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Special Post: The Man Who Used to Run

We interrupt our regularly scheduled relay recaps and self-centered ramblings for a very special post.

Today is my Dad’s 53rd birthday.

I’ve mentioned it several times before on the blog, but my Dad was one of the people who inspired me to start running.  My high school memories are filled with (painful) moments running with my parents — speedwork with my Dad and long runs with my Mom. They showed me what it means to find strength when you’re feeling weak, to constantly strive to be the best you can be, and to never, ever give up. I am who I am today because of these two people.

LB&Dad

Last Friday while I was running the streets of Vegas, my Dad was spending the entire day at Cleveland Clinic for a consultation on what will be his 4th knee surgery. This appointment came only a month after another painful surgery to repair a meniscus tear…and is the beginning of a very long road to recovery. At this point it’s looking like he’s going to spend a good part of the month of December in the hospital and at home, off his feet, recovering.

So today, in the midst of all this, I want to share his story. The reason why I dedicated every single mile that I ran in Manchester to this man who loved running more than anyone I know in this world…and who would give anything to run just one mile again.

{Even though he knew I was going to post this at some point, my Dad actually has no idea that this is on the blog today.}

The Man Who Used to Run

by Paul Buckel

Running to me is the most fantastic form of exercise a person can ever do.  It is joy, freedom, and when done right, a real sense of accomplishment. Nothing in my life gave me a greater sense of challenge, confidence and success than running. And once I began in my young 30s, I was hooked for life. Besides my wonderful wife and four fantastic daughters, nothing, not even my career, meant more to me than running. Which is why it pains me greatly that I can no longer run…not even a half of a mile.

My running roots actually go back to my childhood and a bike. I lived in a small house with my two brothers, one sister, mom and dad. The house had three bedrooms and I shared one very small room with my two brothers. My home was loving and warm, but always felt crowded and I needed escape. So, I got on my bike and I rode. This habit continued into my teenage years with longer and longer rides. Many evenings I would find myself standing barefoot in the garage after dinner deciding to just take my bike around the block. Before I knew it, I had just ridden seven miles uphill from my home in Camillus, NY to Skaneateles Lake. Not such a big deal right? Heck, most of the readers are runners and as a distance runner, seven miles is an easy day. But, this was 1976 when bikes were 10 speeds (which, by the way, was pretty cool) and the pedals had what I refer to as “spikes” built in to keep your shoes from slipping off. Now, remember the barefoot part? Yes, I rode spiked pedals seven miles uphill to the lake, only to ride seven miles back in the dark, barefoot. But that was my freedom and my joy.

In my twenties, I learned that I could find this same sense of joy and freedom through running. I first started casual runs on various trails close to my house. The runs got longer each time and I eventually wandered to the streets.

When I was 30 years old, my lovely wife Diana signed me up for my very first road race – a five-mile race in Fredericksburg, VA. No problem, I thought. I was already running three miles, three times a week. So I would just add a couple more. Three weeks before the race, my training began. I donned my Converse sneakers, Bermuda shorts and white cotton golf shirt, upped my loop from three miles to {what I thought was} five, and off I went. On race day, I sported the same classy outfit, but decided to swap out the white golf shirt for the more appealing race shirt I had just picked up at registration.

So, right now all the experienced racers (Lauren) are saying – no one wears the race shirt from the race you are running in the actual race! I know, I was new, what can I say. I don’t remember being nervous that morning because I might have been too stupid to know what I was getting into. But, here we were at the starting line with 500 people and me. I don’t know why, but even back then, I had an incredible need to be up front. So I pushed to the line and bolted out at the start with about 15 other guys. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I just ran.  We crossed mile one in 5:20. I thought nothing of it until mile two when I felt like someone had suddenly injected my legs with lead and sucked all the air from my lungs. This was my first lesson – 5:20 is fast. I had never timed myself before, so what did I know?

The rest of the run was very painful. I remember climbing a steep hill at mile 4, just wishing someone would trip me so I didn’t have to finish. But something happened to me on that hill. I felt a strength and desire I had not known before. I pushed through the pain and surged toward the crest. Up ahead, I saw the finish and with every ounce of strength I had left, I sprinted in. I felt fantastic! It’s funny — I can recall the times of almost every race I went on to run after, but all I remember about this race was that I came in number 33 overall.

