For the last month, I’ve been training harder than I ever have before for a marathon.  When people ask me if I was a runner when I was younger, my answer is always the same: I ran cross country and track in High School but that was it.

Not only was it remarkably less miles – as in, a marathon is 26.2 of them and cross country was 3.1 back in the day – it was different.

It was different, because life was different.

We had youth on our side, less hurts that had scarred us, and no care in the world about much.  We were, in fact, oblivious to the world’s cares.  We ran light and easy in step with the rest of our teenage lives.

Those friends and my running dissipated as the years went on.  Life got in the way.  We went on to college, marriages, careers and kids.  Like anyone has time to run during any of those years.

It wasn’t until January of 2008 when I decided to run again.  High School seemed so far in the rearview mirror and I certainly didn’t want to actually see or revisit any of those images from the past anyway, so I scrapped all thoughts of 5k’s in favor of training for the Indy Mini (13.1 miles, i.e. a Half Marathon).

This is a good idea.  This will be fun.

And it was.  I loved it.  Everything about the process had my name written all over it: the regimented schedule, the early morning hours, the competitive nature of it, and unequivocally, the camaraderie. While running form varies, running bonds do not.  Unless you’re a runner who runs with a running group, you cannot understand the tight-knit bonds runners form and sustain, often in short order.

After the Indy Mini, we all had the emotional post-run breakdowns whereby the following occurs: you cross the finish line, maybe cry a little, for sure feel like a badass, and then – after only less than an hour before having sworn you’d NEVER RUN AGAIN because it was a TERRIBLE idea and if you didn’t fall over and die right then and there, maybe there were KNITTING groups – you decided what you’d be training for next.

Like clockwork.  Every time.

When a race concludes, you feel lost.  You suddenly feel unequipped to make any decisions about how to structure your days.  You feel like you just lost a friend.

Post-race, runners go through a grieving process.

—–

It’s been almost seven months since I moved to Grand Rapids after having lived in Fort Wayne for almost eighteen years – longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else in my lifetime.  I had to go through a grieving process to get through that life change, too.

So I joined a running group.

My new running friends (whom I feel like I’ve known forever already) and I are training for a Fall Marathon.  I just registered for it earlier this week.  The last requisite bit of information on the form was “Tell Us Your Story.”

They were asking about our running stories, of course, yet in that moment, I knew that running stories were always life stories.

Every mile I run during this training and every step I take during that race on October 15th will be as someone who no longer has youth on her side, has many scars firmly and forever intact, and feels the cares of the world press down daily on all of us.

But beyond that – I will be running to remember a friendship.  One that unless you were the other half of, you cannot fully understand the tight-knit bond that was formed over the course of almost twenty-years.

While this doesn’t even begin to cover it, here is the story I submitted…right before I dried pre-race, post-life emotional tears and prepared myself to once again lace up.

Grand Rapids was my first marathon EVER – in 2008. After rookie preparation and watching a guy on stilts go by me at least ten times during the race, I decided right then and there that if I lived through it, I’d train properly and…why not while I’m at it…qualify for Boston. It took me 5 subsequent marathons, but I finally BQ’d in 2013. In that five year stretch, my thirteen-year marriage came to an end. My husband left me (non-runner, whatever) because I refused to stop running and living life to the fullest. As a leukemia/cancer survivor, not doing either of those things wasn’t an option.  So, running continued to get me through life, as did my longtime friend and cohort, Angela. A self-professed “horrible friend who forgets important things, like birthdays and other crap,” she accompanied me to Boston since she said no way should I be there alone for such a momentous first occasion. Beginning at mile 9, I ran the remainder of the race next to a total stranger from Texas, Michelle, who was at mile 25 the year before when the bomb went off. She was afraid to go on – so I told her we’d go on together.  No longer caring about my finishing time in favor of caring about humanity more, I hobbled to the family corral 4:14 minutes after I lined up, only to see Angela crouched down on the curb with a patient smile. “If I ever get married again, I swear I will make sure his last name is closer to the front of the alphabet,” I told her. We walked back to our hotel laughing about how crazy that day, the prior year in Boston, and life in general was. Last December, less than 3 years later, Angela inexplicably took her own life, leaving those of us who never saw it coming, utterly devastated. I will be running this marathon in her honor, to try and qualify once again, so I can go back to Boston and take the weight of her world out on that course.  While it won’t be Angela waiting for me in the “S” corral as she did in 2014, my husband will be there…the one who has lived in GR for 18 years and who is responsible for me now calling it home. I will find him in the “F” corral. And I will find her again someday, too.

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