A year ago I made a trip from Austin, TX out to the East Coast. I had just started writing about Dom and the journey we were on together. Dom had started his cancer treatment with a three rounds of chemotherapy, preparing for his surgery in December. I was a month away from the start of my training cycle leading up to the first of back to back Marathons in April.
After a couple of flights and a drive down from Raleigh, NC, I found myself in the town of Wilmington, NC. Wilmington is a great seaside city, birthplace of Michael Jordan, filming location of Dawson’s Creek, tremendous seafood and great people.
It is also is the location of one of my all-time favorite places to run, Wrightsville Beach. “The Loop” at Wrightsville Beach is an early morning spot for a lot of runners and walkers. It is a little bit less than 2.5 miles around, starting at the small park at the top of the loop, a trip over the causeway and down into the beachfront area.
To complete the loop, morning runners continue past the storefronts, restaurants and beach houses, they make a left turn back over the causeway and a return trip around the park.
As my distances have increased over the years that I have been traveling to Wrightsville, I have explored other parts of the beach town. I now run all the way to the Southeastern edge of the island, up to the Coast Guard Station and back, most of the time without seeing another soul.
I feel like I have the whole town to myself in the moments before sunrise. If I am able to time it right, I will see the sun coming up over the ocean to my right as I work my way back to the Causeway, and my return trip around the loop to my car.
Last November I wrote about my run at Wrightsville Beach – which you visit by clicking here.
I remember that run vividly, just like it was yesterday. The smell of the ocean, the paper man saying hello to me, the chocolate lab Bailey who wanted to run alongside. That pup must be close to 90 lbs. now.
But the thing I remember most about that run is the sunrise and the optimism that I felt.
I remember thinking that even though Dom was going through a lot of “tough stuff” at the moment, he was on the path to getting better and beating his cancer. I had no doubt in my mind that my stubborn, tough friend with a heart of gold was going to win, no matter the odds.
It was mornings like that one, when my alarm clock sounded, I couldn’t wait to get those running shoes on my feet. I had miles to log and a training plan to complete. We were going to Boston and then on to Pittsburgh and nothing was going to stop us.
A year later as I made the identical drive from Raleigh to Wilmington this week I felt very lonely. It has been two and a half months since we lost Dom. I still think about him every time I put on my running shoes.
Even though I never had Dom with me physically on my training runs, it felt like he was alongside me nonetheless.
Those were our mornings “together” when I would think about him, Val, Sierra and Nico and just how much Dom meant to his young family. I would think about how if given the chance, Dom would do basically anything to be in my situation. Physically strong, able to look to the future with great enthusiasm and dreams. Where anything was possible, all you had to do is want it bad enough and work for it.
One year later and now I am the one who is a new Dad, trying to find my way and understand exactly what I need to do to help raise Landry in a household full of support, guidance, caring and love. All of the things that I knew with great “certainty” twelve months ago – have been turned on their side and looked in a much different light.
I’m no longer “sure” of the future, the way I was last November. Things can change rapidly and without warning. Better to live each day to the best of your abilities and make the most of every opportunity.
It feels “safer” to me that way, as those “days” that we all have ahead of us truly are a finite resource.
It is like reaching into a big barrel of popcorn. Handful after handful you dig deeper and deeper. It seems like you will never be able to hit bottom. Then all of a sudden you feel your fingers scrape the tub, and you wonder to yourself “where did all the popcorn go?”
Maybe I should have appreciated each and every kernel for what it was, but alas, now it is too late.
I guess all that I am trying to say is that I miss my friend.
I miss being able to call him if I need a laugh.
I miss being able to think about the next time I would see him and watch him interact with his wife and kids.
I miss talking with him about the Steelers, and give him a hard time about what a knucklehead Ben Roethlisberger is.
I just miss him. Plain and simple.
I thought a lot about Dom this morning during my run. I thought back to last year and how different things were as I ran on those very same streets of Wrightsville Beach, NC.
Just then, almost like a surprise, off to my right it was there.
I could almost hear Dom’s voice, thick with his Pittsburgh accent, finely honed after living there for 39 years tell me – “Get over it”.
I could feel my legs start to churn faster, gobbling up more and more real estate with every stride. My 8-miles at a “comfortable pace”, started to become something much different. My pace quickened and all of a sudden I was running miles below 7:oo min./mile pace.
It felt easy. I felt strong. Confident. Fast.
I felt like I knew where I was headed once again.
15 weeks and 4 days from now we will be there. I will be standing among thousands of other runners in the starting corral in Austin. I will look to the sky before the starter’s gun and just like last Sunday at the start of the Run for the Water Race, I’ll be able to feel Dom there with me.
A lot can happen between now and then, there will certainly be bumps in my training road heading to the Austin Marathon.
But there are a few things I know about that day. One is that we will be there. Ready to run our best ever marathon. I know in my mind and my heart what that means, but I will be keeping my goal for that race to myself.
The other thing I know with great certainty, is that when I look to my left heading up South Congress Avenue over the first mile shortly after 7:30 a.m. it will be there for me once again.
Lastly, I know that the little voice with the Pittsburgh accent is going to be there in my ear as well, telling me that it’s “time to go to work”.