Posted by: Sara | July 30, 2013

Running as Coping

July9 230I’ve been struggling with running these days. My PR 1:57 PR at the Brownville Half-Marathon came at a price. For weeks, my IT band has been incredibly tight and there’s a burning sensation at the top of my hip almost all of the time, even when I am not running. When I walk, if I put my hand on the spot where it hurts, I can literally feel the tendon clicking across my hip bone. I went from running 36 miles a week to 6 after Brownville, 10 the following week, and then 16 last week. I’m increasing my mileage gradually because I know that, even though I don’t officially have a marathon to train for, I will run one this fall and hopefully two with Baltimore and Richmond, so I’m trying to stay sharp. And with the Disneyland Dumbo Dare Challenge coming up in a month, I can’t stop running now. But I admit it: injury or not, my head and my heart are not in the game right now because of everything going on in my life outside of running.

This year has been traumatic for me. I lost my job in January. In February, my boyfriend, who I loved deeply, moved to Arizona for a job, and then he broke it off with me nine weeks later, and I didn’t see it coming. Going through a breakup while being unemployed has literally felt like a miniature Big Bang Theory in my heart that just keeps exploding and wreaking havoc on my universe. I’m grieving the loss of dreams with him that won’t come true. Every job I applied for, got interviewed for, and didn’t get in the past seven months has come with a euphoric high as I envision the next leg of my career and where it will take me followed by a crushing blow complete with the panic and fear that I won’t be able to make rent and will have to move home, that the last five years I have tried to build a life here in DC will have been for absolutely nothing, and that if I can’t find a job, I have no idea who I will become or what I will do. It’s all been a little too traumatic, having had a job I loved and a man I loved, and then losing both and now seeing that I might lose everything if something doesn’t turn around, even despite my best efforts to make sure it doesn’t happen.

If I was reading this post in a running magazine, this is typically the part when people would start talking about how much running has helped them get through. Yes, running has helped alleviate the pain– earning medals is a happiness that thrills me. Finishing the Goofy Challenge and having the Dumbo Dare Challenge coming up have been two happy moments that I’ve thought a lot about when I start feeling despair and sadness. I’m proud that I PR’d at the Rock ‘n Roll DC Marathon, I got a PR at both the Alexandria Half-Marathon and the Brownville Half-Marathon, and have been training for a lofty goal of running my fourth marathon in four hours. But it’s almost August and I still haven’t found a job and sometimes, running feels like I am dancing on the deck of the Titanic when I should be focusing on saving my life. How on earth can I possibly get out on the trail and run when all I can think about is how my life is going up in flames? I am literally gripped with fear, despite having done everything I can to turn things around and get a job, and at this point, I am overwhelmed with exhaustion, emotion, fear, and sadness and sometimes I can’t breathe even when I am sitting down. How on earth can anyone logistically run under such emotional duress?? No, seriously, how? What I’m going through is not a process that just gets better with time. Except for the grieving process that came with the breakup, I’ve given it time— things have gotten worse, and now I may lose the place that I have made my home for the last five years. And on top of all that, having an IT band injury and losing out on the Air Force Marathon has made me feel like there is nothing in this world that I can control, even with goals and dreams and plans. Life hasn’t gotten the better of me, but damn, when is it going to stop sucking?

There are some people who can cope with loss and grief through running, and I was one of those people at some point this year. 2013 has been a great running year for me so far. I’ve done what I can– 2 full marathons, 3 half-marathons, and training for (hopefully) two fall marathons. I’m not going to say that I am one of those people who laces up and runs every time I feel grief from my breakup or every time I need to burn off some negative energy from a painstaking job search. Running helps me stay sane and happy, it gives me purpose and structure to my day. Some days, a good run is all I have. But running doesn’t heal me. I have to feel everything that is going on with me so I can understand it. While grieving my breakup has gotten easier over the last four months, I have to feel the profound loss of it because I learned a lot from that relationship, and the next man who falls in love with me will have a better version of me than the one who let me go. I have to feel the fear of losing everything I have worked for in DC because if I do lose it all, I want to know that I cared, I tried, and that it happened for a reason and going through those emotions right now will help me handle the loss when I am back at home in Nebraska with my family trying to pick up the pieces. If I land a job here, I need to remember what it was like to have almost lost everything I worked for so I can never take it for granted again.

I have the endurance of a distance runner because I am a distance runner, but my emotional endurance has hit the wall and it’s all I can do to stay hopeful and optimistic enough to write a killer writing sample, give a strong interview, and maintain patience in the drawn-out hiring process. I have to silence the voice in my head that says these are just excuses. If I was giving excuses for backing out, I wouldn’t be gradually increasing my mileage despite an IT band injury. Even if all I can get is 2 miles, like last night, before the grief and fear shorten my breath, but it’s still a 2-mile run. It’s still 18 minutes that I was running instead of getting drunk in front of the TV.

Our society tends to romanticize grief with stories of kicking ass, but in my opinion, letting the darkness of deep pain and profound sadness have its time in court is much more kick-ass than supplementing it with something that is not rooted in the understanding and growth process that comes from accepting an extreme loss. I am heartbroken. But I am not broken. And I am not afraid of the dark, so bring it on.

If you are coping with grief and need an outlet, go run. If you’re going through a difficult time and need an outlet, go run. If things have gotten to be too much to handle and you can’t run, let yourself off the hook and try again tomorrow. Prioritize your run, but prioritize yourself first. People deal with things differently than others do, and turning into an Olympic marathoner while grieving a loss is not the standard to which you should be aspiring. That’s not what the purpose of grief is about. If it helps and you do qualify for the Olympic marathon, great— that’s how you personally cope with grief. But don’t make running your turn-around story if that’s not how you cope because unresolved feelings will catch up to you. Rather, use running as a means of lightening the load. It will help you reach your goals when you’re all bright and shiny again.

Running has saved my life, my sanity, my optimism, and my confidence over the past year and soon I will get back to a point at which there will be nothing that keeps me from reaching my goals. Until then, I’m focusing on my recovery and running whenever I need a momentary release.


  1. […] you read my post from yesterday, Running As Coping, you’d know that I’ve been having a lot of trouble with running because of everything […]

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