I’m Not a Runner, but I Run for My Dad by Tim Blankenship

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Nearly 40,000 Americans die by suicide every year and for each person who dies by suicide, there are an estimated 6 survivors who cared deeply and are left trying to pick up the pieces.  Many of these survivors are left with anger, sadness, frustration, guilt and shame.  How do these survivors move on or even attempt to cope and return to some type of normalcy?  Well, here is my story.

Friday the 13th, March 2015 was the worst day of my life to date. Simply put, my dad committed suicide.  Devastated was an understatement for myself and my family, he was the best man we knew and we couldn’t comprehend what had occurred or the reasoning.  I had no idea what to do, I was in shock and it didn’t feel real.  From that point on it seemed like everything in the world revolved around suicide or somebody had their own story or family/friend affected. You become more aware of suicide around you,  it seemed that every movie I watched had somebody committing suicide or attempting.  You also become more aware/sensitive (not sure which one) to people joking around, saying F my life and pretending to place their finger to their temple or in their mouth, pulling the fake trigger due to some irritant at work, being overwhelmed or irritated by some person.

For my personality getting back to work right away was the best thing to keep my mind and body busy.  I had trouble sitting doing nothing since I was having flashbacks and with any downtime my brain wouldn’t shut off.  Despite the tragedy, time doesn’t stand still. Unfortunately life continues on and we have responsibilities, like work, but most importantly for me I had my spouse and kids to care for as well.  Eventually going back to work too fast was not the best idea as it resulted in being easily frustrated, irritated, more tired and increased my anxiety at work and home.  It got to a point where I needed a change or something else to focus on.

I started simple and for fun I grew my hair out from the end of August to New Years before cutting it.  It went from a nice short fade to a feathered 70s look and after 4 months, I succeeded this test and even won a burrito.  But that was too easy, If I wanted to test myself and resolve, I would have to do something that I hated.  I would have to accomplish something both physically and mentally challenging. Something that was unrealistic mentally in my mind but physically doable, yet highly frowned upon by my orthopedic surgeon after having multiple left knee surgeries; half marathon it was!  I mean Forrest Gump did it after tragedy, he just kept running, and running and running, so why not me.

Have I ever told you how much I hate running?  For me the only running I do is for sport, like running while dribbling a basketball, running to get to a loose ball in soccer,  running to first base after hitting a groundball to shortstop, or occasionally running to grab my 2 year old as she attempts to go into the street.  Running just for fun to me was just plain stupid and I made sure all the runners I knew heard about it.  I researched running a half marathon and before you could even start the 10 week training program, it was recommended you were running 2-3 times per week 1-3 miles at a time.  So I started slowly in October/November running 2-3 times per week to get myself in shape with a heavy dose of foam roller sessions after these runs.  I ran with a Garmin GPS watch my wife bought me for Christmas which was great to keep track of time and miles run, but so truthful and humbling at the same time.   I was increasing my distance around my neighborhood and surrounding ones, thinking I was running 5 miles at a time, but in actuality I was barely running 3 miles at a time.  Eventually, running started to be part of a routine and I was able to tolerate increasing distances, even if it was just going from 1 to 2 to 3 miles over weeks of running, it began to be slightly addicting. Although this wasn’t always the case, I had difficulty in the beginning making it out the door and telling my brain to stay on task.  It was like going to the gym. You know it’s good for you and once your there its not a big deal and sometimes even enjoyable, but just getting there was really difficult.  This was the same for running, I just had will to myself to get out of the door. I would go run after helping put my kids to bed 3-4 nights a week and it started to become a release for my days anxieties.  I would run and think of old stories of my dad, have flashbacks of my dad, or think of nothing and  have random songs playing in my head on repeat since I was without music due to my poor electronic intelligence.   I had a collection of music in my head like the Chainsmokers- “Roses”, Empire of the Suns- “Walking on a Dream”, anything Bieber, and even some Big Pun- “Still Not a Player”.  One time I had the acoustic version of “Stitches” running in my head for nine miles!  Although it wasn’t traditional meditation, it was my form of meditation and it helped put me at ease.

January started the ten week training for the Shamrock’n half marathon, which coincidentally happened to be on March 13th, 2016, the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing.  I signed up for the race before even knowing the date, it must have been meant to be, or like I always tell my wife…fate.  I ran 4 days a week for nearly ten weeks, with long runs on Sundays, getting up as early as 5:30am and increasing my distance each week.  I was getting stronger with each run and although I was told not to run on my left knee, it was actually the strongest it had felt in years and without pain. The physical part of running was getting easier, but the mental part was difficult to adjust to.  Each run I found myself wanting to give in to thoughts of stopping or bargaining to shorten a run time from 45 minutes to 30.  I realized why running is so difficult  and why more people don’t do it.  I get it, it can be hard on the body, but mentally its draining and tough to muster up enough will to get out the door to train after a long day at work.  You battle yourself with each run to keep up with the training and to stay on track.  It’s like having the good angel on one shoulder telling you ‘you can do it, keep going’ and on the other shoulder the cartoon devil saying ‘this is dumb, just walk the rest of the way’.  But if you stay on track the results will come. For me is was dropping 10-15lbs over 3 months and having the best lab results I’ve had in years, including lowering my normally high cholesterol levels.

