I started running way back before I had children—before I was even married. When I was young and single, I lived in this attic apartment in Weehawken that I liked to imagine was very La Boheme, and I used to get up before work and run while it was still dark out. I did races on the weekends, and eventually even ran the Brooklyn Half-Marathon.
Fast-forward nearly ten years and two kids later, and I barely ran at all. I always maintained my gym membership, and I can kill it in a cycling class, but somehow, my running totally fell by the wayside. When I picked it up again this summer, it took me weeks before I could run a mile without stopping. Still, I signed up for another half-marathon. I’m not sure if there was any one thing that made me set such a goal. I think it was a combination of things: life is stressful, and exercise is a proven stress-reliever and mood-lifter, and committing to a long run (and paying that race-fee!) ensured that I would be exercising a lot.
I also wondered if I still had it in me—I don’t know about yours, but my body isn’t getting any younger, and I wanted to know if it could still perform like it had in the past. And lastly, there’s no such thing as looking after your heart too much, and running is great cardio-vascular exercise (provided your doctor says your ticker’s up for it, of course).
What started out as a personal challenge turned into something more.
About midway through my training, my mother passed away. I was devastated. Obviously, my training took a back seat while we made arrangements and traveled to and from New Hampshire for her services. Naturally, I was totally focused on her passing and taking care of my family. But once I was home, and my oldest daughter was back in school, and my Aunt had flown back to Colorado, it got really quiet around here.
I think that grieving is important, and I resist the urge to try and cheer someone up when they’re grieving because I do believe it’s so necessary. However, there comes the point when the show must go on. After a week or so of taking a lot of naps, I knew I needed to get back to my regular routine. Still, I found that I didn’t really have the attention span to write or even read anything of consequence, and the race was only getting closer, so I packed up the baby, and we hit the gym.
It turns out that it’s not easy to focus when you’re grieving. Revving myself up to churn out more than a mile or two was difficult, at first. But I had a schedule, so I always had a plan for what needed to be done each day. I also listened to a terrific podcast from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which kept my mind from wandering and doubled as research for my novel. As the weeks went by, I logged a greater number of miles leading up to my goal. My commitment to my running got me out of bed and doing something constructive, and the babysitting offered by my club ensured my baby was being looked after by someone a lot more chipper than me.
Race-day finally came the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and while I didn’t truly feel ready, I still showed up. And I did it. I’d been worried that I wouldn’t be able to run the entire (very hilly!) course, but I did. The sense of accomplishment that I felt couldn’t have come at a better time in my life, and I’m so happy I did it, despite being extremely sore for a few days afterward. Perhaps it was just a distraction, and any hobby would have sufficed to pull me out of my rut, but I don’t know what would have left me with a sense of pride that running for over two hours without stopping did.
It’s become so apparent to me, as our family grieves the loss of three people close to us, that life can be short, and you cannot take your health too seriously. I’ve also learned the value, every once in a while, of doing something that’s purely for myself.
Running this race was that –I wasn’t doing it because my friends were or because my husband suggested it. I was doing something that I wanted to do. For some people, running 13.1 miles probably doesn’t sound like self-care, but for me, it was. Completing a goal, I set for myself helped me to feel more like myself again.