Why I Signed Up For A Half Marathon

I used to hate distance running. Growing up, I was a sprinter. The act of running was confined to short, powerful bursts, and it was over before my brain could register what was happening and commanded me to stop. That style of running served me well in sports and in getting away from my sister.

When I joined the Army, I knew there would be running but I felt misinformed as to how much running there would actually be. On the first morning at 0-dark-30, I discovered another level of distance running. I also learned that you could run up the same hill multiple times without ever running downhill. That experience challenged my sense of physics as well as my body every day for eight weeks. Filling up the rest of the day was running between buildings and tasks any time we were in a hurry and, in the Army, you’re always in a hurry. While the amount of running went down after basic training, there were still physical fitness tests that included a two-mile run at a pace that caused my lungs to burn. I wish had a fitness wearable to track all those miles. I would have rolled the digital odometer more than once.

When I left the Army, I couldn’t escape the running. I worked in an office of young, single twenty-somethings and there was always a 5K on the beach to support the whales, or the dolphins, or the turtles, or a 5K to support people that run 5Ks. After doing so many charity runs, I just kept running until running had become a core part of my workout routine.

I’m still not very good at it and it’s rare that I do a distance greater than a few miles, but the mental block that prevented my younger brain from enjoying the experience seems to have faded and my 5-mile jog along the water in Seattle has become a favorite tradition when I visit.

Five miles, though, is considerably shorter than the 13.1 miles that I’ll need to do to cross the finish line in November. When I think about how far I will have to run, I get nervous. When I look at the calendar and when I see that there are only a few weeks left, I get discouraged and negative. There’s not enough time left to train. I can’t do this. I start to question my life choices. Well, at least the one about signing up for the event.

Why, then, did I sign up?

Sometimes after a hard run, maybe it felt longer or I stopped more times than I wanted to, those fears and doubts come rushing in. But as I painfully climb my way up the four steps to our apartment, when I use whatever energy I have left to push the door open, I’ll hear “Daddy, how was your run?”

No matter how far I ran or how hard it was, I’m instantly energized. I don’t think about the pain or the negativity or the nerves. I think about my son and why I am running.

My son wakes up every day and takes a handful of pills. He may have already had a few seizures that disturbed his sleep. He has to will himself to get ready for school. He eats his high fat, mayonnaise and soy flour donuts and drinks his vitamins that sometimes upset his stomach. The drugs kick in and his brain swims in mind-altering medicine. His school is crowded, loud, and hard, but he walks through those doors and up those stairs and waves back at us as he passes through the glass atrium with a smile.

epilepsy dad half marathon philly athletes

I’m running for my son. I’m running for that smile. I wanted to do something hard because he runs a marathon every day. I want to see my son at the finish line and tell him that I did it for him.

This year, I’m also running as part of the Athletes vs Epilepsy team to raise awareness about epilepsy and to run for those that can’t. If you are looking for a way to support the Epilepsy Foundation or if you enjoy reading about our journey and want a way to show your support, please make a donation below.

What Can’t Be Measured

We sat in the windowless office of the neuropsychologist’s office waiting to hear the results of the daylong series of cognition tests that my son took a few weeks before.

Like most parents, I know my son is intellectually gifted. I can easily point to instances where he figured out a hard problem that he shouldn’t have or learned a new concept much more easily than I could have. Genius? I don’t like to use labels, but since you brought it up, let’s go with it.

In the previous two years, however, my son’s brain had been through a lot. Seizures. Status epilepticus. Toxicity from an adverse reaction to medicine. For a few days, it forgot how to move my son’s body or form words for him to speak. In many ways, we had to start over, helping him form sentences and complex thoughts. Helping him put ideas together in the right order or to remember a simple sequence of steps. After everything he had been through, after having been picked up and spit out by a tornado, we sat in that office to find out where he landed.

