Originally published August 2013.
This is Day 3 of a series of stories about how fitness can serve as a means of coping. You can all the articles here. Also be sure to visit our new forum, Fitness and Grief. Today we meet Mary who turned to running and joined a cross country team following her father’s death.
In the midst of any emotional event my thoughts seem to turn to one burning question: “When can I run?!” People often ask why I run so much or why I enjoy such a daunting task.
For me it’s simple. Running is my therapy. Running has become an integral and essential part of my life ever since my father’s death. My dad passed away the summer I entered high school and following in my two older sisters footsteps I joined the cross country team. Cross country opened my eyes to the world of running but it was not until I took a year off from running my first year of college that I realized the importance of running in my life.
Running has allowed me to make time for my grief whether I like it or not. When I have a million and one things going on, as many college students do, my running time becomes my daily “me time.” I have come to look forward to my runs not only for the exercise, but because it gives me time to compartmentalize all of my emotions.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the year I took off from running was the year my life became an emotional roller coaster. Most days that year were a struggle. I stopped trying to think through my grief; I just pushed it aside and forced it away. It became a constant struggle to keep my grief as far away as possible.
Once I went back to school the following year I decided I needed to do something for myself something that would set my grief journey in the “right” direction again. That something was signing up for a 5K. After I completed the 5K I knew that I needed to keep going; I knew that the feeling I got from running was what my grief journey was missing. That day I signed up for my first half marathon.
Training for the half marathon taught me a lot about my running and myself. Once my feet hit the ground with that first step for a run I am able to fully recognize the pain experienced on any given day; my head clears and I can focus. All of the anxiety and unease from the day become distant memories.
As I continue my strides in a run I sort through the reasons for the day’s anxiety and unease and think of ways that I can work towards a better outcome. Once I complete my run I can easily say I feel like a new person. The me before a run and the me after a run are different people. The simple task of putting on my running shoes and taking the first step changes my day.
There is no test with running. There’s no license or membership to earn … you just run. The courage to accept the challenge and start the journey forward encompasses both my grief and running.