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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.


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.


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. Um, WOW! First of all, Happy Birthday Dad Buckel!! Secondly, talk about tears. I love this and I so appreciate it. I can only imagine how hard it is/was to walk away from running (just being out 3 months with an injury sucked), but the legacy you created by instilling your love of running in LB means you are still running even though it’s not your feet on the pavement. Every race and accomplishment Lauren achieves goes back to you getting her started. Yes, she’s doing the work now, but you taught her how. I hope this provides some comfort as you continue to miss your “old self”.

    Cheers to running families!!

  2. Someone pass the tissues! This is a really awesome post and holy cow, your parents are YOUNG! Happy Birthday to your dad – he seems like a great man!

  3. So glad you shared this story! It’s sad, but beautiful all at the same time. Happy Birthday to your dad! Way to almost make me cry at work…

    I hope he gets better soon and recovers nicely over the next month. He’s an inspiration for sure!
    Steph´s last post ..Queens 20 + Philly Half Goals

  4. Dang you and your amazing post I really didn’t want to cry today but oh well.

    What a gift to come from a family that ran together. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a man with his running career to not be able to run anymore. His story is fabulous and emotional.
    Katie @momslrb´s last post ..I can’t wait till…

  5. And here comes the tears. Oh dad, you are so wonderful!!! (And also, a very, VERY good writer, just like Lauren!) You are definitely an inspiration to us all! :-) Happy Birthday!! PS. Lauren, our running outfits used to be AWESOME.
    Christina´s last post ..Baby wearing (and work out update)

  6. This is the sweetest post ever – thanks for the cry :) Happy birthday to your dad!
    Michelle´s last post ..Why I Run

  7. Wow. Lauen..you and daddy are an incredible writing team! This was beautiful..Definitely made me cry. Daddy, I am SO proud to be your daughter. You will always be my hero. Thank you so much for sharing this Lauren!

  8. i can see where you get your writing skills! what a wonderful post!
    kristy´s last post ..WHYY 12K Recap

  9. What an incredible and touching post. I had chills reading this and definitely tears when he talked about dropping you off for your first Boston. Heartbreaking. You are so lucky that both of your parents share your love for this sport. I will come back to this if, at any point, I am lacking motivation. I guess we never really realize how lucky we are and how much we love it until we are reminded that it can be taken away.
    Corey´s last post ..Embracing the Hills

  10. Wow. I loved every piece of this! Teared up a little in the end. It’s a great reminder to go out for a run today! Run because you can. Happy Birthday LB’s Dad!

  11. That is so, so beautiful! I love that you and your dad can share this passion for running. It is heartbreaking that he loves it so much and can’t do it anymore, though, but at least he can live vicariously through you!

    My mom used to be a big runner and is having her second knee surgery in a couple of weeks. It has been sad to see her slowly have to stop doing activities she loves so much (like downhill skiing and playing tennis) in addition to stopping running years and years ago. Sometimes it makes me worried about the future of my knees and wonder if I should cut way back and just “run for exercise”. But I love it so much that I don’t want to stop!

    Happy birthday to your dad!
    Kristen @ Happy Running Mama´s last post ..Full Circle

  12. THIS!!! Gah, completely tugged at my heartsrings. The realization that the chapter of his running life was over after he dropped you off for Boston?! Lump in my throat. Seriously. But how fortunate he is to have a spouse and child that really get it, that understand the importance and impact running has had on his life, I imagine it would be a pretty lonely place if he was facing this challenge alone. Thank you for this story!!!!

  13. Amazing post! Happy birthday to your awesome dad!!
    Chels R.´s last post ..7 Things.

  14. I definitely just teared up reading that… Happy Birthday :) What an amazing cheerleader and role model you have!

  15. Wow, this was such a beautiful post! You and your dad have such an amazing relationship! Happy birthday to your dad- and thanks so much for sharing your story.

  16. LOVE this post! Happy Birthday to your Dad!!!! He rocks! What a fantastic role model you have :)
    Jen@HealthyFoodandFamily´s last post ..Pity Party for 1

  17. Happy birthday, Mr. Buckel!!

    I love love love this post…it’s so amazing to hear other people talk about how much they love running because I can relate to it so much. With my back injury earlier this year, there was talk of me never being able to run again. And if I was okay with that. I cried over the fact that maybe running would be taken away with me, so while I got it back, I feel a bit for what your dad is going through…and I can’t imagine losing running forever. My mom likes to tell me that it’s so much fun to watch her children succeed, and she says she sees a lot of herself in me…even though your dad can’t run anymore, it must be a great secondhand way to experience it by watching you follow in his footsteps.
    Susan – Nurse on the Run´s last post ..review: zensah ankle support sleeve

  18. Lauren,
    What a wonderful surprise to see the story on your blog! I wrote this story on a plane just as a chance to release my feelings and it felt great to do so. But, seeing it in print brought out even more emotion. I am amazed at all the comments and wonderful feedback from readers of your blog. And, I got all those extra Birthday wishes to boot!