Over that ten week training period, there’s no doubt honoring my dad pushed me through, because running flat out sucks.  Lets face it, I’m not a runner, but I run for my dad.  And although I hated it, it helped me through this past year. It decreased my anxieties and helped me meditate while pounding the streets of Elmhurst, Tahoe Park, Oak Park and East Sac.  Running allowed me to express my emotions without having to talk about it, which  at times was difficult. Kinda like this blog, a way to put my thoughts on paper, because sometimes I feel like I can’t really articulate how I feel.  Running gave me perspective because no matter what happens, there’s always somebody that has it worse.  My job is unique as a PT in the hospital, I see people at their worst daily.  Although I have a love/hate relationship with running, at least I’m able to physically do it.  It’s difficult to complain about having to complete a run when your 30 year old patient has an inoperable brain tumor that’s left them to use a wheelchair or another patient being dependent on a ventilator and stuck in a hospital bed for over a year.  Perspective is amazing, but being able to keep perspective for more than 5 min is the real feat. So when I fatigued and was mentally weak, I leaned on my dad and just thought how lucky I was to be able to run.

Eventually Sunday March 13, 2016 came and of course El Nino was rearing its ugly head, with rains and wind pounding the Sacramento area all week. What a welcome to my first organized run.  Yeah I know it was only a half marathon, but for me this was an impossible feat being made possible, especially with all my knee troubles.  The race course was changed multiple times due to some flooding from the river and before the race it was miserable with angle rain and winds.  8am sharp my wave started and there I was with my Donald Duck race shirt to honor my dad so he’d be with me the whole race.  I had a temporary semi colon (;) tattoo to match my wife, on our left wrists to honor anyone with or affected by mental illness, addiction, self injury or suicide.  Composure was hard to keep while making my way over the tower bridge, nearly breaking down in tears multiple times.  So I would look down at the semi colon to remember to pause, take a breath and continue on.  I had a goal of breaking 2 hours but time wasn’t important.  My main goal was to run the entire distance.  I was cruising up to mile 7 when I saw my family cheering me on which gave me some extra juice.  I weaved my way back for the 2nd half of the course and saw my sister in law and coworkers running and the streets filled with cheering fans. James Bay’s “Let it go” was on repeat in my head, despite how many times I tried to pick a new song all I heard was ‘come on let it go, just let it be, why don’t you be you . . . ‘ I don’t even know what the song is about, but was it a sign that it was time to finally let the past year go? Or maybe it was just a really catchy chorus.   I continued to run and thought to myself “I could do this again, maybe I’ll run the Shamrock’n every year”.  That all changed after hitting mile 11. I started to think “what the hell are you doing?  You are never doing this again!  Just walk the rest”.  The last 2 miles were part of the changed course and were uphill against the wind with rain. Pretty messed up if you ask me.  I struggled and wanted to walk so bad, and I nearly walked a few times up until the last mile, but somehow something kept me going.  At about 2 hours and 5 min I crossed the finish line with the mc calling my name overhead as I finished.  My daughters and wife found me through  all the people, with rain and wind.  Then my mom, aunt and brother followed.  Tears of joy came when seeing my family as I was bent down trying to rehydrate.  This was ~4 months of training that not only involved me, but them as well and I was grateful for them giving me the opportunity.  Tears of sadness followed because I missed my dad, and I knew how proud he would have been.  I would have given anything for a hug and a “Timbo!”out of his mouth.

It was a day to honor my dad, 1 year to the day of his death, and a weight had lifted off my shoulders. I was able to run a half marathon without stopping.  I still don’t consider myself a runner, I was just running for my dad.  But I have a new respect for it and its healing powers for anxiety and its meditative ways.  Over the months of training I never got that so-called ‘runners high’, but I did get to a point where my body was moving and my brain was focused on something else, almost disassociated, which was pretty cool.  Training for 4-5 months put my body in the best shape I’ve been in since high school.  Better yet, the training put my mental conditioning in the best shape its ever been and really tested my limits.  Without that mental training it would have been very difficult to run the whole race without walking.  This journey has taught me to always try and have perspective, no matter how difficult it may be .  Also to remember a semicolon is a place in a sentence where the author has the decision to stop with a period, but chooses not to.  A semicolon is a reminder to pause and then keep going.  Push yourself and try something new, life is to short to stay in that box.  I’m reminded of a quote from my favorite movie of all time, ‘Rudy’,  “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.”  So dream big!Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 9.42.53 PM

This piece originally written for timmy5blog

3 Responses

  1. Barbara Barr

    You have inspired me. I lost my husband Denny almost 3 years ago. I am stuck and life is passing me by. Thank you for sharing your story. Many many prayers for all of us on this unwanted journey.

  2. Vicki nimmo

    Your story was so meaningful to me. I’m inspired. I’m getting that tattoo. I’ve been having trouble taking off my wedding ring. I’m getting the tattoo on my left wrist & it will be the right time to stop wearing my ring. My husband died of sucicide in October 2015. This grief has been hell. Thank you for your inspiration.

  3. Vaughn Evans Sr

    Tim, what a awesome story! I don’t know how many miles I ran you as a coach. However, one thing about you is there is no quit in you. You are a real leader and it shows in everything you do. Happy Easter to you and your family. I’m so proud of you and God bless you and your family. Your father was a awesome man and he loved you and your family with everything inside of him.
    Love you Tim!!!