My Dad Called Me A Cupid Stunt A Few Years Ago.
At least, I think that’s what he said, he might have got a few of the letters muddled up.
I had just boldly announced my intention of running a marathon. He spluttered whilst refilling his wine glass for the sixth time and then squinted at me through the grey haze that hung as heavily as the atmosphere.
“Why the hell would you want to do something like that”, he muttered in the lopsided, monotone way that a only seasoned smoker can deliver a sentence whilst a cigarette balances on their lips with the poise of a ballerina.
It had been a statement, not a question.
In his mind, it was simple:
Exercise, challenge and adventure was something reserved for madmen and fools.
A daily diet of 30 Marlboro Gold, black coffee, and red wine (‘from France’, he boasted) for the last 30 years was apparently perfectly sane. He was like a walking, talking version of those medical adverts from the 1920s, informing people that smoking was good for their lungs and to make sure they added cocaine to their diet.
Rather than embark on a head-to-head confrontation, I examined the tiny parallel trenches that ran down the corner of his wooden coffee table, appearing as if two termites has burrowed their way from the surface to the base (but had actually been chiselled by my two front teeth as I had stumbled and fallen onto the table as a toddler. Dad’s wineglass escaped unscathed though, so that was a relief). I was lost for words. I couldn’t find the confidence nor the courage to parry his attacking insults.
The Unwinnable Battle
This was a battle I couldn’t win. How do you try to convince someone that you want to do something different, something extraordinary. How do you argue that you want to try something which carries no financial reward, no particular increase in status or prosperity, but you simply want to attempt it to better yourself?
To see if you can. To discover if you have what it takes. For the challenge.
“I want to see if I can run a marathon”, I muttered. “I want to do it, to see if it’s possible. To find out if it’s possible…for someone like me”.
To say my dad didn’t know much about running would be akin to saying goldfish don’t particularly know much about astrophysics. But with the predictability of someone who had reached for the corkscrew at exactly 5pm without fail every day for the last 5,700 days, he shot back with the tried-and-tested argument:
“Your knees! Your knees won’t be able to take it! You’ll be in a bloody wheelchair by the time you’re 40!”
I argued and debated and bickered and disagreed and ultimately failed to change his mind.
As I staggered home later that night, stumbling along the pavement, bouncing from pillar to bonnet like a lopsided pinball machine (it had been French wine, after all), I muttered to myself that he was wrong and I was right.
I wasn’t stupid. I wasn’t wasting my time. I wanted to run a marathon for the challenge, the discipline, or the love of adventure and doing something I’d never attempted before.
In the build-up to the 2012 London marathon, however, my father remained resolutely standfast that I was making the stupidest decision of my life.
All Pain And No Gain
He chose not to come and watch my marathon attempt.
“You’re not a runner”, were his final words on the matter. And that was that.
Maybe he was too busy to come and cheer me on. Maybe he believed the Metropolitan Police would be heavy-handed with the breathalyzer. Maybe he didn’t want to see me suffer.
But suffer I did.
Five and a half hours of tears, pain, an unfortunate incident in a portaloo and a knee injury that would require months of rehabilitation and several painkilling injections, and I finally staggered across the finish line to collect my medal.
“Told you so”, my dad’s jubilant voice carried down the phone when I spoke to him a few days later.
I heard the click of a lighter as he triumphantly lit another cigarette, and without skipping a beat he switched it into his mouth with the practiced skill of a pit lane mechanic changing the tyre of a Formula One car.
“Stick to what you’re good at”, he reminded me. “Remember, you’re not a runner.”
“Yep, you’ve got a point, dad”, I mumbled, “that was the worst day of my life.”
To Boldly Go…
I listened to his advice, stopped running, and started drinking. Even as I enviously looked at the healthier lives of others, I realised he had been right all along. Who needs to keep fit and embrace a love of adventure when you can boldly run a bar-tab like no-one else?
But my father was wrong about one thing: The London marathon wasn’t the worst day of my life.
That moment would arrive four years later…
…When I watched my dad take his last breath and die.
The where and the why, the how and the when and the fear and the panic and the confusion and the loneliness is probably best saved for another day.
However, It’s fair to say that when you’re a mentally unstable, unfit, chubby, depressed 35-year old who has been carefully cultivating a drink problem, enjoying a normal lunchtime at work and then watching your father die six hours later is pretty high up on the fuck-you-up scale.
But I have so much to thank him for.
Because if I hadn’t had to watch him die that day, I wouldn’t – after six months of going properly off the rails – have realised I’d just received a crash-course in life being shorter and more precious than we could ever imagine.
I had the opportunity to look at my life and see that I was starting at zero.
If he hadn’t died, I wouldn’t have decided to take my life in a different direction. I wouldn’t have chosen to see what I was capable of.
I wouldn’t have stopped drinking.
I wouldn’t have run across the Sahara Desert.
I wouldn’t have broken World Records, won ultramarathons, walked on fire, become an Ironman or decided to run 200 miles across the frozen Arctic.
But I’d swap it all just to spend one more day with him.
He, on the other hand, would probably say that’s a bloody ridiculous idea and I’d be a cupid stunt to swap the achievements for another few hours in his company.
Life Is An Adventure
Would he be right? I don’t suppose we’ll never know.
What I do know, however, is that if I hadn’t gone through I have, I wouldn’t be planning the Starting at Zero challenge where myself and 10 others will run the entire 874-mile length of the UK in 35 days.
And if I hadn’t gone through what I have, I wouldn’t believe with all my heart that it can be done.
Maybe I’m wrong, but there’s only one way to find out.
I’ll just have to keep reminding myself:
I’m not a runner.