53. The Best Race of My Life

53. The Best Race of My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Best Race of My Life

Fame is rot; daughters are the thing.
~James Matthew Barrie

I live for extreme adventures. The more intense, the more remote, the harsher, the better. I’ve raced and competed on all seven continents of the planet, twice over now, and have seen some of the most exotic places imaginable: the Gobi desert, Antarctica, Patagonia, the Dolomites, the Atacama desert, Namibia, to name a few. I’ve run hundreds of miles without rest in some of the most savage conditions the Earth has to offer. Once, I even ran 50 marathons, in all 50 states, in 50 straight days.

So when people ask me what my favorite race has been, my answer sometimes surprises them. It wasn’t a hundred mile race through the mountains, it wasn’t a six-day trek across the Sahara, it was a 10K (yep, that’s a mere 6.2 miles). Allow me to explain why.

Beyond being an ultramarathoner, my first priority is always my family. They take precedence over all else. It’s just who I am, it’s how I’m hardwired. A proud father and husband, nothing is more important to me than my family.

With that said, I have never “pushed” running on my two children, fearing the proverbial parental backlash. If my kids, Alexandria, age nine, and Nicholas, age seven, wanted to run, that would be great. If not, that was their prerogative and I would love them regardless.

Neither of them had shown a particular interest in running. They’d accompanied me on many of my marathons and ultramarathons, so I knew they had been exposed to my antics from the day they were born. But there just didn’t seem to be much of an interest in running on their behalf.

So you can imagine my shocked astonishment when Alexandria approached me two weeks before her tenth birthday and informed me that she wanted to run a 10K with me to celebrate the occasion. At first, I wasn’t sure how to react. Was she doing this just to appease me? Was this something she really wanted to do for herself? My mind was awhirl with questions.

When the day came, she seemed excited as ever to take up the challenge. At ten years old, running 6.2 miles would not be easy. But she seemed genuinely interested in doing just that.

When the gun went off and the race began, she darted out at neck breaking speed. I knew such an approach was imprudent because one could only hold such an aggressive pace for a short duration and the toll it could take during the later stages of the race could prove disastrous. Still, I fought back my fatherly impulse to counsel her, bit my lip, and, frankly, did all that I could to keep up with her.

By the halfway point, her initial vigor had begun to taper. Running three miles at such a fast pace had left her nearly exhausted. As a father, it was tough to see my daughter so worn out when I could have advised her to slow down and take it easy in the first few miles to help preserve her energy.

Approaching the five-mile mark, the cumulative effects of the running along with the sheer number of minutes on her feet were really starting to show. She huffed and puffed and struggled to maintain her focus. Things were not looking good. I’d never seen her so exhausted before, and it hurt me. I couldn’t allow this to continue.

Just as I was about to turn to her and tell her how incredibly proud I was of her for having the courage to have tried, and congratulate her for being able to run five miles, she turned to me and said, “Dad, I’m going to make it.”

Never before have I seen such grit and determination to persevere in anyone, let alone a ten-year-old! She put her head down, let out an audible grunt, and charged into the abyss with unflinching resolve.

People along the course were in total disbelief, as was I. She was a woman on a mission, entirely focused on the task at hand, pumping her arms resiliently and thrusting her legs boldly forward with every stride. They cheered for her and applauded wildly as she bounded by.

Forget about me, I was a complete mess. I tried my best to choke back the tears, but finally gave in to my emotions. I was a sobbing child, huge tears running down both cheeks, completely unable to regain my composure no matter how hard I tried.

As we rounded that final corner and the end came into focus, she issued her final tear-wrenching dictum. “Daddy,” she said. “Give me your hand. I want to hold it when we cross the finish together.”

I did as she requested and we burst across that finish line as a team. People rushed over to her and began offering her aid and assistance. “I’m fine,” she told them. “Really, I’m fine.” To be honest, it was me who needed the help; I’d come completely unraveled. I’ve crossed deserts on foot, run single-handedly over high mountains, forged solo across raging rivers, but nothing had ever impacted me the way the sight of that little girl refusing to give up in the face of overwhelming adversity had. It was the most glorious moment of my life.

The memory of Alexandria and I crossing that finish line together has replayed beautifully in my mind on countless occasions. No matter how many trophies I earn, no matter how many records I set, no matter how many distinctions I have the good fortune of being bestowed upon me, nothing will ever top that moment.

When that final day beckons and I take my last earthly breath, her wonderful memory on that fateful day together will allow me to run off into the eternal sunset with an ever-enduring smile upon my face.

~Dean Karnazes

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