born to run: grief & endurance.

Camp Widow is coming soon. This year, it falls precisely on the death date. I will be marking 5 years in the company of friends who have helped me live this life that began those years ago.

I intended to be in amazing physical shape by that date. I wanted to run the annual 5k the very first morning of year 6 (wait, the what?).

As often happens, my reality has fallen far short of my expectations. Running, being a runner, is elusive. What makes it more stressful for me is not just the whole not-running thing, but knowing that running, being physically strong and mentally quiet – those are the places I feel most connected: to Matt, to love, to life.

So today, a post from a couple of years ago, when I became, for the umpteenth and un-lasting time, a runner.

Writing without the deeply personal is not the whole story of grief. To give the whole story, to give as many handholds as possible in the steep climb of grief, we need to hear personal stories. Each Friday, I’ll post something from my own experience of grief and love. It’s an inside look at love, at grief, at life.

This week, a post from fall 2012. I *wish* I could say it was more recent than that, because maybe that would mean I was actually in good, lean running shape. Which I am not.


23 days before matt drowned, I started to run.

I know it is 23 days because according to something I read once, if you do something for 21 days in a row, it becomes habit.

I wanted to run. After years of believing I was not built for running, I still wanted to run. The yearning was always there.

Every single day after work, no matter how annoyed or tired, I put on my old sneakers and ran/walked as best I could the half mile up to the pizza place and the half mile back. It wasn’t easy, but it was effortless, right from the start.

The friday before the sunday he died, I hadn’t run yet. We were settled onto the couch after a late dinner. It was after 10 pm, but I couldn’t keep still. I had to go. Just a short little run. I wasn’t fast, and I couldn’t get far, but it had become habit.

That Friday was day 22.

On the way to the river that Sunday morning, Matt and I were talking about my new habit. He said maybe he would start doing 300 push-ups a day for the next 21 days, and just continue the rest of his life.

Do I need to finish that sentence? To finish that thought? That the rest of his life was less than an hour from then.

A friend with whom matt had hiked at 12,000 feet in the Rockies just 6 days before told me that, on that hike, Matt said how proud he was of me and my running, how thrilled he was at how proud I was of myself.

All through everything after he drowned, I wanted to run. I wanted to not let him down.

After that day, I tried to run. I tried to run even though I couldn’t eat. Grief and pain, and eventually, injury, took over though. Running stopped. For one long winter, even walking had to stop.

Grief settled into my body and I couldn’t move.

This spring, I started couch to 5k, for the third time, I think. When I realized that if I kept with it, I would reach the 5k point by exactly two years and nine months, I kept going.

Now at three years and nearly two months, I’m still not fast. My feet hurt a lot. But I run three to five times a week, 30 to 40 minutes at a stretch.

Today I flashed on a conversation we had, Matt and I, me telling him that I want to know what this body is actually made for. This body I’ve been wearing around. I know I am not built for speed, I told him, but I think I might be made for endurance. I think I might be made for distance.

Matt was an incredible being. A body so completely unlike mine – strong, light, powerful. He could do feats of strength and agility that impressed long-time pros and practitioners. He naturally mastered any sport, typically proficient at his very first try. I loved to watch him move. He made me want to move more, to be stronger and faster and just – more. I knew I couldn’t be him, but I wanted to know what was me.

Endurance, maybe. Slow and steady, for a very long time.

born to run gordon tarpleyOn the recommendation of my osteopath, who needs to fix my feet every few weeks, I read Born to Run, finishing it today with a long slow read on a rainy day. Towards the end, I could not stop crying.

Crying, and wanting to run. Crying, so moved to read love and running and joy all woven into one book. Crying, and wishing he was here. Knowing he would be set on fire by this book, that he would immediately set about logging hours and miles, pushing himself on bare feet over mountain passes.

Crying, knowing that long distance running feels like it might be my home, slow and steady, and that he is no longer here – for me to watch, for me to learn from, for me to be aggravated by his coaching and correction.

Crying for my loss and for his.

There’s a lot more in this book that got to me, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. If you read it, you’ll most likely know. And nope, there is no sudden widowhood lurking in the pages. Enough to say that, just as when he and I first met, I feel an old slow lock gliding into place.

I won’t ever be fast, but long, slow, and steady might just be my home.



How about you? Are there things you know bring you closer to your love, closer to your own core, and yet they remain wishful thinking, rather than something you live? How has your physical capacity changed in your grief? Let us know in the comments, or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you.