Hospice of Cincinnati

The Spirit Was Willing as the Flesh Grew Weak

May 1, 2015

Tom and Mark Dankenbring dashed to the finish line at the Run Oregon Marathon on July 26th raising $2,895 for Fernside! Tom and Mark were running in memory of their son and brother, John Dankenbring, who died five years ago shortly after returning home to Cincinnati following his freshman year at the University of Oregon. Tom shared his post-race reflections with his supporters. And we asked if we could share it with all of you!

Mark and I would like to thank everyone for your support, spirit, and breathing the Air with us the morning of July 27th in Eugene, Oregon! And certainly for your generous contributions to Fernside. Over $2600 was donated to support grieving families. We often put measures on things (like marathon and half marathon times, or contribution amounts) but it is the heart in each one of us that can only create and embrace spirit and share ourselves. So thank you very much for sharing.

We had a great time running freely through the streets and over the bike paths, en-route to the final excitement of a half-lap on the track-famous, Hayward Field, at the University of Oregon; the track that gave the title “Track Town USA” to Eugene, Oregon. I won’t say it was all fun; in fact it was quite hard and humbling, at least for me. But for Mark, to train, show up and run the longest he has ever run, and come out his usual pleasant and steady self was fun to experience.

Now for some post-race thoughts and philosophy:

I don’t know what it is about running but it seems to be a metaphor for life. I know that a marathon is! I have run about 28 marathons, and had high expectations for this one. Having just turned 60, I even thought I could place in the top of my age group (60-64). So I was shooting for around a 3:30 finish, Mark was shooting for around a 2:00 Half. Those times did not quite happen.

It was a glorious morning, temperatures in the 60’s for the start, climbing into the 70’s and sunny; so, a bit warm for peak marathoning, but pleasant overall (especially for the spectators/supporters). We started the race together, recalling the time we visited John his freshman year, and the three of us running together through the same streets and along the “Prefontaine Trail”. The Half-marathoners split from the Full at mile 10, and for Mark and me, as in any race, the middle miles are the toughest. The first few are fun, you slog through the middle, then when the end is in sight, power on! (Life metaphor?)

Tom and Mark DankenbringI learned that expectations can be like optimism or pessimism: yes, you set your expectations, but they may mask or cloud the reality of the journey. As I was loping along (with no watch or time piece), wondering what pace I was keeping and feeling I had to speed up to meet my expectation, that robbed me of all that was around me – the beautiful scenery, cheering people, blue sky and sunshine along the way, was able to dash those expectations when my energy level got zapped, and my legs and body became quite fatigued. Fortunately, at my age now, these expectations did not rule. I said to myself early on in the run that Mark and I had lots of people with us, and just to run today was the journey! (But that nagging – “I wonder how I am doing” – lingered!)

I also learned what we people are always looking forward to…the “finish”, and “what will happen?” That is the challenge of the marathon compared to shorter races. One rarely can predict an outcome, and the runner must just accept what happens. So, one must relish the running, the footsteps, the process. To focus only on the finish and “outcome” of the race is to miss the path.

Supporters are cherished. Mindy, Mary (and Jane and Neil in Cincy), along with some good friends supported us personally during the run. And of course, you all and your spirits! Though there were many cheering and supporting people along the race course (I am always amazed at the hundreds of volunteers), a few close supporters make all the difference.

Grief balances joy, and “spending” oneself physically and mentally can really loosen those feelings. Mile 9 was about a block from where John lived in his dorm, and as I ran past that point, the intense grip of grief brought tears to my surface from the depths. But later, around mile 21, when I was really getting spent, I heard John’s little voice say “Hey Dad, you know this is just a run, might as well be happy and enjoy it!” So there was joy again.

The finish! Entering the track under the letters “Hayward Field”; stiffly stepping out the final yards on the red tartan where many of the world’s elite runners have raced; seeing and hearing up in the stands the chants, “Dank Dank Dank! Come on Dad!” (Mary can really shout it out!) Under the balloon-arched finish line, my name sounded over the loud speaker. A finisher’s medal placed around my neck. Congratulations from the other sweaty and famished runners. Hey, who can’t enjoy something like that!

Post-race: fatigue, meeting up with Mark and gathering with supporters, talking the “story”, tales of the miles, free pancakes, chocolate milk, lying on the turf, peace. Knowing the journey is complete. At least this journey. (But as always, what is ahead? We’ll ponder on that later.) Time for a party!

Thank you all for your spirits, sharing the air, and for indulging my words. They are fun for me to write.

Finally, thank you for remembering John with us in this event!

(Oh, and by the way, if you want to know, Mark finished in a little over 2 hours, in the top half of the Half-Marathoners, and I finished in around 3;48; my slowest time to date, but the most fulfilling – and 8th in the 60-64 group, still allowing me to qualify for the Boston Marathon if I so choose to run!)

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