How Running Helped Me Forge a New Path

I am on the last few pages of Wild by Cheryl Strayed and her story has really hit close to him. I have loved reading this book. I think Cheryl is incredibly brave not only to hike the Pacific Crest trail by herself, but to be so open, honest, and transparent about how she endured after her mother’s sudden and tragic passing. It may seem like Chery’s story is about  “finding your way” but I don’t really think it’s about being lost or found, I think it’s more about finding how to continue forward.

When you lose a family member or when your life falls apart, it changes you.  I personally love the saying "The end of one thing is the beginning of something else" because that is exactly how it felt when I lost my brother; like someone ended the book of my entire existence and I found myself in a brand new one I didn’t want to be in. It was isolating and I felt alone, like no one understood what I was going through. Running helped me forge a new path for myself in the same way that walking the Pacific Crest Trail did for Cheryl.

When I started running I wasn’t looking for a new hobby or a new passion, I just needed a way to stay active. I regularly went to the gym after work but I was bored and unmotivated. On the day I started running, Thanksgiving Day 2012, I hadn’t slept a wink. I was up all night thinking about my brother and how much I missed him. I was scrolling through the Facebook statuses updating the world how grateful they were to have their wonderful, perfect, complete family and I was slowly falling into the rabbit hole of grief. Normally when I was feeling sad I would go to a spin class or hop on an elliptical but the gym was closed for the holiday. I needed to do something other than lay in bed pining after what ifs and what could have been. I hated running, I had tried to like running a million times, but consistently failed.

During those first initial weeks of running, I was just struggling my way through because I had nothing better to do. I wasn’t training for anything, I simply wanted to make it home in one piece so I wouldn't have to go to the gym. As I started going farther and to my surprise, hating it less, I found myself on a path towards a half marathon. It was December and I had been running for a short amount of time. I was in the car with my parents and we were on our way home from my childhood friend’s engagement party. I told them that I was going to run a half marathon that June. I was terrified about my proclamation, running 13.1 miles sounded impossible. But I needed something to do, I needed something to be able to tell people when they asked me what I was doing with my life. A month later an opportunity arose and I made impossible possible by running my first half marathon.

One of the hardest parts about losing someone or having to put the pieces of your shattered life back together is figuring out who you are. Running can be a really independent sport. I ran alone for well over a year before mustering up the courage to run with other people. But I’ve come to realize that within that isolation, I’m never alone. The running community is one of the most inclusive, understanding, and forgiving communities I've ever encountered. I've never felt more supported than I did during my first marathon. I was really struggling during the second half and other marathoners were constantly checking on me, asking me if I was alright, or offering me words of encouragement. Whenever I meet another runner or if I see someone driving with a 13.1 sticker on their car I already feel like I know them! I feel instantly connected with strangers when they tell me they run, like we belong to the same club.

Running has been instrumental in helping me move forward and grieve my loss. When I feel sad or when I miss my brother most, I lace up my running shoes, put on the playlist comprised of his favorite songs, and take off for a long run. Every single time I approach a finish line, I think of my brother. I remember as I was running through Central Park, a stone’s throw from the finish line of last year’s New York City Marathon, I actually looked around because I could feel my brother with me. It was so intense I expected him to be running next to me, smiling at me with his shy goofy grin. Who knows, maybe I was hallucinating with exhaustion, but it was the warmest feeling to have him cross the finish line of the New York City Marathon with me.

I didn’t seek out this new path that I have found myself running on. Running hasn’t filled that void that I was left with when my brother passed away, but it’s built new parts of me I didn’t realize I needed. The best way to move forward when you feel like everything has been taken from you or when nothing makes sense is to do something incredible. To forge a new path by doing something impossible, terrifying, and huge. Running is my impossible, what’s yours?