“Overall,” the doctor said, “your son is remarkably consistent.” It took me a few minutes to absorb the word and process its meaning. I had expected the results of the test to fall on either extreme of the spectrum. Either he was back to being a genius or his brain was irreparably damaged, but consistent?

Sensing my confusion (probably aided by my snarky “Oh, my son is perfectly adequate, like buttered toast.” comment), the doctor went on to explain that the tests showed that, aside from a few areas that needed extra attention, my son was “about average.”

The higher you climb, the further you have to fall. Selfishly, that was the first thought that came to my head. My genius son who was destined for the stars had been forced back down to earth with the rest of us by a cruel twist of genetic fate.

It was only after a few minutes that I realized what a gift I had just been given. My son was “about average”. After two years of seizures, and status, and side effects. Two years without consistently going to school, of hard work at home teaching him to read and to write and count. After all of that, my son managed to come out “about average”.

It was a miracle.

As I thanked the doctor for her time, she added that she enjoyed spending time with my son. She commented about how hard he worked, even though she could tell that he was tired. Her mouth turned upward into a big smile as she told us how he made her laugh. Weeks removed from the time she spent with him and after seeing countless kids in between, that smile showed that my son had left her with something more than a score on a piece of paper.

Our neurologist had also taken time out of her day to join us in the meeting. She has been an amazing ally and supportive influence who sees what is special about my son. That evening, we received an e-mail from her that said:

I wanted to emphasize that this does not predict where he will go in the future, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about him that cannot be measured at this time given his young age and some of the best things in life just can’t be quantified.


What Got Me Here

“How are you doing?”

It’s such a loaded question. I fear that if I gave the real answer, it would overwhelm the person who asked it and they would never ask again. I’d be surrounded by people who were all too afraid to ask how I was and I’d feel more alone than I already do.

Most people get the obligatory “Good, thanks, how are you?” Closer friends may get more of the story. Maybe not the full story, but some of the mechanical bits about how tired I am because I never really sleep. But we don’t talk about how sad I am, or how much I worry about the future or what would happen if something happened to me? I’m not sure that I even talk about that with my wife as much as I should.

It’s isolating, this not wanting to burden the people around me with the depth of these issues. Besides, I’m a man. It’s not in my nature to share. We internalize, and apply logic, and try to solve an impossible problem. We certainly don’t talk to other people about it. It’s a sign of weakness. Even if other people are going through exactly the same thing and talking about it would be the high tide that raised all ships, it’s better somehow to keep all the boats stuck in the mud.

I know it’s bullshit. At least, my head does. I think. But after so many years of figuring it out myself and seeing where that got me, it’s hard to let go of the idea that the things that got me here are the things that are going to get me to where I want to be. After all, I have a pretty good life. I’ve done some amazing things and traveled the world. I have a Master’s degree and a good job. These successes are the result of my figuring out how to survive in this messy, hard and sometimes cruel world.

Those tactics, though, serve only to protect me from the outside world. Their side effect is to isolate me from the people around me. My wife is going through the same things I am, and when she is looking to me for support and a connection, I’m nowhere to be found, lost in my own inner workings. She may push and poke to see if I am there and I respond by pulling further away and burrowing further into my hole. In the end, we push each other away when we should be moving towards each other, we are left angry and frustrated when we should be comforting and empathetic, and we find ourselves alone when we should be together.

epilepsy dad help date night

“What got you here is not what will get you to where you want to be.” That is the type of insight you get when you open yourself up to guidance and support. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It shows my commitment to my family and my belief that the stronger and better connected the unit is, the better capable we will be to face what is in front of us together. It shows that I don’t have the tools to solve this impossible problem and that it’s important enough for me to develop a new set of skills. It’s setting a good example for my son so that he doesn’t follow the same path of pushing people away and trying to do it all himself. It breaks my heart to think about the difficulties that he is going to have in his life and the idea of him facing them alone.

What got me here is not what will get me to where I want to be. It’s time to work on what will get me there, together with my wife, my family, and my friends.