It only took a moment from receiving the shocking news for the energy to drain from my body.
Crumpled on the kitchen floor, holding the phone in my hand, I became a shell of a person. Trying to stand, my legs wavered under the weight. My runner’s muscles were useless. Never before had I experienced such a profound physical change from emotional shock.
But there I was.
I had just learned that the man I loved was dead. We had been young, in love, planning adventures together in far-flung countries and dreaming of where we’d raise our family.
But he had fallen on a mountain slope in the Himalayas and now none of that was ever going to happen.
The day I got the news, I went to my friend Christie’s house. Together we walked like two old ladies along the flat footpath paralleling the grey, rushing river. Arms linked, we trod slowly, barely noticing the day’s brilliant blue sky and soft warm breeze.
Christy, who had been convalescing, was just days out from back surgery, and yet it was all I could to match her languid pace.
The following months wreaked havoc on my health as my body went through its own shock and grief process.
I slept a lot. I barely ate. I drank more. I partied hard. I never ran.
It wasn’t until seven months later, when I was on the other side of the world, that I even thought that just maybe …. just maybe I could run again.
I’d been in New Zealand for a couple of days with an ambitious agenda of hiking and camping along several of the South Island’s best trails, or “tracks.” It was one of the many adventures Ben and I had talked about doing together.
Coming from a high-mountain environment in Canada, I was struck by the salty, sea air’s effect on my blood chemistry. The oxygen-rich air elevated my mood just a touch. Going for a run started to seem possible.
I set my sights on a hill–or, rather, a mound–overlooking the city of Nelson. The well-known route, called the Center of New Zealand, is a short uphill trail up to the country’s geographic center.
Starting on the city’s paved streets, I ran slowly for a few blocks to the trailhead, where the ascent began. Sensing the ground’s elevated pitch, I realized the extent to which my muscles have atrophied from months of disuse.
My back rounded and shoulders hunched as my heart rate shot up as I struggled to maintain a running stride.
“It’s not far; I can do this,” I thought.
Amazingly, with each step, I got a tiny bit stronger. Exaggerating my arm swing, I stood a little taller. As I did so, my lungs inflated more easily and my breathing flowed more smoothly.
The trail wrapped around the hillside as I stole glances out over the city, the sea and beyond that the distant mountain range.
I rediscovered a familiar rhythm as my feet tapped, tapped, tapped up the dusty trail. A mountain biker pulled up beside me and we reached the summit at the same time.
Hands on knees, I took a moment to catch my breath and laugh.
“I can do this,” I said to myself, as a lump of emotion grew in my throat.
“I can run. I can move forward with my life. I can bear this grief. I can love again.”
Starting my descent as the sun was touching the horizon, I followed another runner as he veered off the main trail and dropped onto a bluff overlooking the sparking Tasman Sea. I stopped in my tracks, mesmerized by the way the setting sun’s light danced on the water.
In that moment, I also noticed a glimmering sensation that was familiar, yet had been absent for a long time.
Then I realized what it was: the sensation of being a runner. Even though I had abandoned my running practice, I’d never stopped being a runner.
That day marked the start of a new phase of my mourning process.
I didn’t have to be “done” mourning to start running again, rather, running was going to be what got me through this stage, and the next, and the next.
Of course, I’m not the only one to have lost a loved one and gone through the slow and painful process of moving on with life.
Yet what settles me now is the knowing that I can make it through the pain and that running will always be there to help me heal.