I can express myself only through the words of another, when my friend Emily said: “How lucky am I to have had someone that can make saying goodbye so damn hard?!”.
And it really got me thinking that “Life” is literally a losing game.
Seriously. Think about it.
In the end, “Life” is all about losing – losing your virginity, losing your health, losing your looks, losing your heart, losing your mind.
If you’re one of the “lucky ones” and, as the Bible calls: “of special mightiness”, you’ll most certainly lose a bit more.
Losing money, losing friends, losing faith, losing weight – until, ultimately, you lose YOURSELF – your very own life.
So then – what is the point?
This question, I posed to my counselor today.
The conversation that ensued was one which makes time stand still and all background noice stop. My full awareness rested upon his answer and the rapid fire questioning that led us to this analogy.
(The following is my “cliff-notes” version of a much longer conversation.)
“DANCING” is not about arriving at a certain point at a certain time – if it were, why would you not just go there, stand, and wait? Because it’s about the EXPERIENCE of dancing – the music, the motion, the beauty of taking those steps, and enjoying the feeling of DANCING!
“RUNNING” is not all about running “well”. It’s not only for those who are “good enough”, “strong enough”, “fast enough” too qualify for Boston. Its about FEELING good – clearing the brain and the body of anything they need not carry, and simply enjoying the EXPERIENCE of RUNNING!
Life is much like “SKYDIVING”. You don’t look around, asking a bunch of questions, because you just don’t have the time. You embrace the fall, breathe the fresh air, and take in the beauty of this view. You savor every single second of this ironically metaphorical experience – knowing, without a doubt, that it will all be over, much too soon.
So the next time this life stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder “what even is the point?”, just fill in the blank on this initial phrase with anything you most love to to do:
“Life is like: ___________________;”
(i.e. : dancing, running, skydiving)
And then add this sentence conclusion:
“…it’s all about the EXPERIENCE!”
Nobody knew this more than Moe!
…once again, it’s not always about running; sometimes, it’s simply about LIFE.
“Sometimes, you find yourself ignited with magic within a moment that becomes a portal into something extraordinary.” – Naussica Twila
🦄It’s just out of your grasp but you can sense it all around.
It could come through rock & roll or Sunday worship, but it is persistent after a long span of silence. It calls to you – beckons you to know that something expansive lives within you and that it wants to sing, it wants to dance. And maybe “singing” and “dancing” are something else entirely. Maybe it’s thoughts and feelings and being on the brink of wonder that doesn’t quite sink in. Instead, it spreads all around you, ignited by preachers or poets and rockstars and you find yourself swimming in the deep, feeling before you can think, and thinking thoughts like messages from beyond.
It is not bigger than you. It is you.
At this exact moment, just 10 days ago, I was standing in the exact place which has beckoned me for the better part of the past 10 years. This was a moment I had refused to indulge myself in, as I felt inadequate and unworthy. But this time, when the opportunity presented itself, I refused to let it slip away. The gravitational pull towards this particular moment in this particular place was simply too strong. In the magic of this moment, I felt a great shift within myself. A quiet confidence, a restlessness, an energy renewed.
I think 2021 is trying to teach me something that 2020 didn’t quite get to sink in.
2020 was a long, emotionally tumultuous year, culminating in the jury trial for my parents wrongful deaths. The preparation for and execution of this trial produced an enormous amount of stress on me and ultimately resulted in my abandonment of my marathon training and the temporary “forgetting” of my personal goals.
September arrived and I found myself undertrained and unprepared to execute at the level required for my Boston Qualifier. I deferred from my goal race and entered a much smaller, local race instead with the intent to simply go the distance and finish the race in under the 5-hour time limit. Little did I know that this would actually come to be my proudest moment of 2020 – to actually physically run the only live, in person, marathon event in the state of Pennsylvania since the outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent pandemic restrictions.
October came – the anniversary of my parents deaths – and waves of grief again washed over me. But this time, I felt hope and the graceful hand of the healing process which I can only contribute to the completion of the trial and the closing of our case against the man whose name still produces a bitter taste upon my tongue.
November began and, for the first time in many years, I became physically sick. My husband and I both tested positive for Covid-19 and spent the entire month self-quarantined and taking care of each other as we struggled to recover.
