Running with David

The Columbia Classic was a 15 kilometer race which follows the historic Columbia River Highway from the Women’s Forum viewpoint to the foot of Oregon’s famous Multnomah Falls. I ran the race with my son, David, many years ago. Although the Columbia Classic is no more, memories of that race linger with me. It was an experience that marked my life . . . and the life of my son.

David has been a runner since finished his first Portland Marathon “Kids Fun Run” at age two.  His first trip across the finish line was in a stroller while his mom jogged along behind several of his older siblings.  During his grade school years, David was fortunate enough to have a PE teacher (a Golden Shoe Award recipient) who took running seriously and organized running programs for his students. Before he had graduated from grade school, David was running cross country and track. He took fourth place in his age division in his first Portland Marathon Five-Miler at age 12.

When David was young, I would take him on short runs, gradually increasing the distance to two miles. As he grew older, we increased the distance and before long we were doing five and six mile training runs together.  One of the greatest races of my life was Oregon’s Hood
To Coast Relay which I ran with David and his older brother John in August 2001. I overheard an adult runner comment, “I don’t want to run a leg with that little kid–he’s fast!”

David kept wanting to increase his mileage, but as a 13 year-old, I insisted that he limit his distance while his bones and body were growing.  But the 2003 Columbia Classic caught his attention and pretty soon he was showing me the running brochures and suggesting that we run it together. Well, I knew it would be a challenging course for him. He had never run a 9
mile race and I wasn’t sure how it would affect him.  But after his relentless urging, I signed the entry forms and sent in the check.

Race day finally came. We parked at a mall and were transported to the starting line by buses. It was a beautiful evening with a lovely view of the Columbia River and Crown Point from the Women’s Forum viewpoint.  David was excited about racing. I was happy to be with my son and to share a sport that we both love. This was going to be fun!

The race started late, but the horn finally sounded and we were off running. I took off fast as I usually do, only to realize after a minute or two that my pace was too fast for a 15k (nine-mile race). I told David that we needed to slow down.  That was hard for him, but he cooperated and we slowed to about a 6:30 pace.  But I could see that David was itching to take off. Other
runners were slipping past us. I knew that David wanted to run with the leaders, not just cruise along with the mid-pack runners.

We had planned this race and trained for it together.  But I knew as we reached the first mile marker that I needed to set my son free.  He needed to run his own race and I needed to run mine.  Taking a deep breath between strides I said, “David, take off, son, and I’ll see you at the finish line.”

I saw him glance at me to catch the look in my eyes. “Are you sure, Dad?” he asked?

“Yes, David, I am sure,” I replied.

We ran on together for a few more yards.

“Are we still having fun, Dad?” he asked, wondering if I really meant what I had suggested.

I reassured him with my words, “Yes, David, we are still having fun.”

I gave him a sweaty grin and off he went.

There are moments in life which I will always remember. This was one of those moments. I wasn’t sure whether I was sad, proud or both as I watched my son wind through the crowd of runners to catch up with the lead runners.  Before long, he had disappeared into the crowd.

I am a pretty social runner during most of my workouts and races.  I like to greet other runners and encourage them along the course.  But on this night I kept to my self and ran with my memories.

I remembered one of David’s first “fun runs.” He had been so excited about the event that he had put on his tee-shirt and had forgotten to put on his running shorts.  The oversized tee-shirt covered him well until his mother tried to tuck it in for the race.  Little David was horrified to discover that he was short-less!  After a few tears, he realized that nobody would know
and he ran the race with just his shirt and shoes!

I remembered the fun we had one morning when we ran a six mile section of the Oregon Coast together–just David and I, the sand, and sea gulls. What a special time we had together!  I remembered his ribbons, his awards, his joy at finishing well, his tears at an unexpected stumble and defeat.

Now he was growing up and was running a 15 kilometer race on his own. I was teary as I though about our running together because I knew that this race was a defining moment in his running career and in our relationship as father and son. We had passed a milestone in life.  I was sure that our running would never be quite the same after this event. Yet at the same time, I was happy that David had the confidence, desire, determination to take off and run his own race.

David finished the Columbia Classic in 59:18, the fourteenth runner across the finish line. When I came in 16 minutes later he was waiting for me at the finish line with an ice cream bar in each hand.  He handed me one an ice cream and put his arm around me!

“How did you do, I asked?”

He told me the story of his race as the ice cream cooled our dry mouths and satisfied our post race hunger. The night was pleasant and the food tasted great.  We gorged ourselves with goodies before climbing aboard a waiting bus to return to the mall parking lot.

A couple of days later I met David at the back door as we were both starting out for our morning run.

“Want me to run with you,” I asked.

He hesitated and then replied, “Thanks, Dad, I think I’ll run this one by myself today.”

“Great,” I replied. “I’ll see you at breakfast.”

As a parent of four, I have always said that the two best things you can give your children are “roots and wings.”  “Roots” refers to the confidence and assurance that you will always here for them to help and encourage in times of needs.  By “wings” I mean the freedom to develop as an individual, with personal goals and commitments.  During the Columbia Classic on July 18, 2002, David had spouted his wings. I knew we would still run races together, but now he would be on his own, setting his own goals, and running his own race.

And “yes,” David, “we are still having fun.”  We will always have fun running, racing, and dreaming of finishing strong and well.

I’ll see you at the finish line.


David ran cross-country and track during his high school years at Central Catholic High School. He had a great spring track season as a senior in 2007. He won the Aloha Invitation early in the season and finished spring track taking 5th in Oregon’s State Track at Hayward Field. David graduated from CCHS and run cross country and track for the SOU Raiders. He now runs for Nike Trail and is a partner in a coaching business, Trails and Tarmac.  And we are still having great fun!

David Laney leading in the 3000 at the Oregon State High School Meet at Hayward Field (2007). This is one of my favorite pictures of David. He has such a determined look in his eyes!

David’s team, the Southern Oregon Raiders, won the NAIA National Cross Country Championship in 2010. David took 4th out of about 300 runners, the first American runner across the finish line!
The Southern Oregon Raiders X-C team was honored at the Oregon Sports Awards event. David is holding the team trophy.

David heading for the finish line for the SOU Raiders.
David running the Mount Hood 100k race.

Leave a Reply