It was January of 2010 in Elmhurst, Illinois, a suburb outside of Chicago. A few months prior, I had quit playing college football and I was lost.
My father had passed away from cancer 9 months prior.
For the last 5 years of my life, football was my life. I woke up at 5:00 am every day to go to the gym to train and then trained again after school. I wanted to be successful in it so bad and I was for a while. I willed myself into becoming a fullback. It was the same position as my father, who was my position coach as well.
Quitting football was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make. I didn’t enjoy playing anymore and a piece of me felt like it was gone.
My athletic goals and aspirations had evaporated.
Then I started to get a crazy idea to train for marathons. A guy who had only run more than 6 miles at once maybe one time in his entire life decided to take up running marathons.
I’ve always been an extreme person when it came to setting goals athletically. Heck, it’s the reason why I am running ultra marathons today.
Little did I know at the time how important running would become as a pillar of my life.
Running Provided Solitude
After my dad died, I became a shell of my former self. Making friends didn’t interest me anymore.
I didn’t care much about anything other than getting the bare minimum done. I was coasting on purpose.
The last year of my life I had convinced myself that I was living in the present but I was holding onto the past.
I needed something to break the cadence I found myself in.
When you feel like you’re on autopilot in life, the best thing you can do for yourself is to break that mindset.
Running became essential for this. Running allowed me to be alone with my own thoughts. When you’re grieving, it’s important to be alone with your thoughts. Learning how to express your emotions in a physical way can help you feel yourself passing through them.
Sometimes there aren’t a lot of places we can go to find solitude. The run always seems to find a way. If there are too many people on the trail, you can always take a new route. You can always find some corner of the world where you can be alone.
Running Helped Me Enter A Dark Abyss
Darkness in life can be unavoidable. After I lost my father, there were many times I was in a dark place. The pain of the loss often became too much for me to handle and I had to channel it through something.
Some people take it out in anger. Others take it out in self-harm. I chose to run harder. My pain needed to be expressed in an external way. There would be some runs at 2:00 am on a Saturday because I could not sleep and running felt like the best option for me.
I would run so hard until my body would not handle it anymore. Every sprint and hard burst was always one more.
The dark abyss is something we can navigate through. Often it takes time and learning to guide yourself through it is challenging.
No one can tell YOU how you should grieve. It’s definitely helpful to have a strong philosophy and belief about how you will get through it but even with the strongest philosophy in the world, that sinking feeling still exists.
Running Gave Me An Escape
We often associate “looking for an escape” as a bad thing. When we think of people looking for escapes from past traumas, we often associate drug use or erratic behavior to be involved.
If you don’t look for an escape in a healthy way, you will subconsciously look for an escape. You subconsciously look for escapes by attaching yourself to moments where you forget about the pain.
Running offered me an escape. For about 30–45 minutes a day, I was able to escape from my day-to-day life. Everything that was waiting for me throughout the day didn’t matter. It helped that I didn’t bring my phone with me either. I would completely disconnect from the world. Just me and my Timex watch with my key tied around my shoelaces.
Running Gave Me Back Control
When you are going through the grieving process, your life can feel like it is getting out of control quickly.
My first semester of college was tough. My father had passed away about 6 months before my first day of college and life seemed to be moving along pretty fast.
All of a sudden, I was doing “what I was supposed to do.”
I was going to college; I was living on my own and I was deciding my major. Truth be told, I was directionless. I’m fortunate enough that I didn’t have any manipulative figures in my life at the time or I could have easily been influenced to do some things that I really didn’t want to do.
Even with that being said, I still never felt like I was in control of my life at the time. I didn’t want to make any decisions for myself because I was still holding onto the past. The idea of the future and college being over in 3.5 years never occurred to me.
Running gave me a sense of control in my life. It gave me a ritual that I could follow each day. If you don’t have one thing that you can predict happens to you each day, life will seem like it’s out of control.
Running Helped Me Take Care Of Myself
When you decide that you want to run a marathon and train for it, your body's health becomes important. Days of binge drinking on the weekend (or the week) end. If you are serious about your training, you need to make a choice. Do you decide that you want to do your best in the marathon or leave it up for the fates to decide?
I chose that I wanted to do my best. After my freshmen year of college, I didn’t go out anymore. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it. I always thought about the repercussions the next day. Waking up in the morning feeling like trash wasn’t appealing. I didn’t want to miss out on an entire training day the next day.
This doesn’t mean that I became a complete hermit. I did go out with friends but it was done sparingly. Running became a good enough of reason for me to take it back a little bit.
Taking care of yourself is important in the grieving process because it’s your subconscious telling you that you care about yourself. Often when we are depressed or grieving, taking care of ourselves is the last thing on our minds.
Deciding to become a runner may have been one of the most important life decisions I ever made. It seems so simple to start running but the cumulative effect that it had on me is something that I will never take for granted.
Running provides space for me to grow. It allows me to take a step back from life and see it more objectively.
With running, I always have a goal I am trying to achieve. It doesn’t matter if the goal is running a 100-mile ultra-marathon or running a better 10K time. The goal remains flexible.
It doesn’t matter if running is good for my physical health or not. The mental health that it brings me is one that I can’t get anywhere else. It’s self-therapy.
I will run until I can no longer run. It was something that I was born to do.
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