The following post is also featured on the website for the Bill Crews Remission Run. If you are in the Southeast Texas area on January 28, I highly recommend this 5k run benefitting Lymphoma research. This is for all athletes who have lost a loved one or are currently dealing with terminal illness.
November 13, 2011. This is a day in my world that will never be forgotten. What I had hoped to be just another fun, quality race turned into one of the greatest challenges of my athletic career. However, the challenge was not the 13.1 mile distance that lay ahead of me, but running with the knowledge that my grandmother lay dying in a hospital bed in the very city I was racing. With her prognosis grim, I wrestled back and forth with myself: “do I race, do I not race?”, “what is appropriate to do in this situation; there are so many things that are SO much more important here”…these thoughts went on and on. I ultimately decided to run, but to put aside my own agenda and goals for the race and participate solely in honor of Nana. With a heavy heart I wrote her initials on my race bib and down both arms and hoped I would make her proud that warm Texas morning. Nana was always very supportive of my running. I realized the magnitude as I stood at the start line what it meant to run for something. Something greater than myself. Run for somebody I loved. While I ran through considerable fatigue and my goal time quickly slipped away from me, I knew I had “J.M.L.” written on my uniform and kept pressing on as best I could. I crossed the finish line exhausted, yet proud that I gave everything I had in that very moment to honor somebody very special. For once the clock didn’t mean that much. I was able to share my gift of running with my dying grandmother on this day. And to have that opportunity I am forever grateful. A mantra I like to repeat when things are hard is “there is beauty in adversity”.
Everyone deals with the grief process or the illness of a loved one differently. If I were to offer any advice to those who are currently experiencing loss, I would first define your purpose for running; and there can be many; it can even change from day to day or season to season. Whether swift or steady, embrace your gift of running-celebrate it. When you put one foot in front of the other, ask yourself “how can I honor _______ today?” For those who are dealing or have dealt with family tragedy, whether by cancer or other unpleasant means, running often takes a different meaning. It just may become transformative.
For those dealing with various challenges, the question becomes “how do we manage these strong emotions and still run our best for that given day? That answer is not one-size-fits-all. As I mentioned before, perhaps begin by defining your purpose for your run: organizations like Team in Training and Remission Run are great outlets to honor your loved ones and raise money to defeat cancer.
It may be difficult and emotional for you on race day and as you prepare; however, there are some ways you can manage (or more like channel) grief and adversity. First, we must acknowledge what we are faced with for what it is; whether that be a current illness or even loss. Then we can reflect on the things we loved about this person-were they funny, star athletes, or just wonderful to be around? These are good images to carry with you throughout your training and on event day. I know I kept thinking about various “Nana’ims” as I ran San Antonio last year.
As I like to tell individuals that I work with-always search for the ‘nugget’ or thing that is positive about the situation, especially those we cannot control or change. For example, perhaps training took a back seat to assisting family but you can focus on the sheer joy of running and it can become a personal refuge.
To stay motivated, some may like to display memorable pictures or notes that remind them of who they are running for. The Remission Run is a perfect example of this, with each cancer survivor or sufferer’s name written out on the course. When the going gets tough, picture the person’s name or face.
Lean on others. Social support-especially from fellow athletes can help lift you and your family up and get through some of the toughest days. Good friends always have a way of making training easier, keeping you accountable, and even provide a good laugh or two. If you feel that you need additional support, consider contacting a trusted professional to help guide you through a difficult time.
Lastly and perhaps most obviously, give the gift of dedicating your performance and strive to do your best in the moment. You may or may not set that illusive PR, but your effort will definitely not be lacking. Some athletes dedicate each mile to somebody. Do what feels right to you.
As you prepare for the Houston or Woodlands Marathons, the Remission Run, or any other race on your schedule, remember that emotions may run high, even more so than in regular race situations, but remember your goal, remember what you came for; and embrace every moment of it. Be proud of your accomplishment and enjoy the gift of health.
Stay the course.