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When I realized running is like grief, it changed my perspective. Grief is not a destination, a place to get to. It doesn’t end. Running seems like a short term journey, but it’s really not a destination, it’s a process. There are so many intricacies and steps in the progress of both ventures.
The Beginning of Becoming a Runner
My running journey started a little over eight years ago. After meeting the guy who would turn out to be my future husband, I had begun walking every day to lose weight. Then after several months of walking and jogging, I decided to try to push myself to run. I had hated running before that. Trying to run had been torturous in PE classes and I had never dreamed that one day I would enjoy it. But I finally did.
And for the past eight years it has been a huge part of my life. I use it for stress relief, fitness, and to challenge myself. That being said, I’m a runner off and on. For the most part I enjoy it, even in the Florida humidity. Two years ago I ran my first half marathon in Disneyland, and have run four other Disney races since. I planned meals and trained hard. I was so proud of all I accomplished and the countless miles I ran.
A New Reality
But getting back to running since Christian’s birth and death has probably been the hardest transition back into training that I’ve had. I knew I had to start running, in part I went to help lose my postpartum weight. I wrote about my postpartum weight loss struggle here.
Before last week I hadn’t run since May 2018. I have a Disney 10k next weekend. So I went running on Tuesday for three miles and it was just awful. I haven’t hated running like that in a long time.
With very little time to train, I knew I had to push myself today to run all three miles. Which is double what I ran just a week prior. Halfway through my run I was mentally and physically done. I wanted to stop. I wanted to pull out of the race. How was I ever going to run six miles if I could barely run three? Quitting seemed like the best option. But I didn’t quit. I kept picking up my feet and moving forward.
And that was when it hit me; running is like my grief journey. The ups and downs of my running process are a metaphor for the grief journey that I’m having to experience.
Dreading the Process
For much of my race training over the past several years, I have dreaded long runs, even if I’ve run that mileage before. I worry about whether I will actually be able to set out to do what I want to achieve. Training takes a lot of time, and a run of 8, 10 or 12 miles is at least a two hour venture for me. I know it will be hard and I will struggle. I push myself to the limit and anything can affect my physical performance, whether it be lack of sleep, lack of fuel or just exhaustion. There will probably be pain during and after and I don’t want to go through all that discomfort. I agonize over how to go faster and also to motivate myself to finish well.
So much like my grief, running mirrors the ups and downs of grief.
A journey through grief is also a journey through time. It takes years, if not a lifetime to get through the stages and reality of grief. I initially avoided emotions of grief as much as possible after Christian died (like I explained in this blog post – Grief & Healing). I feared the feelings of grief, the sadness, the anger, and anxiety. Those feelings are extremely uncomfortable and unpredictable. I know facing those feelings will be painful, I will struggle, and frankly I don’t want to have to deal with all of that.
But with both running and grief, I must face my fears. I have to go out for the run if I want to train and improve. If I want to run a high mileage race, I have to do the long hard training runs leading up to it. And I have to face the grief if I want to move forward in life. I have to deal with the emotions if I want to get through it and learn to find the light in a tragic situation. There’s no way to get through the dread and the fear except to just do it.
Every Day is Different
With running, some days are easy. It seems to come naturally. Other days it’s not so easy but I still forge on ahead, positive that I can get the job done. Other days it’s hard and I struggle and I barely make it, I still reach my goal and push through. And there are still others where I quit before I start. I stay in bed and nothing in the world can motivate me to put on my game face and go for it.
With grief some days are like that, everything comes easily, flows naturally and although you’re still grieving, you can look back and see the pleasure and the silver lining not the pain. And yet there are still other days where you can’t get out of bed, And if you do, you stay on the couch all day in your bathrobe. You can’t leave the noisy comfort of the TV for fear that the memories will crush you.
It’s All About Mindset
Last week while I was running, I got through the training session by telling myself I was a warrior. I have gone through so much that running a measly mile and a half was really nothing in comparison. I gave birth and recovered from a cesarean section. I’d carried a child whose future was uncertain, but I had done so with grace and strength while going to countless doctors appointments. I had taken care off my son in the NICU and let him go when it was his time. How could I not finish my run when I had done so many other amazing things?!
Tuesday my mindset was drastically different. I doubted my ability, both mentally and physically, to finish the run. I felt defeated and completely out of motivation. My body was tired and low on energy and my legs had already started hurting about halfway through. But I kept going because I had to, because there was no way I was quitting even though I so desperately wanted to.
Grief is much the same when it comes to mindset. Some days I’m just thankful that I was able to mother a beautiful little boy and that I know what that kind of love is like. I’m thankful for the beauty of Christian’s life and what it meant for me and the Hubs. When we were facing the reality of Christian’s death, I knew I would make it through this horrible journey. I didn’t know how, but I knew I would because there was no other option. I have a determination to adapt to the new reality that I didn’t want but must accept.
Other days I feel very much like I did the other morning, doubting my ability. Struggling to move beyond the inanity of binge watching. Those times I feel stuck in my negative thoughts and unable to move beyond the overriding sorrow. I relive the intense anguish of the time surrounding Christian’s death. And I really just can’t see the sun for the clouds.
One Step at A Time
The basics of running are simple; one step at a time. Whether hard, easy, or otherwise, I have to keep moving one step at a time. Even if it’s just walking, each step moves me closer to the goal of getting through it. While I want to be fast and powerful, ultimately I just want to finish the race so I can get on to the next one.
Grief is, in essence, the same. I have to keep moving. The steps look different depending on the day, yet I am intentionally pushing onward. It may be the small act of wearing jewelry that honors Christian. Or it may be going to therapy. Or it may just be surviving the day without falling apart, then getting back to my routine as best I can the next day. Whatever the steps are and however slow or fast they may be, I keep taking them.
How I Cope
Running is one of the ways I grapple with Christian’s death. It’s a quiet time when all my thoughts seem to be clearer. My footfalls echo off of the pavement and I have permission to feel and think all the things I don’t normally open myself up to. My thoughts flow freely and I can process everything good and bad in my life.
There is good in my life. My family, my true friends, my pack, they all bring me happiness. I am finding ways to adapt and move forward, all while remembering my precious boy. Running is a part of that, for both my physical and mental health.