It’s a hot, muggy, summer day in 1987 in small town America. Tyngsboro, Massachusetts to be exact. My two older brothers are at the top of our long driveway, both covered in sweat, shootin’ hoops as they so often did. The boom box perfectly placed in the kitchen window above blares U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” through the screen and out into the still air. I am eight, almost nine years old as I stand watching, quite literally looking up to them both. I remember feeling a sense of awe and wonder at how good they were, hitting one shot after the next. I remember thinking that they never gave up, always practicing and shooting and dribbling and running for hours at a time. This is my first memory of wanting to be like my brothers. I wanted to be an athlete too. I wanted to be someone who pushed, and persisted, and never gave up.
That memory is so engrained in my brain that it has popped up for me countless times over the years and even still now. Whether it was as I prepared for a big game, ran suicides on the field in full, blazing heat, sat in huddles during time outs reviewing plays with my coaches, or while practicing in the driveway myself in the years that followed, that knowing, that drive, that love for sports has always stuck with me. It runs through my veins.
While I played other sports along the way, I grew up on basketball. It was my first love and we lasted for years….and then, I met running.
When I first became a “runner”, I HATED everything about it. Funny thing is, I had been running my entire life, but it was under the disguise of a team sport. So when I somehow found myself wanting to do a 5K, solo, it felt VERY different. It felt like hell on Earth actually. But my inner drive, that competitive nature inside me, my mantra to never give up, kept pushing me out the door day in and day out to train until I felt ready for my first race. That first 5K eventually led me to my first 10K, and in 2010, my first half marathon. It was Boston’s Run To Remember with my friend Liz. The sun was beating down on us. I could feel myself overheating. By mile 5 or 6, I wanted to die. It was absolutely terrible. When I finally managed to finish, I got into my then boyfriends car and said these words: “I will never run another half marathon again.”
I went on to run countless races, including seven full marathons between the Fall of 2012 and the Spring of 2018, at which point I told myself, no more marathons.
The jury is still out on that one.
Like basketball took me through the formidable years of my youth, running has taken me through the majority of my last 20 years. There was a time where I would have said I was using running as an escape from, as a means of literally running away from, challenging, difficult events in my life. I have realized that is so far from the truth. I am now crystal clear in fact that running is what helped me work THROUGH those challenging events, not run away from them, serving as my own version of therapy. When I run, it is MY time. My time to be alone, to think, to process, and to get clear on all that is happening around me. It’s just me, the road beneath me, the sky above me, my heart and soul poured out onto the pavement with every step. All the “noise” disappears and I get clear. I am positive that running has played a huge part in my own mental and emotional health and well-being over the years. Running has been one of the best gifts I have ever been given on this amazing journey we call life.
When I was in college, all awkward, lacking confidence, and finding my way, I ran. I ran to remember who I was at the core. I ran to stay focused. I ran to keep comfortable in my own skin, which at the time was challenging.
In 2015, when my Dad fought for his life for 6.5 months in a hospital bed, when I watched him choke for air and nearly die right before my eyes, I ran. It served as an outlet for my frustration, my anger, my fear, my sadness, my worry, my overwhelm, and ALL the feelings that surface when someone who you love and admire, when someone that is your entire world, stands on deaths doorstep.
In 2017 and 2018, the years leading up to my divorce, I ran. I ran to make sense of it all. I ran to understand why I felt the way I did, why I was falling out of love with someone I had married. I ran to release the emotion of it all. I ran to remind myself what it felt like to be free. I ran to remind myself that no matter how painful something might be, I can get through it.
With the current state of the world, I find myself running again to make sense of it all.
There are days when I wake up and it takes all I have to get my sneakers laced up and myself out the door, and there are days that I spring out of bed with excitement to run my favorite dirt road route, but by the end of nearly every run, I feel better than I did before I started. I am a better version of myself post-run because I took MY time. I went to my church. I showed up for my version of therapy. Ultimately, I showed up for my SELF.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with emotion, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, especially now as we navigate difficult, heavy times, I hope that you find your own version of running, whatever that might be for you, to help you work through it. I hope that you too make the choice to show up for YOUR self, to prioritize YOUR mental and emotional health and well-being. I hope that you remember, like I do every time I think back to that hot summer day in 1987, that you have everything you need to push, persist, and never give up.