December found us well, yet, residual symptoms continued for me in the form of exercise induced migraines and dizziness. The girl who once ran several marathons per year was now struggling to run a single mile.
January 1st, I experienced a breakthrough: I ran 5.50 miles (my longest run since September!) without a single symptom! My hopes for the 2021 racing season were instantly renewed!
January 2nd, I fell hard while snowboarding at Seven Springs and broke two ribs.
I have spent the past several weeks numbing my brain and my pain and, while I am healing well and expect to be able to return (gradually!) to my training, I must admit that my goals require a significant refocusing. It’s one thing to be a week behind in training; it’s a completely different story to be 6-8 weeks behind… this is a game changer.
That being said, I am certainly not giving up. I am always going to do my best… even with the realization that my best will (more than likely) not yet be good enough for the goal which I am striving to reach. I am not letting go of my goal… I am simply letting go of how I imagined this would all unfold.
The funny thing is, I am 💯 okay with it… and few things have ever felt this good. My mind and heart feel free.
There is great beauty in the “not knowing” – not knowing if or when or how something will happen – but knowing that if and when and how it happens will be worth the wait.
Emotions are like ocean waves… big, beautiful and, if you are RIGHT THERE in the middle of the water – you can do little to avoid the fact that eventually (and, oftentimes, repeatedly!) you will be hit. What you CAN do is control how long it keeps you down, holding you under, as the world continues on above you.
In 2017, I lost both my parents in a car crash.
In 2018, heartbreaking details were revealed about that crash and the events that followed (spanning nearly 3 years, culminating in a jury trial by the end of 2020) further complicated my grief and prolonged the healing process.
In 2019, a friend of mine succumbed to the demons in her own mind and chose to end her life by suicide.
In 2020, I lost another close friend and work partner, but was blessed with adopting his best friend/dog – whom he always used to bring to work with him on our shifts together.
The past few years of my life have been tumultuous, to say the least, but I’ve come to realize a great deal about strength and resilience and how NOT to let the “bad things” harden your heart.
It’s not always easy. I’ve seen a lot of unjust and unfair things happen and find it hard not to feel angry or cheated, or even numb. Somedays the weight of all that I have lost is incredibly heavy.
But that’s ok.
The “trick” is not to ignore it or attempt to avoid the pain of these emotions, but rather to simply not BECOME them. Recognize them for what they are and then let them go.
Like the painful beauty of an ocean wave – see it , feel it, appreciate it, let it wash all over you… but find the strength you need, your desire to breathe, to pop right back up on top, and continue moving forward.
REMEMBER: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
*Once again, it’s not always about running. Sometimes it’s simply about LIFE.
How do you learn to let go of a friend to whom you never got to say Goodbye?
It’s been a year and I swear I still see you sometimes – a passing face in a crowd or behind the wheel of a big gray truck driving down the road.
In my memories of the crazy calls we’ve run, the things we’ve seen and done, or the many times that I needed help – only to turn around and find you right there beside me.
In the quiet times – a classic movie on tv and the restless way you used to get up and walk out because “Quint needs to go pee”, only to realize it was really you who needed to leave, as E.T. was dying on the screen and you, yourself, were about to cry.😂
The crazy WTF questions and conversations we used to have at all hours of the night while working a 24 hour shift with too much caffeine and way too little sleep.🤪
Or the night I realized that you, too, are terrified of spiders and I wondered (for the first time ever) exactly WHO is going to come and save us now?!😳
I am just one of the many whose life was touched by you; and I am just one, of the many, who still feels this void without you here. You were a good man, a great friend, and the best partner. My memories with you are many – and I am so grateful to have them all.🙏🏼
How do you learn to let go of a friend to whom you never got to say Goodbye?
I do not know… with all of these good memories, I’d like to think that I never really have to.
What I do know is this – everytime I look into Quint’s eyes, I see YOU looking back at me; and so long as Quint is right here with me, so are YOU.
We miss you Matt-Man. We always will.
Rest easy, my friend. I’ve got Q.🐾
…once again, it’s not always about running; sometimes, it’s simply about LIFE.
💙In honor and memory of my friend and former partner:
Matthew Aaron Douglass (July 30, 1969 ~ January 12, 2020)
2020 was a tumultuous year, to say the least. Normally, on New Year’s Eve, I would take a seat and quietly reflect upon the passing year and write myself a recap.
