Hurricane Motivation

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Fancy Pumpkin Patch 5k trophy.  Is that pumpkin smiling or laughing at me??

It has been a long time since I ran a 5k without kids… maybe at least 4 years.  I don’t run 5k’s because you are supposed to run them fast.  I prefer to run slow and steady for a longer period of time.  I’m too old to run fast.  Or so I thought.

As most of you already know, I have been in a bit of a funk lately.  No real reason for that, unless you count getting displaced by a hurricane, losing most of your household goods and having your family split apart.  But enough with dwelling on my woeful circumstances.  My concern most recently has been my history of depression coming back to haunt me.  Whether or not people want to believe it, depression is a real illness and should not be taken lightly.  It is not just about feeling sad.  Other symptoms include hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, fatigue, loss of interest in normal activities (or activities you once thought were fun), difficulty concentrating and making decisions and loss of appetite.

It has been about 14 years since I have taken medication for depression.  Instead, I have used exercise as my medicine and it has worked.  There were times I worried about it coming back, like when I had a protruding disk in my back and was unable to run (and barely walk) for 3 months.  I did my PT religiously and then I found a way to gradually get back into running… by doing triathlons.  From there I took it all the way to a half Ironman.  Yes, I fight back and I fight hard.

Two days after the hurricane hit and I was stateside, I went outside for a run.  I could barely run.  I dragged my feet and quit after 2 miles.  It was a tough week and I struggled with every run I attempted.  Honestly, I felt like I could barely do anything.  Then one day I went for a run in the woods and I felt the fight begin to stir within me.  I kept fighting and some days I would win and other days I would lose.  It has remained a tough battle even after all of this time.

Last week I signed up for a 5k on the nearby Navy base.  It was free so I thought it couldn’t hurt.  As I already mentioned, I don’t really do 5k’s.  I just figured I would at least get out and run with a group of people.  Then last night I felt an ache in the pit of my stomach and had second thoughts about going.  I made up excuses in my head:  “Well, I don’t have a costume” or “It’s free so it doesn’t matter if I show up or not.”  Even this morning after I dropped off the kids at school I was still debating in my head.  I went back to the house and just planned on running alone around the neighborhood.  Somehow I managed to tell myself to at least drive to the base and I could just change my mind if I wanted to.  I had to go the Exchange anyway.

Next thing I know I was lined up at the starting line.  Once again, I just told myself I was going to get a run in with a group of people.  I mean, I even had taken a weight training class the day before and my legs were still hurting.  What could I even do if my entire body ached?  The countdown started and my adrenaline and need for competition kicked in.  I know by now that I can’t just “run” a race.  I have to race a race.  I started off too fast as I always do (but I always coach people to start off slow and finish strong… just so you know).   Then all of a sudden my emotions surfaced.  It wasn’t joy or sadness.  It was anger.  All of a sudden I was just pissed off.

The sorrow and woes had turned to anger.  The many stages of grief.  Right.  I summoned up a new mantra:  “Fuck you Maria!”  I repeated it over and over again in my head, and maybe out loud a few times (but only when I could actually breathe).  When my body started to shut down, I fought against the pain and lack of air in my lungs.  As I got to mile 2, my mind was definitely on the prize.  I knew I had to win one of those trophies that I had seen on a table at the start.  At that point, it was definitely possible.  I knew there were only 4 or 5 woman ahead of me.  I just wanted to prove to myself that I had the fight within me and I could overcome all of the crap that has rained down on my family.  I know it seems crazy to obsess over a cheap trophy, but it symbolized not just a win in a race, but a win in this internal battle.  I fought so hard that last mile.  I thought I was slowing down so I kept pushing hard (and I found out after I finished that my mile 2 was actually the same exact lap time as my mile 3).

I walked away with that trophy after placing 2nd in my age group.    My finishing time was 23:10 and I am pretty sure that is my second best (if not best) 5k time ever… and I am not getting any younger!  Um, and let’s just go ahead and throw this out there:  I was faster than most of the Navy guys.

