Friday, September 7, 2012

Finding My Stride

Chris is out this week vacationing...without a laptop! He asked me to fill in for him, and so I thought I'd share this article I wrote for a magazine a couple of years ago with you. The focus is a bit different since I wrote it for an audience that was not just US, but I hope this slightly different perspective will inspire you to ask yourself, what do I love to do?~M

It was a perfect day for running.  The morning was a bit cloudy, cool enough to wish for another layer, and there was a hint of fall crispness in the air—unusual weather for Texas in October.  I was heading to a race start-line for the first time in over a year.  For once there were no pre-race jitters or time expectations, just a lot of memories and a different kind of determination.

On August 31ST of 2005, my husband Phillip was killed when he was hit by a car while out for his evening bike ride.  Phil was not only an avid cyclist; he was also a dedicated runner.  He began his running career as a high school track athlete.  Later in life he showed his enthusiasm for the sport by coaching for a community track club, he continued volunteering his time long after his own kids had outgrown the program.  Running beside the kids at practice was one of his favorite things to do.  Phil was a regular at all the local races; a towering pile of race bibs held a place of honor on his dresser.  At 39, he was at the top end of a competitive age group.  He was eagerly awaiting his birthday, which would result in an age group change—he couldn’t wait to run as one of the youngsters in his field. But Phil never raced in the next age group—he died three months before his fortieth birthday.

Before we met, I was an occasional runner.  Through our courtship and marriage, my husband introduced me to the joy of running.  Vacations were planned around running, track season caused the cessation of all other activities, and date night usually began in running shoes.  My love of the sport developed as our relationship did.  After Phil died, my world looked different from every angle.   The lines that distinguished what he loved and what I loved became blurred by the intense pain of his absence from my life.  Suddenly I wasn’t sure if I loved running or if I only loved running with him.  In the darkness of loss, I could not find the drive to put on my shoes and run out the door without him.  I quit running.

Each morning I awoke in the haze of grief, with only the thought of how to make it through the day, and each night I feel into bed exhausted by the effort required to keep from drowning in my sorrow.  After months of feeling lost without my husband, it finally occurred to me that I might feel more connected to him on a run.  With some trepidation—I laced up my shoes.  For months I ran away; away from the heartache, away from the shock, away from the inevitable reality that he was gone.  When I ran, I felt close to him in my soul and in my stride.  Each breathless effort a testament to all I had learned from running beside the man I loved.  Out for a run on a sunny day, Phil was still my partner.  At first returning from a run always left me spent and sad, but slowly I realized that running was becoming my way of saying good-bye to the man who was my husband, and my friend.

The act of running was freeing.  It reminded me that I was capable of putting one foot in front of the other—in forward motion.  The destination was not as important as the journey.  As time passed, my heart unwittingly began to heal.  Eventually the nature of my runs changed, and I noticed that my step was lighter.  I realized that my purpose in heading out for a jog was no longer exclusively a desire to feel close to Phil.  Slowly, I stopped expecting to see him at every turn of our favorite route.  Running did not always reduce me to tears.  With every step I took, I began to remember the joy of running.  Gradually, I ran just because I wanted to.

On that brisk October day, I faced my first finish line without my husband.  A dear friend of mine, who lost her husband to cancer, lined up beside me at the start—we were there to run in honor of the men we had loved and lost, but not forgotten.  Passing each mile marker, I marveled at the power of running.  As we traveled the course, we shared stories about our husbands, we talked about the lives that were still ahead of us, and we celebrated the fact that we could run.  Crossing the finish line I felt Phil’s absence, but I also felt his presence.  Running had taken me across more than a literal finish line.  The sport that my husband taught me to love was my companion during my deepest despair, and became my personal road to redemption. 

As I crossed the line with cheering supporters in the background and my friend at my side, I realized that I wasn’t running just for Phil anymore, I was running for myself, too.


  1. Thank you Michelle for a truly wonderful post! Running has been always been a passion for me. My husband was not a runner but very much a supporter. After he died suddenly, I couldn't imagine returning home or crossing the finish line without his support and encouragement. I slowly returned and am glad I did!

    Thanks for your encouragement about chosing activities that we now do for us!!!

  2. That forward motion is so important, I have felt like I am treading water and making no progress for far too long. We sailed together, and I also feel that connection to him on the water. My husband grew up sailing, I grew to love it because he loved it. But this summer, I sailed more for me, less for him. Yes, I felt his absence, and like you, his presence, but more so, I felt alive, wind in my face, surrounded by water. Thanks, Michele, a powerful post to help us all move forward, but not forget our past.

  3. Beautiful. My husband introduced me to Crossfit, and even though we only went together a couple times (someone had to watch the baby, so we typically did the stroller hand-of between classes), being there always makes me feel close to him. I can feel him spurring me on as well as critiquing my form when I get tired and lazy. Plus, physical activity is a great way to work through emotional stress!

  4. My husband passed away suddenly on Dec 29th 2011. My husband was a wrestling coach but also loved running. He completed 7 marathons while we lived in Chicago. We used to run together by the lake. It was something special we shared. He was my running coach. Now that he is gone, I continue to run but at times it gets hard and I start crying. I do feel him with me as I run which keeps me going. But I hope one day I will realize that I'm not running just for him but for myself too.

    We are having a memorial run for my husband on September 15th! I'm excited, happy, sad, nervous and scared. All these emotions makes me feel like I'm on a roller coaster. But I think it will be a great way to honor him.