    Thank you Lauren for posting my story and letting me relive a fun time in my life. Thank you for all your writing and the awesome running you do. Know that I am always there to cheer you on. I love reliving my running through yours, but I am just as proud of you whether you run or don’t run.

    By the way, my short shorts are way cooler than your green compression socks.
    Love, Dad

  19. Oh boy LB…pass the box of kleenex…this made me cry..!
    What a great post…I can tell your dad is a special guy.

    Happy birthday LB’s Dad!
    You, sir, have a wonderful daughter. She is like sunshine to me. I was the older gal in our HTC van this year and I am also a parent and you have raised a lovely young woman..she is such a great person.
    Thank you Lauren for sharing your dad’s story.
    caroline´s last post ..Mission Inn 10K Race Recap

  20. Oh, I need tissues. What a sweet post! Thanks to you and your dad for sharing his story!

  21. Ohh what a great post. I made the same rookie mistake of wearing the race shirt from the race I was running in. What an inspirational dad you have!
    Emily´s last post ..Safe running

  22. Oh my goodness that made me cry!

  23. Aww your dad is amazing! Happy birthday to him!

    I have to disagree with him about one thing though, he IS a runner and always will be. No one can take that part of him away from him, even if he no longer physically runs. I’m glad he shared his story with all of us and I loved reading about his racing days.

    Keep physically running for your dad!
    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman´s last post ..November Book Club: The Courage to Start

  24. This was amazing! Your dad is so incredible. I hope I can inspire my own future child to love of running just from how much I love it, the way your father did for you. He is so impressive and it is no surprise that you are such a great runner too. I only started reading your blog recently but I’m so happy to know this part of your past. Really amazing!
    Dori´s last post ..Should NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg Be Fired?

  25. Oh man. Please add a disclaimer to not read this while at work unless your coworkers like watching you cry. Love love love.
    alyssa´s last post ..Stepping My Tiny Toe Back Into Training

  26. Your dad is an incredible man! Happy birthday to him! You two are so very fortunate to have each other…two very special people :) …in each others’ lives.

    A side note… I can’t believe your dad is only three years older than I am 😛

  27. […] you have not read Heath {On The Run}‘s post today be sure to check it out. It is one of the most beautiful, inspiring reads that I have read in a long time. Have a tissue […]

  28. How inspirational! It is so special that you two share this bond-Happy birthday to your dad!

  29. Great story. I got into running a year ago, and I am now on my way to some lofty goals, including my first marathon in May, some sprint triathlons and eventually a half ironman). When I started, my dad looked on and eventually started himself. He just ran his first 5k since before I was born! Turns out he ran all the time in the late 70s and early 80s, and I would have never known if I hadn’t changed my entire lifestyle. Thanks for sharing!
    Tyler Francko´s last post ..Who Doesn’t Love A Half Day?

  30. I believe this is my first time commenting, but I’ve been reading for a while and I’ve always enjoyed your blog. You are a strong writer and it is obvious that you put a lot of thought into your posts.

    I absolutely loved this post by your father. I, too, had a running dad. He began running in the 70s and consistently raced throughout the 80s and 90s. Sundays were often spent cheering on my dad at races. And, when I was old enough, he would run the kids’ mile or so races with me. My dad also belonged to a running club in the Boston area (Tri Valley Frontrunners) and would head out with his buddies every Saturday morning. I ran in high school, but that was mostly for soccer and lacrosse. It wasn’t until I was studying abroad in college that I realized how much I, too, loved running. We only had the chance to run in two races together after college – a 5K on father’s day and a 5 miler around my birthday (this was about 10 years ago), but those remain two of my favorite races. Although my dad is still able to run, he is very tight from years of running without stretching and, as a result, had to stop racing because he was getting injured every time he raced. At this point, he lives vicariously through my racing and gives me advice in training. I couldn’t help but cry as I read about your father running along in your marathon and dropping you off at Boston. I know my father likely feels the same (but in a slightly different way). Thank you for posting this. And happy birthday to your dad.

  31. I had to close my computer and get on with the rest of my day before coming back to leave a comment…what a wonderful post. You made me miss my dad so much – he’s in the UK and I’m not.

    Happy Birthday Mr Buckel….you look just like a (thinner, hotter) version of the Dad from Dirty Dancing, which has made me very excited. And just as you inspired your daughter, she is making total strangers run faster than they ever thought they could!!!
    Cathryn Ramsden´s last post ..Dons Battalion Veterans’ Day 4 Miler!

  32. Minna from Finland

    This is the first time write a comment to your blog and actually I’ve just started to read it. But your dad’s story made me so emotional and I may have almost even cried. Almost, because I’m currently in hotel breakfast, so being too emotional would be noticed.

    You have a great dad and family.

  33. Favorite. Post. Ever.

    And please don’t take that personally. :)
    Bonnie´s last post ..Clean Eating: 2 weeks later

    • Ha! Don’t worry…I don’t! It just makes me even more proud of my father :) I can’t even express how happy I am that people have loved this post.

  34. Huge smile while reading this…my dad got me into running too, and he’s still faster than I’ll ever be! This sounds like a Runner’s World article…submission perhaps? :) It’s clear the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree here…with both running and writing skill. Loved this!
    Robyn´s last post ..1 Year Old!