Not this time.
You see, if I’ve learned anything at all in 2020, it’s that looking back does little to serve me well. I am an emotional being and can get sucked into my thoughts and memories quite quickly and easily. In 2020, I have realized what a trap this can be for me; one that offers little purpose and a great deal of pain.
This is not to say that the past is “bad”. Quite contrary, there are just as many good things back there as well. However, revisiting any of those things for a prolonged period of time runs the risk of keeping my mind there – and that is no way to live. Living in the past will always, inevitably, produce suffering. No matter how much good may reside there, it is no longer present and, therefore, can never truly BE again – which (for me) produces pain, sadness, and regret.
“Hiraeth” is the actual word for the feelings I have frequently experienced when stuck in this particular state of mind. It is a Welsh word for “homesickness or nostalgia, an earnest longing or desire, or a sense of regret. The feeling of longing for a home that no longer exists or never was. A deep and irrational bond felt with a time, era, place or person.”
I’ve come to realize, in the year 2020, that looking ahead, towards the future, is also no way to live. You see the future is not promised to any one of us. “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall us all”. More than this though, the future is uncertain and unpredictable. No matter how good our thoughts or intentions are, we are powerless to control it. If we continually look to the future – wishing for more or hoping for better – we create a constant, insatiable desire for more, better, or different rather than appreciating all that we have and already are. In essence, we create our own suffering. We fail to recognize the good that is happening all around us right here, right now, and therefore miss out on what LIFE is all about, as we long for things we can neither realize nor control.
An epic and accurate interaction from the television adaptation of the book “Looking For Alaska”, written by John Green, rings out in my mind’s eye time and time again:
“MILES : “Meriwether Lewis’s last words were : “I am not a coward but I am so strong – so hard to die.” I’m sure that’s true but it can’t be much harder than being left behind.”
MR. HYDE : “Everything that comes together, falls apart. Everything. This chair I’m sitting on – it was built and so it will fall apart. I’m going to fall apart; probably before this chair. And you’re going to fall apart. Cells and organs and systems that make you YOU – they came together, grew together, and so they must fall apart. Nothing lasts. Not Alaska the girl, nor Alaska the place. Not even Earth, itself.”
MILES : “You’re not one for pep talks, huh?”
MR. HYDE : “Do you remember with the Buddha said life is?”
MILES : “Suffering.”
MR. HYDE : “And suffering is caused by desire. The cessation of desire means the cessation of suffering. When you stop wishing things won’t fall apart, you’ll stop suffering when they do. Until then, this will hurt. But you will survive; until you don’t.”
I, too, have been wounded. I have experienced great tragedy and loss. I have come to know myself at my lowest moments and on my most painful days. I have become intimate with my pain. I have stared at it, studied it, come to know it, and given it a name. I have derived from it many lessons and realized that this is not where I am meant to stay. Suffering is only necessary until you realize that it isn’t – and so I refuse to stay there. I step forward from this place, releasing the burden from upon myself, knowing that I am strong, I am no longer afraid of this world, and I can trust myself to handle anything that comes my way.
Therein, lies the key.
You see, no feeling or emotion is ever “BAD”. It simply is just that – a feeling, an emotion. It is what we DO with these feelings or emotions that creates the outcome. When we allow a feeling or emotion to become our ACTIONS (or reaction) is where things change, creating ripples throughout our universe. You are not powerless. You always have a choice. The “trick” here is to allow yourself to see the things you feel, even call them by their name, yet refuse to go with them. Stay here, in the NOW. If we can learn to simply see things as they are and for nothing more than what they are, we can not only find the peace that we seek, but actually BE that peace.
You are beyond powerful. You already have everything you will ever need to thrive and live up to your full potential. Now is the time to trust yourself and truly believe it. All you have to do is be willing to part with the beliefs, habits, and scars which you have allowed to stand in your way.
With the turning of this New Year, I encourage you to step into your power, tap into your potential, and show your truest strength. Do it with love. Do it with gratitude. And know that, doing so, is the very thing that you are destined for.
…once again, it’s not always about running. Sometimes it’s simply about LIFE.
No one told me that it could take this long. No one warned me of all that needed to be done. Even if they had, I wouldn’t have believed them.
