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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 01:05 am

Running marathons with my father

The MD and the wannabe

At the finish line of our 50th marathon together – 26.2 miles through San Francisco and still smiling.


My father’s mantra has always been, “No one can run 26.2 miles. It’s impossible.” He ran his first marathon more 30 years ago, before I was born. Still it was a message that he, Dr. Terry Jones of Springfield, now 60, repeated countless times throughout my childhood – even as I watched him run the Chicago Marathon, qualify for Boston and run both legendary courses. I remember him finishing, a look of satisfied exhaustion on his face – limping, bleeding and shoving a dry bagel in his face. I could not help but wonder why anyone in the world would possibly run so far, so many times, on purpose. Absolutely, I thought, this IS impossible, and possibly irrational. In 2009, when I was 20, I crossed the finish line of the Honolulu Marathon, my first 26.2-mile race, with my father and sister. I soaked it all in -- the heat, the euphoria, the exhaustion and even the missing toenails. I was in love.

Showing off our “Team MD and the Wanna” shirts at the finish line of the San Francisco Marathon.
From that point on, my dad and I have never looked back. To date, we have run 59 marathons in 47 states, and almost 50 half-marathons. But most importantly, we have run them side by side, usually starting together and finishing together. We are no longer just father and daughter, but teammates – affectionately called “Team MD and the Wannabe.” Through running, my dad has taught me things wordlessly that other parents might struggle to impart to their children. I’ve learned of his resiliency and use of running to deal with the stress of his career as a pediatrician, and have applied it to my own life in medical school. I learned how, even while supporting four children, he made time for exercise and travel, and still remained an awesome dad. Finally, I realized that the marathon is truly a sport for every size and shape; that my body is beautiful for the things it can accomplish, not for how it looks. These lessons are huge: work hard, manage your time and respect yourself. There are, of course, less important parcels of knowledge such as: pre-race Mexican food is only good in theory, Vaseline is your friend and don’t accidentally load the “sad song” playlist onto your dad’s iPod before a boring race. But these are all stories for another day. I’ve learned them all through racing with my dad, and have found endless reasons to consider him my best friend and hero.

Through all of life’s ups and downs, the one constant for us both has been running. Our daily jogs, our racing and our travels are mutually beneficial and developed our character and motivation through the most difficult points of life. We have always been close, but we are now inseparable. He has been told, “You are the luckiest dad alive to have your daughter by your side.” I think very few 27-year-olds are also fortunate enough to spend so much time, and active time at that, with their 60-year-old fathers.

About to cross the Golden Gate Bridge during the San Francisco Marathon.

Now, I do hope to dispel the illusion that my father and I are serious athletes. We have times ranging from 3:20 to nearly 7 hours for these 26.2 mile races. We have run dressed as Peter Pan and Tinker Bell. We are, nearly without fail, in the porta potty line when a race begins. Our “athlete” diet is a strict anything-not-nailed-down. Even now, six years into my running career, I have still traveled to a race and managed to forget a pair of pants, jogging instead in a pair of pumpkin pajamas purchased at Walgreens the night before. This is the beauty of how we treat marathons. We may not finish first, or even close to it, but we finish with 200 pictures, thousands of memories and dozens of new friends. We take the time to notice the 85-year-old walking his 200th race in New Mexico, to congratulate the Iraq War veteran running a race for the first time with his new prosthetics at the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C., and to chat with the man with Parkinson’s disease still running the St. Louis Marathon 10 years in a row. As my dad always says, “The finisher medal looks the same,” regardless of what happens on the course.

A typical happy finish for Team MD and the Wanna-Be. Still smiling and dancing, checking one more state off our list.

I am beyond thankful for these adventures, but most grateful that I get to experience it all with such an amazing teammate and father. And I think I finally understand why he starts each race believing that running a full marathon, 26.2 miles, is impossible. It teaches you to face life’s greatest challenges head-on and tackle them one mile at a time. Even when the situation is seemingly insurmountable – regardless of age, race, size, shape or gender – think again. When you embrace every step, learn from those you admire most, keep those you love by your side and enjoy the journey, nothing is ever truly impossible.  

Emily Jones of Springfield is currently on a year off as a second-year medical student at SIU School of Medicine. She is hoping for a career in forensic pathology or in neuro-rehab medicine. Jones and her father plan to complete 50 states of marathons together in fall 2017 at the Philadelphia Marathon.

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