After that I was hooked. First thing I did was head home and measure my course, only to realize I had trained on a four-mile course for a five-mile race, mistake number one. But from that point on, I got pretty serious. The clothes changed from cotton to Coolmax and Converse to Asics. I ran and I got better. I completed my first 5k in 18:20 at a small-town race in Ohio. It was there that I experienced that horrible, exhausting, “grab for any breath I could get” feeling that comes from leaving every single ounce of strength you have out on the course. It was one of the best feelings I had ever had. To put everything out there to the point where you can give no more, but then somehow you dig deep, find another gear and finish, was just an awesome feeling. It inspired me. Even though I hated the pain of racing, I relished in it.

Lauren s first road raceBuckel Family Fun = road races. LB’s first race — don’t be jealous of my sweet outfit

My life slowly changed because of my running.  I become a “runner” and was proud of it.  People in my small town knew who I was because they saw me running — or even better, saw me finishing up front at local races. I taught myself how to do speedwork on the track, tempo runs on the roads, and long runs through the farm lands even before I ever trained with another person. I learned how to push well beyond my limits and how to visualize my goals.

The first great accomplishment I ever had as a runner was the Medina, Ohio Twin Sizzler. I wanted so badly to break 17 minutes on a 5K course. For weeks I visualized a 16:59 on the clock and then, early on Sunday morning just one week before the race, I did the one thing that could make or break my confidence. I went to the course and ran with all I had just wanting to get below 17:20. I felt that if I could do that on a training run, surely I could do sub-17 on race day. The upside to success was a boost of confidence but the downside could have crushed me. I realized that day that through my determination and mental strength, I wouldn’t let the downside happen. I finished my test run in 17:07 and was psyched! One week later, I finished the race in 16:47, a time that ended up being the 5K PR of my running career.

Paul rojacks 5 mile5-mile race finish – look at that stride!

The years that followed brought numerous PRs.  My first sub-28:00 5-mile race, a 35:10 10K and seven marathons, including two Bostons.

Paul Boston

But it was not all successes. During all this came the knee problems. My first surgery was in 1994, followed by a second on the same knee only four years later. And, despite medical advice to the contrary, I kept racing. I joined a running club during the years we lived in Boston. As a group we trained, competed and succeeded. I pushed through the pain and trained harder than most.

Paul 5KfinishLeaving it all on the course for a 2nd place finish in a local 5K

Most non-runners could never understand this, but I think runners can. I was part of something, a community of sorts. I loved running, runners and running stories. I shared mine and listened to others who shared theirs. Not many people or events have profoundly affected my life. One person has in a fantastic way, and that is my wife Diana.  And, one activity — and that was running. Running made me a better man. It taught me perseverance and passion. I learned that I could push through pain and climb any hill (literally) and succeed. Had I not chosen to run and had my wife not signed me up for my first road race, I would not have been the husband, father and man I am today.

When I turned 40, I had two goals for that year — to run a sub 5-minute mile and to win a 5K outright. I accomplished both. After weeks of focused training, I finally ran a 4:52 mile, and then repeated it two weeks later  – running a 4:57. Later that summer I took first overall in a 5K race. That, as it turned out, was my last great year. I continued on for another five years until my knee was so bad that I am now unable to run at all.

Paul falmouth 97

Most people would say that it served me right for not listening to the warning signs, but not me. I wouldn’t change it for the world. My first months after quitting were very tough. I still snuck in runs now and then, only to regret them later. My very last half marathon came as my favorite runner, Lauren, was running her first marathon. My knee was bad and even in training, I suffered. But I believe God gave me a miracle that day and I ran the first half of my daughter Lauren’s first marathon right there by her side with no pain whatsoever. So proud, so happy…and so bittersweet in the realization that this was the true end for me.