“The first year is the hardest.”, they said. Perhaps they were right and I just don’t remember? I’d have to say though that, for me, this third year has been the hardest. I’ve made some major life changes in order to recover, grow, and begin to heal. Intensely examining myself – past, present, and potential future – in order to process everything that has happened, how it has affected me, what it all means, and how I can learn from it and use it to become better, wiser, and stronger. All the while we have been constantly rehashing the details of the event in preparation for and execution of a jury trial which turned out to be a complete facade of justice, wrought with lies and an unlawful restriction of evidence. And then there has been this coming to terms with the fragility of life and finality of death, as well as an acceptance of all that no longer is, can never be, and the emptiness that follows such a realization.
“October” makes me miss them more… but as I watched the leaves change to the brightest of colors, die off, and begin to fall, I felt a part me die inside, as well. Truth be told, for the better part of this month, I’ve felt nothing like myself and more like the shell of a human being simply going through the motions of day to day life without really LIVING much of any of it.
And I’m tired of it all. It’s exhausting.
This week has been especially hard as my sister and I navigated the final steps in closing the estates and prepare to officially cut ties with our legal team once and for all. All the while the timing of this culmination spans the anniversary of our parents deaths (October 26th) and concludes upon the anniversary of their funeral and burial. (November 2nd)
It’s been a long time coming. I wish I could say that I am happy. I am simply numb.
Like a boxer stepping out of the ring after the match has been called a draw; relieved that it is over, yet battered and bruised, and in desperate need of repair. There are no winners here; simply the conclusion of a long and drawn out fight.
I took some time to visit them this week. I placed 36 stems upon their grave; one for each month of this tumultuous journey.
I am not a “religious” person. I am still unclear on how I feel about any amount of “life after death”, but as I lay there looking up at the sky, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. I couldn’t help but think that no matter what happened or where they are now, we sure gave them a beautiful view right here, right now.
Realizing this made me proud – as I hope they would be of me now.
As I drove myself home that night, the void felt a little less thick. I could hear the words echoing in the back of my mind: “It’s time to get on with living.” …and for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t agree more.
“So this is what grief feels like.” – I say to my counselor, as the tears begin to fall.
Like coming to the edge of a cliff and looking down into the abyss.
Like standing in an empty room, devoid of light and sound. There are no windows, no doors, no ceiling, and no floors.
A vast emptiness. Nothingness. An unbearable sadness.
There are no words to truly describe it. There are no further lessons to be learned, no comfort to be found. There is simply nothing left.
Stare into it long enough and you shall certainly lose yourself, as well. I know this.
As October 26th approaches, I can feel myself falling; giving in to all that is not and no longer here.
For the past three years, however, there has always been something “more”. Something more to do – to attend to, to address, to rectify or fight for. I could feel my parents everywhere and in everything. But now, there is nothing. We have closed their legal case, ended their trial, and as we’ve entered the final stages of liquidating their estates, it feels as if there is nothing left. They simply cease to exist. I don’t feel them anymore. I don’t “see” them anywhere. Just this empty space where, once, they used to be.
You see, I am not afraid of the “dark” and I have no problem turning to face the deep. I’ve been able to sit with the uncomfortable and sift through the pieces. I turn it over and over to see it for what it really is and do my best to find the meaning in it all.
Perhaps there is beauty here? The closing of a chapter; the turning of a page. But, right now, I simply do not see it. I can not yet see beyond this day, beyond their lives, beyond the loss, and beyond this void.
If none of it matters anymore – what was even the point of their lives? Of your life? Or of mine?
This is not to insinuate that their lives did not have meaning. It goes without saying that they loved and were loved by many in return. They did many good things for many different people throughout their 60+ years upon this Earth, despite the relatively small scale upon which their kindnesses were performed. But if “Life” just simply moves along, with everybody and everything in it, when we die what is the actual point of our time spent here?
It’s a slippery slope to consider such things for a prolonged period of time. Look too closely, think too deeply, and you could easily lose yourself to the fragility of our own existence. I have, at times, lost hours of my own life spiraling within this mental matrix. I find myself having to force my own thoughts and body forward, intentionally shaking off the heaviness of this morbidly hopeless thought process, numbing this pain with the fluid motion of a daily run.
