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The 20-Year Running Club That Made Me a Better Dad

It's about the exercise, sure. But it's about being able to talk to them about anything.

Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous. Just ask Stephen, who is 51 years old and lives in Seattle. For two decades, he’s been a regular member of an informal running club that let him do a lot more than log miles. Here, he talks about the club and how it helped him become a better husband and father.

It’s therapeutic to run, but the truth is, we did it more to be social. Everyone is talking the whole time. We aren’t sitting there sprinting up the hills and being out of breath. We chat. We’re friends.

Calling it a “running club” might make it sound way more formal than it is. Basically, we’re a set of dudes who all worked at a company together back in the ’90s. We always used to run at lunch; a lot of employees at the company would do races together.

Eventually, that company got bought out and a bunch of us just went our separate ways. But we decided to stay in touch by meeting at the local open space preserve every Sunday at 7 a.m. It made sense: We were all getting married, having families, and so forth. We couldn’t do stuff like golf. Golf takes up a lot of time. One of the things that we just sort of found is that to get there early, to wait for other folks, to go on a good run and stretch a bit afterwards, we could be home in time to do the rest of the day with our families. That was perfect.

We all got married at different times and we all had kids at different times. That served us very well, too. The guy who was furthest along, Larry, had three daughters. His youngest daughter is one year older than my elder daughter. I was next, and my younger daughter is two years older than Wayne’s eldest son. Then Kit, who has three boys, his eldest son is about the same age as Wayne’s younger son.

What was great about that was we were all having different experiences that enabled us to share notes. We’d compare and contrast what we were going through and help one another out. I also think that part of what made it so helpful was that we could share things with each other without any other repercussions. We didn’t work for the same companies. We didn’t live in the same neighborhoods. Outside of one another, our social groups were different. So, it was one of those things where we could be really free. And since we were all in different stages, we’d all share different perspectives: About relationships, about kids, jobs.

Fatherly IQ
  1. What is the main reason you play games?
    To learn or teach skills
    To have fun and entertain
    To bond and get together
    To take a break from TV
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The other thing that was great about it was that the run is always goal-based. In addition to running every week, we picked a race and we train for that every year. When the marathon came to town, we did that every year. We picked up our 10-year-shirts for doing it for 10 consecutive years.

The best thing was that, no matter what, we kept at it. At the peak of everybody’s kids’ activities, people didn’t bail. They’d always say they’d be there. And they were. It was about weathering life changes. And we did. We ran.