Life Lessons From Running and Loss

My ‘running career’ began in high school at the age of 17 when I joined the cross country team. My reasons for joining were two-fold. At the time, I could barely make it around the 1/4-mile track without being completely winded and stopping to rest. I thought if I joined the cross country team and competed in the 5k races, then I would be able to conquer anything! Also, I had just gone through a breakup with my high school sweetheart and needed something to occupy both my time and the space in my mind.

From the start, I had a love-hate relationship with running. I showed up, I trained, and I’d like to say that I conquered, but that’s not even close to the truth – it wasn’t pretty, but let’s just say that I finished and yes, at the end of that semester I did feel like I could accomplish anything.

It wasn’t until 12 years later that I would decide to lace up my running shoes again. Feeling restless as an almost-30 year old. I wanted that feeling of doing something for the first time again…something that was challenging and that I had to work on…something that was hard for me and that would push me out of my comfort zone. I set a goal of running my first half-marathon.

Like any good wanna-be-runner, I found a race that sounded fun – I settled on Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon – because if anything was going to get me to run 13.1 miles – it would be a glass of wine at the finish line. Plus, I cleverly coerced one of my best friends to sign up too. It would be fun I said!

I quickly found that the love-hate relationship with running still existed deep within me as I began my weekly training. I do believe the only thing that got me out on the pavement was the thought of not being able to complete the 13.1 distance on the day of the race. And how embarrassing would that be?! I’d check in with my friend monthly and found myself relieved to hear we were ‘on the same pace’ in our training – meaning we were running maybe twice a week and getting those long runs in when life didn’t get in the way.

As the days started to get shorter, I brought my training inside to the treadmill. What I liked most about this, was that my mom would join me after work and walk on the treadmill beside me – usually reading a book or catching up on her entertainment television. Mom’s weekly encouragement and pride in me was just the boost I needed to really buckle down and slide into that home stretch of training. I think she enjoyed our weekly workouts just as much as I did and even signed up for her first 5K!

Me & Mom at her first 5K race!

On September 28, 2014 – six weeks before the big race – my mom died unexpectedly from a heart attack. The weeks that followed are still a blur. The thought of running without her by my side took my breath away and left me curled up in a ball. I didn’t think I could continue training and go through with the race…my friend understood and said that the decision was mine to make – she would support me either way. The days drudged on and four weeks before the race, I woke up from the haze. Maybe I SHOULD put my running shoes back on…maybe running will fill the time and the space in my head just like it did so many years ago…

“It is not so much that I began to run, but that I continued.” – Hal Higdon

I didn’t feel completely ready, but on November 8, 2014 I completed my first half marathon with one of my best friends at my side. There’s no doubt that Mom carried me through – especially those last two miles when so many emotions were running through me that all I could do was cry. The best part for me was that for the first time I experienced that ‘euphoria’ or ‘runners high’ that everyone talks about. I had it! and it was amazing! Crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with one of my best friends and accomplishing that goal was like nothing I can describe. Not only did it push me out of my comfort zone physically, but the emotional battle I went through with the loss of my mother and the uncertainty of how life could go on for me was incredible. In that moment I was so glad that I didn’t give up and I knew that my mom was too. Life does go on and it’s up to you to show up and make it worth it. I don’t just live for myself now, but for mom too.

Me & Amanda

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