“The development of the mind comes through movement.” – Maria Montessori
Running has, once again, become my safeguard and my savior. I can say it no better than my friend, Tony Garcia, already has:
It’s been three years.
A long and complicated grief.
But, when I run, suddenly there is calm.
*See the following links to purchase one (or all three!) of my friend, Tony’s incredibly inspiring books!
After surprising myself with a 3:57 marathon finish in the fall of 2019 (a whopping 31-minute marathon PR!!!) I truly believed that my Boston Qualifier (3:40) was finally within my reach.
I trained hard, ate clean, and took multiple whole food and herbal supplements to support the amount of stress I was placing on my body as I pushed through the physical barriers which had always kept “Boston” as an elusive achievement that I could only see in my dreams.
In March of 2020, however, Covid-19 made its official debut and the world began to shut down. As I entered the taper phase for my goal race, my Garmin was predicting my body to be physically capable of a 3:31 marathon finish time; just then, the race announced its cancellation. Shortly thereafter, nearly every live event followed suit throughout the spring and summer months. As this “global pandemic” continued, events scheduled for the fall months also cancelled.
It’s difficult not to become disheartened. And it’s hard for someone who’s chasing a dream to stay disciplined and motivated when the purpose & prize behind the “push” is no longer in sight.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to run; but running full marathon distances is not something I want to or plan to continue beyond the realization of my Boston Marathon dream. The Half Marathon distance suits me much better and is much easier to maintain while still experiencing and living life to the fullest.
In June, I received notification from my next goal race that they had reinstated their original date of September 13th and had every intention to hold a live event which would enable athletes, like me, to attempt to qualify for the 125th Boston Marathon. They made many changes and set up multiple COVID-19 precautions but, as the time drew near, so did the jury trial for my parents fatal crash; and it was predicted to last for more than just a few days.
While I am not proud to admit it, I became overwhelmed by my emotions and the details surrounding their untimely deaths. It was hard to simply function in my day to day life while rehashing all of the details regarding the crash, the events leading up to it, as well as, the aftermath and longterm effects on myself, my sister, my daughter, and our families. More often than not, I did NOT run. And when I did, it was all I could do just to cover a few miles let alone run with purpose or a plan.
I watched as my overall fitness decreased drastically and my Garmin now predicted my race day potential to be 3:53 – which is NOT a Boston Qualifier for me.
As the trial began, I became engrossed in the details and consumed by the fight. Unfortunately, not everyone tells the truth and not everyone plays fair. I was taken aback by the things I saw, heard, and was forced to sit quietly through while expressing “no emotional reaction”. I broke down on a daily basis and found it nearly impossible to sleep. The whole truth and nothing but the truth was most certainly not heard in that Ohio courtroom. As the jury announced a “Not Guilty” verdict on all counts after just 40 minutes of deliberation, my heart sank. Justice was not served and it was difficult not to be angry.
I returned home and began the process of putting the pieces of my heart back together. Frequent counseling appointments helped me to realize that forgiving the man who took my parents lives has nothing to do with his acknowledgement of his actions or remorse for the pain that he has caused. It’s about finding peace for myself – and the desire to relieve myself of the burden which I am not responsible to carry. I wish I could say that I forgive him; but I am thankful for Dr. Michael and his ability to make me see that my intention to do so is clearly there and that fact alone, right now, is enough. I’ll get there someday and, in time, everything will be alright.
Just two weeks later, however, we received notification from our lawyers that the Judge’s ruling to withhold critical evidence and facts from being heard by the Jury was, in fact, unlawful and now open for our appeal.
My heart began to race all over again.
To pursue this appeal, we would spend months trying to convince the appellant court that the details withheld could, without a doubt, change the verdicts decided upon by the Jury. If the appellant court agreed and ruled in our favor, we would then begin the process of pursuing an entirely new jury trial – to the expense of another 3+ years of our lives reliving the details, preparing a new case, as well as, the stress of another 1-2 weeks spent inside an Ohio courtroom for 8+ hrs a day. (Not to mention the 4 hours spent driving to and from it, day after day.) And none of these things can guarantee that the truth would be told on the part of the defense and that no further dirty maneuvers would be made, as was done the first time around.
