How My Dad (And Chocolate) Taught Me To Run

Miki Rijkmans |

Running has been a part of my life ever since I can remember. I grew up with it in our family; I embraced it as a young person, and as I developed into teenager-hood and beyond, I became a runner myself. 

I have my Dad to thank.

My father has always been a runner. There was never a time that I can remember when he wasn’t running. Our whole family would wake up early to cheer him on at races. 

I would be part of it, as a helper, and I adored being a race marshal – even if it was just as an assistant. Getting to hold a flag, wear a bib and cheer the runners on planted the seed for my own love of the sport.

I started young. When I was a baby, my Dad took me on club runs with the Dubai Creek Striders – in a pram! When I got older, I would ride my bike next to the runners. 

 “I kept going to these club runs mostly because at one of the petrol stations along the way, I got to have a chocolate.”

I remember a club run we did in Dubai which involved having to take an <itals>abra (a traditional boat, widely used for transport in the UAE) across a creek. I have vivid memories of having to get my bike manoeuvred on and off the <itals>abra, which made the whole experience of the run like an obstacle race for me. 

I kept going to these club runs mostly because at one of the petrol stations along the way, I got to have a chocolate. Before breakfast! It was our little thing, Dad and me. “We can’t tell Mom!” we’d laugh 

Come to think of it, maybe chocolate was the reason I started to run…

My Dad never put any pressure on me to attend any of those training runs, whether on my bike, or later as a runner myself. But living in Dubai made for some memories – like the club runs that would often start and finish in the parking lot of a hotel where fountains adorned the entrance, and where I often went to splash around to escape the heat of the Dubai summer.

Eventually I graduated from cycling to running. My first foray into events was a 15km, but again there was no pressure to run it, from either my Dad or any of the other runners around me. It was my decision. It was just a fun morning out with Dad and the running club. 

Enjoyment was always the main focus; and these early, formative runs dictated the way I’ve always thought about running: Have fun first! 

Doing hill training in Dubai was a challenge – mainly because there aren’t any hills! So we did our hill training by running up and down a multi-story car park. My Dad even ran a marathon once by going up and down one of the Emirates Towers, over and over: 52 floors, 1 334 steps, 265 metres. He was a natural runner; lean and wiry, with a natural style that was way faster than it looked.

We did a lot of running together, too. And it was always an adventure. When I was 11, Dad and I competed in a runners-versus-paddlers race. We ran without watches, focusing only on beating the paddlers, out on the water. I remember the pure joy of the competition, and the fun we had. That run remains one of my favourite memories.

At all my major running milestones, my Dad has been by my side. He ran with me in my first half marathon (Dubai Creek Striders Half), marathon (Cape Town Marathon) and ultra-marathon (Two Oceans), and he was there to watch my first Comrades – sadly, he couldn’t run it himself, because of a hamstring injury. 

But seeing him on the Comrades route and at the finish was just as special. I had a very difficult race, and all I wanted at the finish was a hug! To get one from the person who had instilled my passion for running meant the world to me. 

Those memories, and our many runs both past and future, I will cherish forever.


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