  35. Great post! I found your blog from some of your fellow relay team members. I don’t know you at all but I can always appreciate an awesome run story. Happy Bday to your dad. And congrats on the Vegas race.

  36. What a great post! Definitely brought tears to my eyes!
    Shelly´s last post ..Support & Motivation

  37. Sometimes you just read the perfect thing at the perfect time… I was going to run NYC this year, and you know how that turned out, so I signed up for Philly for this Sunday. For some reason (maybe the insane 5 week taper?), my confidence is totally shot and I have been feeling miserable and not at all excited leading up to this, my first, marathon. This post helped a lot. Thanks to you and to you’re awesome dad.

  38. This was such a lovely story – Happy Birthday, Lauren’s dad! I hope one day when I have children I can run with them and inspire them in the way you have inspired Lauren.

    PS – what happened to your knee, and any tips to avoid getting injured in this way? :)

    • Elly, I have friends from my old team that do six or more marathons a year and never get injured. So, to answer your question is really tough. I think part of problem was that my gait may have caused some issues. I had a bad doctor on surgery two and he caused some problems as well. Mostly, I think I should have slowed down a bit. When you feel pain, let up. Rest and recovery are important. You may run your whole life injury free, and I hope that you do. Good luck!
      Paul (Dad)

      • Hi Paul, thank you for your reply! Good advice. Always listen to your body and get a second opinion, I guess! I hope you enjoy all your walks and hikes with no more knee trouble :)

  39. I absolutely loved, loved, loved this story…it is so inspirational. And, what a great Dad! It is so nice to hear that you have such great support within your family, and this was def. a little tear jerker :)

  40. Amazing post– my dad instilled a love of running in me as well so I can really relate to this. I too remember going to watch my dad run Boston when I was younger. He too can no longer run due for physical reasons, so he finds enjoyment in the outdoors through biking and walking. (But still loves coming to watch me race!)
    Kudos to your dad too on some awesome times!
    Julie´s last post ..Half Marathon Recap!

  41. Wow….what a great post! You can tell the love and admiration you have for him. (BTW- love the tag lines throughout the post!)

  42. I loved this post! Beautiful. What an inspiration and a great dad. It is EASY to see where you got your incredible determination, strength and never give up attitude from. And obviously the apple didn’t fall far from the inspiration tree. I find that your posts and tweets always inspire me to be a better runner! Happy Birthday to your Dad and best wishes for a speedy recovery!
    Beth @RxBethOnTheRun´s last post ..What Inspires and Motivates Me

  43. I was in tears by the end of this post! I am currently awaiting my 1st MRI for my left knee and everyone around wants me to just stop running and cannot understand my love for running. I understand why your dad went against dr’s orders and ran anyway. I was told to only 2-3 x’s a week and this is so difficult for me to do-but I am out of fear that there will be a day when I cannot run! I picture your dad in his car on that day and I feel that heart break-I am feeling some heart break of my own. I am considering that my goal to run a marathon my not happen and it hurts! Only fellow runners understand this type of hurt! What an amazing inspiration and role model you had! Thank you for sharing this emotional story!

  44. What an awesome and touching post. It brought tears to my eyes and I am not an overly emotional person. Hope he had a very happy birthday!

  45. Pass the tissues please! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story! :)

  46. What a powerful post – thanks for sharing this. I hope I can be a similar inspiration to my daughters, even if they don’t choose to take up running.

  47. Thank you so much for sharing this. My dad and I can both relate. He’s the one who inspired my running, but now, two knee surgeries and a bum ankle later, he’s settled on cheering me on instead of being out there himself. He’s found other rewarding hobbies and he’s still active, but I know he misses it. I look at him and suspect I might have similar genetic knee/ankle issues coming my way down the pipe, so I do try to “cherish every mile” while I can. How lucky we are to have parents who’ve helped us discover such an incredible hobby/passion! Thanks, Dads. :)
    Cathleen (SweatyKid)´s last post ..Obligatory ‘see you on the other side’ post.

  48. What a beautiful post, LB. Thanks for sharing!
    Meggie´s last post ..Free, Fast (Relatively), Fun

  49. Oh gosh. I am sobbing. This is one of the most beautifully written stories I have ever read. I hope your dad had a wonderful birthday and that the surgery goes well…
    I have to admit – I am so jealous of the fact that you come from a running family. I love my family and wouldn’t change them for the world, but I just wish that someone ran – they don’t get why I wake up at 5am every morning to run…or why I feel the need to push myself to the point of exhaustion.
    Your family is beautiful. And your dad’s love and pride for you is beautiful.
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama´s last post ..Remembering How to Run Uncomfortably

  50. This is SO amazing! I cried. It’s ok! I love that you come from a family of runners and had the drive wired in you! I don’t come from a family of runners so I need to force many of them to even come watch a race. Your dad seems very proud of you, its heartwarming! Happy Birthday to him and best wishes with the surgery!
    Ashley´s last post ..Richmond Marathon

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