New Lily

Why I am Thankful for “The Run”…and Why I Regret Never Telling my Dad

running womanI was going to call this post, “9 Reasons I am Thankful for ‘The Run'”.  As I pulled up my chair to my computer and began to type, I realized that it would not be a post I could whip out in 9 neat reasons.  My first reason was more profound than I thought upon initial reflection.  So I bagged the title.  And I just started to write…

I was running the other day on a trail nearby with #7 (John).  John is 11.  He will be fast one day.  So I realize I won’t always be able to keep up with him.  I love running with John because he talks the whole time.  Which means I don’t have to.  It was a fun run.  Six miles.  As we were beginning the last mile, John had run out of things to talk about (or he was too tired), so I started to talk.  I try not to philosophize too much with my kids while we run but it was a particularly beautiful fall day and I couldn’t help but to tell John to look around and to be grateful for “the run”.  “Be grateful for your legs and offer your run for those who can’t” (we know a young man who is paralyzed and cannot use his), “be grateful for your ability”  (many kids John’s age can’t run one mile, let alone six), “be grateful for the desire” (he was happy to run that morning), “be grateful for the trail” (we are lucky to have such a great place to run nearby). “John, don’t ever forget to be grateful for running.  It just might get you through a lot one day”.

As we approach the day when we are more aware of things for which to be thankful, I realize how thankful I am for “the run”.  Running has gotten me through a lot.  Running has been responsible for many of my deepest friendships. Running has introduced to me new places.  Running has offered me time away to think…. it has also offered time away not to think, to just run.  It has gotten me through college and then through pregnancies.  I have tucked nine children into various styles of baby joggers over the years.  Running has gotten me through teenage years … I can’t count the mileage that has been spent with my friends and my sisters discussing our children as they grow up and grow on.  Running has provided relief as my husband battled cancer.  Running is my secret weapon.  I dare to say running keeps me feeling “alive”.  To say this last one, however, I will have to tell you about where it all started.  And I will have to share some deep pain.


iuimagesI could say my introduction to “the run” began in Bloomington, Indiana, when as college student I would run through campus carrying my walkman, and first understanding what it meant for exercise to also be stress relieving.  Yet actually my exposure to the run began many years before that.  Even before my high school track days or that first middle school track meet when I heard someone in the crowd around the fence say, “wow, Whitney has wheels”.

It started when I was just a young girl and my dad would go out for his weekend 12-miler and my sisters and I would have a cold iced tea waiting for him when he came back.  I remember as he walked into the house, he would literally glisten with sweat.  He would tell us that he ran to “Oak Brook and back”.  He might as well have told me he ran to China and back.   Oak Brook, in my nine-year old mind, was far, far away.  It was actually just one town over, but it was a place I would only get to in a car.  My dad seemed larger than life then.  He would return from those runs and usually drink the iced tea with a newspaper and then head outside to start working in the yard.  He would sometimes be out there for hours.

As I grew older, my view of my dad evolved and I realized (as we all do as we get older and more mature) that my dad was not really larger than life. He was a man just like everyone else. My dad kept running.  He signed up for a marathon after a bet with a friend at a party.  The marathon was only two weeks away.  And no, he had not run more than 13 miles recently.  I remember the day of the marathon he had a grin on his face as he left for downtown Chicago.  When he returned, the grin was gone. It had been replaced by a grimace and he was soaking his feet in a tub of ice water.  I remember thinking, “who would ever want to run a marathon?”.  I would eventually run four.

I can always remember my dad running.  And then I don’t remember it anymore. At some point he stopped running.  It might have been his back (he struggled with back pain), or some other injury that kept him from the run.  But I know that at some point I no longer have an image of my dad running.  And I wonder if it would have made a difference.  My dad took his life when he was 56 years old. To try to explain it would be silly.  There is no explaining it. Not only would it do my father a disservice, but all who struggle with the pain of life to the point that they no longer want to live it. Suicide is tough.

It is difficult to understand how the burdens of life could become so heavy that they literally crush someone.   But for some reason, he did not think he could hold them up any longer.  Suicide is a hard thing because loved ones are left to grieve differently than in other kinds of death.  There is a residue that makes us wonder if there was something we could have done.  My sisters and my mom, and I have had to deal with that residue. Today though, I am not writing about my dad’s death to dwell on grief. I am grateful for the ability to remember the good times with my dad.  To offer my children a legacy beyond his death (which frankly I rarely talk about). I know that my desire to run began with my dad.  My earliest memories of running are with my dad.

Running is something I love to do.  But there are days when I don’t want to. Sometimes people will tell me that they can’t relate to me and my strong desire to run.  As if I always have a desire to run.  There are plenty of days I strap on my shoes and the last thing I want to do is start to run.  But I almost always do it anyway.  And I am always glad I did.

There is no doubt about endorphins.  Even when I am not feeling that well physically, a run often helps me feel better.  I even remember stopping a run to be sick when I was dealing with morning sickness…but feeling much better when I got back from the run.  Running makes me feel better. Emotionally, pyschologically, even physically. Something about putting one foot in front of the other in a continuous fashion.

I have written about the spirituality of running, even. Although I usually run with family or friends, or with my Iphone, occasionally I run alone.  The first mile is a little tedious, but then I feel myself ease into it.  I run along with the rythym of my stride.  With the sound of my breath. It makes me feel alive.  Maybe it is literally the forward motion.  Moving forward.  This is what running does for me.  It keeps me moving forward.  I wish my dad had still been running when the pain of his life overtook him. I wish he could have kept moving forward.

runningaaf92620a8119445_heel_strike_at_sunset.previewWhen I do still feel the residue of my father’s death, I regret not asking him why he no longer ran. I wish I could tell him to just strap on his running shoes. To do what he naturally had done for so much of his life.  To just go out for a run, dad. It might not have changed things.  I will never know.



  1. Susan smith says:

    Wow Whitney. In all the years I have known you and run with you this is one of the most important conversations we never had. I love hearing about your dad getting you into running, as you know we share this experience. I could never understand your loss and how you have become such a strong, faithful friend, person, wife and mother. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story and be ready for a big hug on thanksgiving morning. Love you friend.

    • Whitney Hetzel says:

      You are a wondeful friend and I am so grateful for our many runs and all the “problems we have solved” on them! I can’t believe I am presently sidelined by this lingering foot injury. LONGING for a long run soon!!

  2. I’ve been following you for a while. I’m thankful for your blog and what you shared this time. I’m sorry to hear about your father. I feel the same way about the therapy that running brings. I, too, have nine kiddos. They are wonderful. Running gives me the time I need to think and pray about life. Thanks for sharing! Go Boilers!! Wink, wink!

  3. Whitney, your Dad would be proud of you and your family. I still miss him and think of him every time I drive by your house on Garfield. Depression is just a terrible disease. I still wish that I could have done more to help your Dad. He was truly one of the good guys. Best to you, Bob

    • Whitney Hetzel says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I have some wonderful memories of you and my dad. You had a great friendship! Hope you had a wonderful Christmas with everyone. Please give them my best!

  4. Maurine Olin says:

    You write so well, Whitney. I’m not sure quite how to express this, but you let us inside; how running makes you feel, the fun you had with your dad and his death. My wonderful brother, Tom, took his own life when he was 30. You’re right, we’ll never know why. This quote of yours says it all; “There is no explaining it. Not only would it do my father a disservice, but all who struggle with the pain of life to the point that they no longer want to live it. Suicide is tough.” Thank you, dear. Maurine

    • Whitney Hetzel says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Maurine. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas with your family! God Bless you!

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