrong turn! Wrong turn!” I had to go back up. Two men who were behind me were now ahead. I had no idea where the next woman was. The second portion of the loop felt much harder than the first time. My thighs were burning. I reminded myself that it was also hard for the others. Twice, I had to stop for a second to recover. The man just ahead of me was now walking uphill: I passed him. “Hey, but you were ahead of me before!,” he said. In fact, it turned out that at a few other runners had also missed the turn and, unlike me, only realized it once at the bottom of the slope. I’d lost just a few seconds.

I crossed the finish line as first female, ninth overall and got a nice trophy. I ran back home with the trophy in my hand, smiling to myself at the thought of how ridiculous I must have looked. It’s the second time in four months that I won a local trail race. Winning is fun. But that’s not why I run.

 (Bringing home my trophy. Merci papa, merci maman.)

One comment

  1. Cecile,
    Your parents are amazing. Their times of 3:55 and 3:45 at the Nice marathon would be great times for runners half their age. No wonder you are so fast: you have the right genes ! Nice photo of your parents and me. Thanks !



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