When We Run to Grieve

Hi Readers,

The following post was contributed by a fellow runner who wishes to remain anonymous. I think when you read it, you’ll understand why. But more importantly, you’ll know that this could be any—or all—of us.

We all run for different reasons. I’ve recently learned that sometimes our reasons for running change when we least expect it.

I decided on a whim to register for another marathon after seeing my husband cross the finish line of his. I had run a few before but hadn’t found the bug to take one on again quite so soon until I saw how happy and accomplished he was on race day. Once again, I felt inspired to tackle a big goal.

I knew I was subjecting myself to a sixteen week commitment of constant fatigue, insatiable hunger, soreness on a regular basis, and mood swings as I trained for yet another marathon, pushing my body beyond its limits. I was excited and thrilled by the idea of the challenge, and felt strong and courageous every time I added one more mile to my long run, or nailed another track workout. I was driven, motivated and unstoppable... until I was stopped.

Two and a half weeks before the marathon I visited the doctor because I hadn’t had my period. When the pregnancy test came back positive, I could hardly believe it. Just days before I had run the hardest half marathon I had ever run. I had no idea that there was a stowaway.

My first reaction was that pregnancy and marathon training had so many of the same symptoms. I contributed the fact that I was eating more but not gaining any weight to be a result of constant activity.  I thought the fact that I needed constant naps was because I was crushing my weekly mileage goals and my body was recovering. Then I realized holy shit, I’m pregnant and training for a marathon. A baby was not part of my training plan.

I was really scared about being pregnant. I suffer from PCOS so I thought, based off my research and past doctors appointments, that it would be really hard for me to get pregnant. I assumed that pregnancy would require a lot of medication and maybe even IVF. So when I conceived naturally, my husband and I were excited but I was scared based off my past health history. My husband was in the same mindset. We were shocked because we expected to have to spend lots of money to get pregnant. When I received the test results, it felt like the whole world stopped. I thought well now what?

I had to stop training for a few days but only because I began experiencing the most horrific morning sickness, and could barely stomach eating anything as a result. That made my energy levels low and and unable to run or exercise.  I figured it would pass once my body adjusted, or at least that’s what I hoped because I was determined to run.

But before I could even fathom when my due date was, or figure out if I was even capable of making it to race day, the doctor told me that I lost the pregnancy. Between the positive test and the miscarriage was about 3 days. I’m not sure the exact day the miscarriage happened but I know based off the symptoms I shared with my doctor that it was at some point over the course of about two days.

I’ve never run for any other reason but that I am extremely driven and love a good physical challenge. My mind had been laser focused for months to get to the finish line, and to possibly PR!  All of a sudden, just a few weeks out from 26.2, I found myself in a mental tailspin. Where do I go from here?  I had barely told anyone I was pregnant, let alone that I had lost the baby. I was a wreck. I was lost inside of a training plan I had formulated with a schedule and routine I had stuck to for months. Instead of going running right after work, I found myself going home and feeling sorry for myself. I eventually forced myself to go to a strength training class and had to inform the instructor I needed to make modifications because I had recently lost a pregnancy and my body was recovering. Sharing it with someone and then working out again made me feel stronger. Pretty soon I realized it was time to run again to allow myself some solo time to heal. I couldn’t find the heart to lace up my running shoes until I finally realized running was exactly what I needed. I realized I needed to run because I felt so lost in my own thoughts without a way to process and filter anything. I decided I had to run in order to grieve.  It was the only way I knew how to move forward.

Grieving is hard. Grieving is emotional, mentally exhausting, and comes in waves when you don’t expect it.  On the other hand, running is is challenging. Running pushes you beyond your limits, running is a mental game, and as a solo runner, running was one of the only times in my day I get to be alone with my thoughts.  I don’t find myself to be particularly emotional or sentimental in general, so I knew that the time on my feet and the miles I was putting in would be the best way to open my heart up, allow myself to feel again, and get back to my happy place.

Instead of letting my heart feeling heavy, and filled with pangs of guilt that the loss was my fault, I pushed myself to get out on the road for as long as I needed it. Some days that was a few minutes and some days that was a few miles.  I felt like I was existing in a hazy fog until I laced up and ran. The more I let myself run, the more I found my strength again, both physical and mental. The more I ran, the more I let myself think and the more I allowed myself to tell myself that everything was going to be okay.

The more I ran, the more I had thoughts like,  “You are strong because you can run for hours on end even with a little runner on board”. The more I told myself I was strong, and I was capable, the more I began to work through my grief.  The more I let myself grieve on the run, the more I cried, especially while running. Thank goodness for fashionable running sunglasses, because I shed many tears on many trails, but I dug deep and let myself go into those emotional places I could only find while I was running.  I needed running to heal.

Running felt like a very non traditional way to handle my grief and my emotions, but as a runner I think it felt right that that was where I would come to peace with myself again and center me. I don’t know that I’ll ever let go of the small void of wondering what my life could have been without that loss. But when Marathon day came, the race had much more meaning to me than anyone could have imagined.  It was a celebration of strength, and closure to heartache. In continuing to train, it reminded me that life goes on, even when we are changed mentally or physically, and that we deserve to honor our bodies and work through our emotions.

Race day was on a trail I am very familiar with, and I felt myself processing a lot of emotions and filtering through my grief in a safe place while also having an open heart to celebrate myself. I cried during the last few miles of the marathon. I was all alone for a stretch of time, and I felt safe pushing myself through my tough race and allowing myself to feel the feelings I may have otherwise pushed down. Feelings of heartache, curiosity, anger and sadness.

Today I am still deeply saddened but I realize I can’t hold on to being sad because I can only move forward. Looking back won’t get me anywhere. I look at these strong mother runners and know that one day when it is my time, I’ll be one of them. But for now I identify that I am in the journey I’m meant to be in now, and by accepting that, I can live and run to my fullest right here where I am.

I have a new love of how running has made me whole. I appreciate the healing that running can provide to us in times of grief and sorrow. If you run to grieve, you are not alone. We all have our reasons to run, and running can be be the best gift we give ourselves when we need it.