After several days and conference calls, my sister and I decided to let it go, refusing to appeal the case. Nothing we do inside any courtroom could ever bring our parents back to life. Pursuing peace of mind and healing the hurt that has been inflicted upon our hearts & minds is so much more important to us than “being right” and inflicting punishment upon this unrepentant man and his family. We chose to leave it to the universe and the laws of karma to decide what it is that he deserves and have faith that everything happens for a reason, even if we can’t see what that reason is at the time.
Throughout all of this “personal drama”, my upcoming race weighed heavy on my mind. The field size had been cut in half and was now sold out, with a waiting list in place. The sole purpose of this race is to qualify for the Boston Marathon and anyone who is not able to perform within 10-minutes of their Boston Qualifier is asked not to register. If I were to go, knowing that I do not currently have a realistic chance to qualify, it would prevent someone else from legitimately achieving their Boston dream. I opted to defer to the 2021 event, opening up a spot for an athlete on the waitlist to take my place.
Immediately following this decision, my friend Joe told me about a very small, relatively local race that was open to all 2020 Boston Marathon Qualifiers who desire to run their “virtual” event LIVE so that they may attempt to requalify or better their current qualifying time for the 125th Boston Marathon. That is, obviously, not me – yet, my friend Joe assured me that the race director was more than willing to accept my application and would not permit my presence to “block” another qualified runner from registering. I couldn’t say no! So as race day drew near, despite many self doubts about my current abilities, I made up my mind that I would show up and run – not “race pace” fast, but honest enough to go the distance and finish this race beneath the 5:00 hour course limit.
So on Sunday, September 13th 2020, I showed up and toed the START line alongside 25 other runners and set my mind upon achieving my very own P.V.! (Personal Victory).
“Welcome to Hopkinton…it all starts here!” – boomed the voice of the race director as he addressed the 26 athletes and prepared to blow the whistle which would start the race! (A quick .20 mile turnaround followed by 5x 5.20 mile laps around Lake Latonka.)
I immediately took my place at the back of the pack, as I knew these Boston Qualified runners were going to run paces I was completely unprepared to match. I did, however, get caught up in the inital excitement and ran close behind them for the first 0.35 mi at a blazing 7:35/mile pace. I quickly reigned that in, reminding myself to focus on running my own race.
I silenced my mind and lost myself in the rhythm of my footsteps and the pattern of my breath. Encouraging words of faith, hope, love, and peace written by my dear friend, Tony Garcia, occasionally echoed in my mind and my thoughts seemed to transverse the 1400+ miles between me and the state of Colorado where I knew that he, too, was running his own 26.2 mile virtual Boston Marathon in honor of his mother, whom he recently lost. I wished, for him, solemn peace and the comforting enlightenment that a long run can often bring.
I continued on and ran relatively well for the first half – even better than I had expected, considering how little (and poorly) I had trained in the previous months. I was taking in the sights with the lake on my left and so many beautiful homes and cabins along Latonka Drive, a private community constructed along the shores of Lake Latonka in Mercer, Pa.
I was entertained and impressed by the little things that the race director and volunteers had done to make this particular event as much like “Boston” as they possibly could. Like the “Wellesley College” themed Aide Station where they refrained from offering kisses, but offered cheers and bloody marys and beer! The proverbial “Heartbreak Hill” where they had set up an extremely supportive Aide Station with water, electrolytes, and cups of beer while playing music so loud you could hear it for half a mile before you got there and for half a mile after you’d left. And then there was the Citgo sign – one mile from the Finish Line. But when I saw that they had set up a “Hereford & Boylston” street sign at the final turn before the Finish Line, I was literally blown away!
By the 16th mile, my “wheels” began to fall off. The miles were taking their toll on me physically, greatly slowing my pace, and causing me to walk through the water stops as I sipped and stretched and pep talked myself back into a running pace.
As the leaders of the pack began to lap me in their race towards the Finish Line, I began to realize that it was quite possible I would be one of the only athletes still out on the course when running my 5th and final loop around the lake. I refused to apologize or feel sorry for myself though. I came here to run 26.2 miles and I had five hours in which to do it. I knew that I could do that.
I came through the Start/Finish area once more to greet my husband and steal a kiss when I realized that my boss, friend, and personal mentor, Dr. Amanda, had shown up with her daughters to offer their support!
