My Runner Story

Here's my runner's story...
I've been a runner on and off for most of my adult life, beginning late in high school with one season stints in track and cross country. I picked running up again when I went back to college to pursue education and ran up until I was eight months pregnant with my son. I unsuccessfully tried to return to running while pushing a crying infant and eventually wiggly toddler, but someone just didn't like simply sitting there while I ran. As a way to scratch my 'Gotta Run' bug, I coach a local Girls on the Run team for two seasons. But life got in the a very abrupt and life-altering way...that led me to choose NOT to run...and then right back to it again.
A little more than a year after graduating with my degree in elementary education, I was facing a lay off when I received a phone call on a day I will never forget. I remember so much about March 18th, 2011: what I was wearing, what I was doing at the exact moment I was summoned to the office of the middle school where I was an English teacher. My husband was at the doctor's office to get the results of some testing he had done earlier in the month...but they wanted me there when he heard the results. An incredibly fast car ride home led us to an examination room and a cancer diagnosis: at the age of 30, my husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The next few days were a whirlwind of scheduling and planning a trip to Mayo Clinic. All the while, I was fighting the urge to lace up my shoes and run. I briefly toyed with the idea of packing my running gear that hadn't been touched in months, but dismissed that as frivolous and selfish.

A few days later, found myself in the stairwell of our hotel after learning the news that my husband had a very grim prognosis...several months to a few years. My urge to run was almost primal. I wanted to run...and run away from everything that was tearing my life and my family apart. The stairwell was the only escape I had found where I could shed a few tears in private, so I could at least appear strong for Collin. But I was terrified to run. I was afraid that if I began running, I wouldn't stop. That I would end up running away from a fight that I had made a vow to fight. I couldn't live with myself if I ran way, so I chose to give up running and channel all my efforts in to fighting for Collin's life and my family.
I didn't go cold turkey. I ran a few 5Ks to raise money for cancer research, but I never trained for them. It hurt for a few days afterward, but nothing that really mattered as much as the chemo side-effects I nursed my husband through. But finally, thirteen months after I 'gave up' running, Collin told me to go for a run to burn off my frustration. So I did. And I found a refuge from care-giving and cancer and teaching and every other excuse to which I had clung. Even as Collin lay dying in the hospital, he told me to pack my running shoes 'just in case' I needed to run for a bit. I did pack them. But I didn't use them that night. Instead, I sat for hours watching his last breaths.
In the few days after his death, I had very little motivation to do much other than care for our son. But my sister Erin and cousin Sarah showed up and went running, practically dragging me with them. And I haven't stopped since. Pounding the pavement around the apple orchards and asparagus field that surrounded my home became my grief therapy. My anger and frustration at the world and my 'only-parent' status fell off my shoulders and fell miles behind me.
Spring turned to summer, autumn, and eventually I was faced with a question: How would I run in the winter? I had toyed with the idea of running on a treadmill over the winter months, but couldn't quite stomach it. And then I saw a Facebook post about a half-marathon for only women: the first annual Gazelle Girl Half Marathon. The longest race I had ever run was a local 10K just a few months before. I thought to myself, "If there was ever a time to be crazy, might as well start now." So I signed up, bought some cold weather running gear and never looked back.

On April 13th, 2013, braving heartache, self-doubt, snow, sleet, and a flooding Grand River, I completed the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon in 1:55:57...under my goal of two hours. A few weeks later marked the one-year anniversary of my late-husband's death and a one full year of running. But I was no longer running for therapy or grief. I was running because it was my 'me-time' and other women in my life began running because they saw me running.

Now I have completed five half marathons, a 25K, more 5Ks and 10Ks than I can count, and my racing bib rack is overflowing.  I am also a member of the Oiselle Flock, a sisterhood of runners spanning across the country.  This is a far cry from the widow I was two and a half years ago. Running helped me piece a shattered life back together; rebuild myself as a stronger woman, mother, teacher, and friend. I don't even thing about how vastly different my life would have been without running...

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