This wasn’t the hardest moment though. That came a couple years later, when Lauren ran her very first Boston. I arranged for her to take a bus with my old running buddies to the starting line. When I dropped her off, I lingered with the guys and talked. It was nice to see them again, but after the bus pulled away, I sat alone in my car and cried. I knew that part of my life was over and I would never be the same again.

Years later, the sadness I feel about the loss of my running life has not gone away. But, of course, I have survived. I work out on the elliptical, am back on the bike again and I love to walk with Diana. We hope to retire young and walk the Appalachian Trail. I will someday need a new knee my doctors say, but I consider that a very last resort.

Paul&Diana_GOBA

Now I get joy out of watching my very favorite runner Lauren tear up the course and continue to set new personal bests. I can feel each and every emotion she writes about when she recaps her races. I am no longer known as a runner, and except for this brief writing, no longer talk about my running days with friends and strangers. It is who I was, it is still a longing and I will forever miss it.

Running is special and for those who do it, cherish every mile. 

Happy Birthday to the man who inspires me to always dream big and keep running strong. I love you.

67 Responses to Special Post: The Man Who Used to Run

  1. NYCRunningmama sent me over here…so glad she did! What an amazing post. I am so, so sorry for your dad. He was an amazing runner and it clearly meant so much to him. I hate that he can’t do it anymore! Clearly he finds joy in watching you run, however, so I hope that eases his pain somewhat. Happy birthday to him!
    misszippy´s last post ..Count to 10…

  2. What an amazing post. I hope one day I can be such an inspiration to my kids and I wish my father had shared his love of running with me! Such an inspiration to all of us.
    Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly’s´s last post ..Playlist Thursday: Cool Down Songs

  3. I’d be a liar if I told you I didn’t get teary reading this! It is so great that your dad has so much support for you and that you’ve learned so much from him.

    I had to laugh at his comment about wearing the race shirt on his very first race. The same thing happened to me on my first race – a half marathon- gutsy huh?! I was such a newbie and knew NOTHING about running. It ended up being so so cold that the only layer I had to help protect was the race shirt! So I wore it. And I had a great race! I’ve only been running less than a year and have already gone through my first injury with my hip. I hope that I can have a long running career and fight through any more injuries to pass on my love for it to my kids!
    beka @ rebecca roams´s last post ..#StrongIsSexy Week 2

  4. teary eyed. :) i love that your dad passed on his love of running to you and can continue to watch you succeed. I can’t imagine what it must be like for him to not be able to run, but i’m glad he’s finding other things to do. I must say, I am envious that you have this with your dad. neither of my parents were/are athletes, and while they are very proud of me-i’m not quite sure they “get” it. again, love that yall have this additional bond.
    elizabeth´s last post ..Huntsville 1/2 Marathon Race Recap

  5. My Dad passed away three years ago this week so this had special meaning for me. He wasn’t a runner, but I still miss him.

    I have a young daughter myself and when I read this, I thought ‘I hope I’m able to inspire my daughter the way Paul has inspired his.’ I love taking her to races and this confirms that it’s definitely worthwhile to drag her (and her mother) out in the rain and cold.

    Way to go Paul!

  6. What a great post! I hope to inspire my kids as much as your dad has inspired you! Hope he ha a great birthday!

  7. What a sweet post! Happy Belated Birthday. You continue to inspire us. I hope your surgery goes well and you are off to a speedy recovery!

  8. Wow wow wow. I had this bookmarked for a long time and finally just read it today. What an amazing story, Mr. Buckel. (Truly, you are the man.) The part about dropping Lauren off for her marathon and returning to your car — and not heading to the start line — broke my heart. Your story is amazing, inspiring and so compelling. It’s really clear now where Lauren gets her passion (and talent!) for this sport. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us readers and here’s wishing you a speedy recovery and a magical holiday season surrounded by your gorgeous family.
    Ali´s last post ..Thankful Things Thursday: Thanksgiving Edition

  9. What a lovely, heart-felt post. This might be one of my favorite running articles that I have read. It’s an amazing and inspiring story.
    Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic´s last post ..Area Four and Crispy Oven Roasted Potatoes

  10. What an amazing post. Your dad is in my thoughts. What an amazing dedication to him.
    Robin´s last post ..Running Cures Stress

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