I was soaked from the rain that had poured down in the first few hours of the race. I was tired and sore from running so far on such little training. And I was nauseous and cramping from my inability to take in any amount of proper nutrition after vomiting in the 4th mile. But I was so happy (& relieved!) to see my friends – and ecstatic to learn, as she fell in step beside me, that Dr. A would be running the entire final hour right along with me! (Just one of the many reasons why my Boss is better than yours! 😂)
I doubt that I was the greatest of company throughout those final 5 miles. There were multiple moments of mental blackout, where I was aware that Dr. A was speaking to me but I just couldn’t concentrate on or make sense of her words. Other times, my mind took me elsewhere; to a time or place (real or imaginary) that I could remember or envision clearly, as if watching a movie play out on a screen in my brain. This consumed small chunks of time and continually chopped down the amount of mileage we had left to run, bringing the literal Finish Line ever closer to the striking of my feet. At one point, near mile 24, I heard the first few notes of a song begin to play out on my phone as it shuffled the music on my favorite running playlist. I started laughing out loud (quite maniacally, if I remember correctly) and it took me several moments to be able to finally explain to Dr. A : “I’m not crazy. It’s just that we’re coming up on the “Heartbreak Hill” portion of this race and this song is called “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart!”. I couldn’t have planned that better if I’d tried!
Somewhere in the final mile of the course, my Garmin showed that the full 26.20 miles had been covered…yet, the Finish Line was not even in sight! Damn. I thought I had done well in running the tangents. But then I recalled the turns along the course and how we had been instructed to stay on the left side of the road and never cross center line as the roadways were not closed for the event and were, therefore, still open to vehicular traffic. Well, that distance had accumulated an extra .40 mile of additional running for me. As I checked the time on my watch, I realized that we were now cutting it very close to the five hour course limit and I began to think that we might not make it in under time.
Dr. A assured me that she would get me there; and that is exactly what she did! As the orange cones marking the way to the Finish Line came into sight, she called out words of encouragement and coached me to control my breathing as we quickened our pace. That’s when the iconic (albeit makeshift) street sign came into view and I cried out: “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston! All the way to the Finish Line!” and, just like that, we were there!
4:57:30 was our official time.
I know I make a lot of jokes about how much some runs “suck” or how painful some workouts can be, but that’s just my way of coping with the “struggle”. The truth of the matter is, behind the jokes and beneath the “blood, sweat, and tears”, I live for the struggle and I love the pain. Even though it’s hard as hell at times, the struggle is exactly what makes it so great. The struggle is what makes you better. Nobody ever got better by taking it easy.
There’s a big difference between pain and suffering. It really is all about your mindset and how you choose to think. There’s no doubt that running this marathon caused me pain; but never once did I “suffer”. And, after everything I have been through these past few years, I believe that this fact, in and of itself, is my greatest personal victory yet!
“You’re the luckiest girl in the world.”, my mother said to me. “Most people spend their whole lives searching for the truth, and the majority of them never find it. But you – you KNOW it.”
My mother was right – but not in the way that she meant it.
Being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I always felt different from the world around us and the people living in it; like an outsider, looking in, never truly fitting in. In a cult-like upbringing, that it is exactly what they want you to feel but, for me, it went even deeper than that. It enveloped my entire being so that, even amongst my own family, I felt as though I didn’t belong.
Running became my “escape” – much like a moving meditation, the rhythm and flow of my body as it ran the back country roads and ridges of Ohio created a freeness of mind quite difficult to explain to someone who has never felt it firsthand for themselves.
Perhaps this is what kept me grounded and in place for so long? Or perhaps this is what finally gave me the strength to pick up and leave? It’s hard to say – but the year I turned 25, I took my stand, admitting that I do not agree with them or their beliefs, and asked to leave their religion.
Immediately, I felt the fiery backlash from the organization and all who remain a part of it. I was labeled an “apostate” and marked as if I were the Devil, himself. “Worse than a person without faith”, I believe is what they called me. My friends and family were no longer allowed to speak to me or socialize with me, lest they be punished within the congregation. If I saw one of them in public, they looked the other way and if I called out to them, they pretended not to hear me. I even returned to one of their church meetings once and it was like being completely alone in a crowded room – they looked right past me as if I wasn’t even there. I was treated like I didn’t even exist, aside for the not so subtle whispers as they spoke about my prescence with great disdain and looks of disgust upon their faces. Except for my parents, of course. They simply looked sad and, at times, humiliated; genuinely longing for me to return.
