Dad's dad was a West Pointer just like him, which made Dad a second-generation hardass. But when not wearing his aviator sunglasses and spit-shined combat boots, he would pull on his running shoes. He'd discovered running while getting in shape for Vietnam. There, he chugged in those combat boots around hilltop fire-support bases surrounded by Vietcong. He never stopped when he returned home, rabbiting to the front of the pack of America's new jogging craze as he pounded around the streets of the different Army bases where we were stationed.
One day Dad decreed that my two sisters and I should love running, too, never mind thatI was eight years old and as wobbly as a new foal. He made us compete in footraces. To earn our candy money, we kept a logbook of our runs on a one-mile course around the officers' housing area at West Point.
He was the horrible love child of Bill Rodgers and the Great Santini, and we had every right in our thrumming hummingbird hearts to despise running. But a strange thing happened on the umpteenth trip around the block: We got hooked. Maybe it was the early addiction to running's cocktail of serotonin and endorphins. Maybe it was the places running could take us: When Dad was transferred to Italy, we slapped down the cobbled streets of London and Paris's Fourth Arrondissement with him, saw the world at an eight-minute-mile pace. Or maybe it was my father headed out the door, day after day, rain or shine, and how he always returned with a beatific look on his sweaty face. He knew something special, and we wanted in on it.