Even though I have a headache from the heat and lack of proper hydration, I feel much better today.  I feel like I have a fight stirring within me again.  I will continue to have the strength to do what needs to get done and I will even go beyond that in any way I can.  The next step is to find a purpose now that extends beyond my motherly duties.  Running keeps me on the right path and it will take me to where I need to go.  With that thought, I hope everyone faced with difficulty figures out what gives them the strength to move forward.

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Running and Grieving

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Evacuation Day.  I had no clue it would be months before we are able to return home.

A few months after my mother passed away I ran a 6 mile race in her memory.  As I ran, I thought about her and how she was so passionate about running and I wondered if I would ever feel the same way.  It took me a few years, but I eventually became just as passionate about running and I also realized that it provided a sense of reprieve from some of the difficulties I encountered in my life.  Running became my medicine for depression and it also became a time when I could think about big ideas, make spiritual connections and grieve.

Grief has always been a part of my life.  I was born into grief.  Two parents who had a second child after losing the first to SIDS.  The brother I never met.  I didn’t understand grief at the time, but I grew up wondering what it would have been like to have Joshua here with me.  He probably would have been a great big brother who would have protected me from everything that was thrown at me.  Instead I was on my own.  The grief my parents suffered left them broken and unable to properly take care of me and their marriage.  As a result I became very close to my grandparents.

The sorrow I endured during my grandmother’s passing was my first intense encounter with grief.  I could not even bear to look at her lying in that coffin because I wanted her to talk to me and tell me everything would be okay.  Just two years later my mother passed.  Along with that grief came guilt.  I had always made it difficult for my mother to get close to me.  She wanted me to forgive her and she tried to make things right.  I had built a wall around me and did not let her in.  Years later I finally gained a new perspective and instead of focusing on what she had done wrong, I focused on the things she got right, including running.  She is the reason why I started running and the reason why I started this blog.

Grief and worry entered my life again soon after my first child was born.  I received a call that my father had been diagnosed with cancer and it was going to be a rough road ahead.  It was constant worry for the following year.  Watching him get sick from chemo, wondering if he would be able to fight it.  We brought his granddaughter over as often as we could.  She was his light in a dark tunnel.  I just didn’t think I could bear to lose another parent.  But my dad fought… and won.

Years later I went for a run as usual, but this time as I ran I grieved for my grandfather.  At that point in my life, I realized I HAD to run.  I reflected on the memories I cherished and the great qualities my grandfather had passed along to me.  Around this time is when I stopped running with music.  I didn’t need it and I didn’t want it.  People often ask me now “How do you run without music?”  I just do.  I just get inside my head and do what I need to do to feel better.  Maybe one day I am thinking about the crazy squirrels scrambling up the trees or another day I am contemplating the purpose of life.

A few years ago new sorrow arrived.  My stepmother was diagnosed with a brain tumor that turned out to be cancerous.  The doctors didn’t give her much time but she was determined to fight.  She fought for almost 2 years until the cancer won.  I had my own grief to work through, but this time I really became aware of my father’s grief.  I realized that another person’s grief can be absorbed by someone else.  This became more apparent a few months ago when my sister-in-law’s son passed away.  I never got the chance to know him very well, but I was still consumed by the grief of my stepbrother and sister-in-law.

Life appears to be an endless cycle of happiness and sadness.  With so much grief, I can’t let it consume me, change me or keep me down.  Running is my fight against grief.

More sorrow has entered my life and I have to go through the grieving yet again.  It is a different type of grief this time, but I know what grief feels like and this is it.  My family and I are hurricane victims.  We were torn apart and we have lost so much.  We have been displaced from our home and have been wandering around like lost souls.  Yesterday, I cried most of the day.  After I dropped the kids off at school, I sat in the car and sobbed.  I sobbed hard and long.  “Fuck you grief.”  Yesterday I became consumed by the grief and couldn’t hold myself together.  I let it come in and do its thing.  I grieved for the separation of my family.  I grieved for the separation from our friends.  I grieved for our damaged things we have spent 15 years collecting.  I grieved for my children who are suffering, but trying to keep moving forward (and doing a much better job than I am).  I grieved for all of the other families going through this.  I grieved for Puerto Rico.  I grieved for the pain my husband feels.   I grieved for the reality that we will never be the same.

Then this morning I ran.