“Repent and ask to be reinstated.”, they begged, “And we’ll welcome you back with open arms.”
But who, in their right mind, would ever want to return to such a superficial people whose friendship with you is 100% dependent upon your conformity to their specific belief system? With them, there is no room for questioning or thinking for yourself. It is not up to you to establish such things as “truth” in your own mind. If their governing body says that something is so – they simply accept this and believe it to be so. Anything less is considered sacrilegious.
So I ran – as far away as I could, while still keeping their granddaughter involved in their lives.
It was during this time that I experienced some of my darkest moments…and found my way through. The concept of “mindfulness” came naturally to me back then and quickly became my way of life. Looking back was painful; it hurt to realize all that I had lost and could do nothing to change. It was terrifying to look ahead; into a future of unknown which I was going to have to navigate alone. Living in the present moment – right here, right now – became my way (the only way!) for me to live life and learn how to love it again.
Running, once again, became my passion. Bad day? Go for a run. Good day? Go for a run. Stressed? Anxious? Bored? Tired? Happy? Sad? Sore? The question itself was irrelevant, the answer was always : GO FOR A RUN! And somewhere amidst those miles of moving and breathing, my mind would clear and any “answer” I had been seeking would appear. If there were no physical answer to be found, a simple sense of calm would wash over me and I’d return home at peace with whatever it is that I had been feeling.
Over the course of the next 15 years, I reestablished my life, personally and professionally, and began to compete in races, eventually setting my sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. (Thus, the birth of this blog – to chronicle my journey towards achieving this next level of athleticism.) The relationship between my parents and I improved somewhat, mostly for “emergencies” and the sake of my daughter, but never fully recovered or returned to “normal”. I felt no ill will towards them, as I had come to the conclusion that their faith was so deeply engrained in their hearts and their minds that they truly believed they were doing what their God had asked of them. They were His “faithful followers” clear up to their deaths in October of 2017.
In the 3 years since, I seemed to have lost my way again. I got stuck, for a time, caught up in the past and the pain, sadness, guilt, and regret that comes from looking back.
Shortly thereafter, or rather enmeshed in between, I fell victim to the paralyzing anxiety and fear that comes from looking too far ahead into the future and the unknown. As my sister and I fought the legal battles that followed the investigation into our parents fatal crash, it became impossible to heal as the wounds were repeatedly being ripped open, day after day, as we rehashed all the details of the crash and the events that led up to their untimely deaths.
Once again, I had become lost in my thinking as to what this life is all about and how to go about truly living it. As I continued to make some drastic life changes both personally and professionally, in order to take better care of myself, my focus on qualifying for Boston began to take a backseat to everything else on my plate. And with Covid-19 canceling nearly every single live event on our 2020 calendars, it didn’t seem to matter if I was “prepped and ready”, as the opportunity to execute was most likely not going to present itself this year afterall. Still, I continued to run. Not always far and not nearly fast enough or long enough to earn me a BQ base from which to launch, but regularly enough to keep my thoughts from stagnating and stopping me in my tracks. It was within this “delicate balance” that I, once again, began to feel my breath and find myself. I became aware of my thoughts and the paths down which they attempt to lead me. I’ve begun to practice mindfulness again; doing my best to remain in the moment – right here, right now – and letting the regrets of my past and the fears of my future present themselves yet, gently slip away, not allowing myself to follow them.
This concept is not new to me.
It came naturally to me when I was growing up, running the ridges along the hills of Ohio. It liberated me when I made the decision to release myself from the controlling grasp of organized religion.
It’s crazy to think that losing my parents on that bright and sunny October morning subsequently caused me to, for the better part of the last 3 years, lose myself. And suddenly it strikes me that, after someone we love dies, we have a tendency to redefine ourselves – to question who we are and what we’ve done. But, if given the chance to speak with them again, I’d simply like to say : I’m still the same “Aubs” you’ve always known and loved; only my viewpoints have changed, but I’m pretty sure you saw that coming. And Mom – I have no doubt that you “get me”, just like you always did.
So, yeah. My mother was right – I AM the luckiest girl in the world; because I know the truth. I just needed some time to find it in myself again.