When I started running with the Dallas Running Club in 2009, it broadened my world. Long distance running made my mind, body and spirit feel better. It has taken me to places I might never have seen — the streets of Oklahoma City, San Diego, New York, Philly, Boston and the hidden pockets of my own city.
But far more impressively, it has brought a whole new world of people, friends, into my life.
I met Bob Philpot during my second season. We trained together for the Oklahoma City Marathon. Bob was a steady source of entertainment and companionship.
While many of us bitched about the weather or our injuries and pains, I never heard Bob say a negative word. He had what seemed like an eternal smile on his face. The marathon at the end of that season was bad — hot temperatures, gale-force wind.
Everyone in our group was trained for a three hour forty minute marathon, but it took most of us more than four hours to finish. We rode a bus home together; I was totally devastated. I felt like my athletic dreams, my chance for qualifying to run Boston, had been squashed. Bob, having years of experience on his side, knew better. As we rode the bus home and I pouted, Bob joked and laughed and those of us around him couldn’t help but lighten up too.
I did get faster, and as did many of us in that training group, moved on.
Bob, who was pushing 60, became a pace leader for the Dallas Running Club training program and continued trying to qualify for Boston.
There was hardly anyone in the Dallas running community who had come up through the DRC who didn’t know Bob.
Last year, he finally reached his goal. He booked a room. He was headed to the Boston Marathon in the spring. But then he got sick.
When I heard Bob had cancer, I wanted badly to ignore it. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t a big deal. That he would get some treatment and come back and we would celebrate with a BBQ or a night at the bar. I honestly, purposely, selfishly, didn’t think much more about it.
I was running a few months ago with Chris Stratton, White Rock Running Co-op founder and also the leader of that 2010 DRC Oklahoma Marathon pace group. He had mentioned weeks before that Bob was not well. I asked Chris that day how his friend Bob was. He gave me a strange look. My friend? He’s your friend too, Chris said. That’s weird. Chris never has hesitated to let me know I have said something stupid. Looking back, I think I subconsciously distanced myself out of fear of emotional pain. Fear can make us act like jerks and I am obviously not immune. Tough realization.
Yep, Bob was my friend. And I listened as Chris told me how hard it was seeing him this way. It takes a brave person to keep close to his heart someone who is dying.
Fortunately, Chris wouldn’t let me or any of us forget Bob. Through the Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op, respectively, Chris Stratton and Vishal Patel, among others, kept us posted on Bob’s condition. They hosted a fundraiser to collect money to help his family with medical expenses. Bob’s running buddies contributed thousands of dollars.
The last time I saw Bob, he was volunteering at a race. I walked right by him, looked at him, grinned impersonally and started to turn away when his familiar voice yelled, Christina!
Bob! I didn’t recognize him. He was skinny and his cheeks were sunken and he had no hair. But as soon as he spoke, and smiled, he was familiar Bob again. We laughed about old times and joked about the use of medical marijuana and soon other members from that old group such as Danny Hardeman, Chris and Vishal had gathered around. It was a sunny and warm and a beautiful day for running at our lake. Bob seemed happy just to be there.
Bob died on Thanksgiving. At his funeral today, his daughter spoke of how much her dad loved running, how young runners admitted to her that it ate ’em up that this old timer could keep up with them, and how they said there was no word to describe Bob, but that if you had to pick one, it would be Honorable.
His brother-in-law told us how, in his younger years, Bob was stressed with life and work and took up golf. How Bob was so terrible at golf that his companions suggested he take up jogging.
So Bob started running marathons.
“A week ago,” said Bob’s brother-in-law, “I asked Bob, if he could have one more good day, how would he spend it?”
Bob told him he would put on his running shoes, grab his wife Elaine, and go for a run around White Rock Lake.
When I picked my daughter up from school today, I told her about the service and about how Bob wished for one more chance to run. She remained silent for a minute, which is eerie for this teenager, and then she said that I should dedicate my marathon to him.
I said I would and smiled. In fact, I don’t think anyone who has run with Bob who runs the Dallas Marathon next week, especially as they take that stretch along our glassy, shimmering, breezy White Rock Lake, will be able to resist remembering Bob, and running for him.