Life is a Marathon

Or half-marathon in my case.

Just yesterday my dad and I — with 25,000 of our best, sweatiest friends — ran and ran and RAN in the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon.

Together, my mom and I ran the last half-marathon I completed. We had a hilarious time. I was recovering from a pesky toe injury and my mom was coming off a stress fracture so we agreed to run and walk the race. I would set my watch for our intervals. The trouble was I had to catch my mom to tell her to walk and all to quickly it became a game for her. “Too-da-Loo,” my mom would sing-song my way as she pretended she was going to forget to walk. By the end of the race, it was a game of tag. We had to tag each other before we could walk… which turned in to a “love tap” right square on the bum. We’d chant to each other: “Come on, Mom!” “Come on, Em!”


For this race, I’m finding the running tips I’ve picked up encourage my grief journey just as much as my running.

As I prepared for yesterday’s race, I understood my training advice in a different light. Keep on trucking. Fight the resistance. Stay active to keep your pace up. Take break when you need one. What exactly are we encouraging here? My running or my spirit?

My dad has been a trooper and has been helping me train while he trains himself for the half-marathon. The race course was hilly so my dad coached me on a few strategies specifically for hills.

I’ll let you decide: Grief or Running Advice?

Lean into it. When you approach a hill, your body naturally tends to bend slightly forward. We learn not to fight the resistance and use our bodies to acknowledge we are meeting a challenge and need to adapt. We might slow down or engage different muscles to power up (I see feel you quads). We might breathe heavier or take smaller steps. All are signs of adapting. Our instinct may be to turn right around and embrace that downhill but we surely won’t reach the top in that direction. Lean in. Let it sting. And then stay there… Burning quads and all. We bend but won’t break.

Lean in to the challenge.

Keep gaze in front (but not all the way up). As you begin to lean forward, your gaze follows. Rather than looking straight out, suddenly the line of vision is angled down. And thank goodness for that! My focus is on the next right step, not conquering the whole hill at once. Gulp.

One day at a time.

Run just past your comfort zone. My favorite way to run is with friends. No watches or cell phones or mileage quotas. Just comfortable running and talking. At some point, I set a now-seemingly bearish goal for this half-marathon which required me to break from my normal pace and speed-up. I  tried and tried but to my dismay, have realized that I don’t get any faster when I stay at my comfy, chit-chatting pace. The only way to get faster is to practice being faster. The first week of less-talk-and-more-speed was wildly outside of my comfort zone. But now that I’ve been at it a few weeks I can confidently downgrade running a bit faster to a “regular” outside of my comfort zone… I’m getting there.

Real growth happens outside the comfort zone.

Repeat. Picture an outta-his-mind coach that makes you drop and give him one hundred. You’re counting the reps out loud “97-98-99” and right as you are about to let your last breathe out with 100, he says “Do it again.” Good. You’re running hills and running faster than your little legs ever want? Do it again. We have to practice, even the hard things.

At times, Grief is that same coach, blowing the whistle and demanding even more.

Every uphill has a downhill. Hallelujah for this. What goes up must come down. Even if the uphill is not balanced with a proportional downhill, we embrace and enjoy the downhill when we have one.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.


So yesterday, my dad and I ran a half-marathon. (“We’re only half-crazy,” signs along the race course reminded us.) Our plan was to run together but we agreed to split up if we needed to go at different paces. Around Mile 3, my knee started giving me trouble so we split and longed for the finish line to regale each other of stories of the race. The dull ache in my knee didn’t let up but I knew it would hurt if I ran fast or if I ran slow. So I opted for (relatively) fast thinking the less time spent running, the better. Each mile marker felt like a monumental occasion. I loved the chirping of the Garmin watches at each mile marker, reminding us we were that much closer to the finish. A few times I stopped to stretch and as I merged back in the quick stream of runners, I whispered to myself, “Come on, Mom” like she was running right beside me.

With three miles to go, I knew I was still within reach of my goal time but knew I couldn’t spare a single second. I did anything to pass the time. I kept on thinking about “tagging” my mom and how she made me laugh so much during our last half-marathon. “This is fun, Em!”

I counted down the miles saying things like, “Only two miles until just one mile left.”

Finally, the finish was within sight and I gunned it. I crossed the finish and immediately walked over to the metal chute barrier and put my head down. My body was relieved but my heart was heavy. My mom loved a good, heart-wrenching finish.

As my knee throbbed, I knew with ice and a little rest, I’d be good as new. The heart requires more for healing.

But in my heart-break, I applied the same running tools: Lean in to the sadness. Take it a little bit at a time. Strength comes from discomfort, especially with repeated discomfort. And finally, every uphill has a downhill. 

I trudged through my “uphill” moment and was happily greeted with my “downhill”as I reunited with my dad and friends post-race. I drank all the Gatorade I wanted and savored the feeling of finishing the race. Activities like running are such a privilege, especially for the closeness I feel to my mom when I run and I’m grateful for the great running buddy I have in my dad.


Whistling: It’s a Sunday and I didn’t have to schedule around a long run. Instead, I attended to my knee and heart. Ice for one and ice cream for the other.


2 Replies to “Life is a Marathon”

  1. Emily, I really enjoyed reading this post, and so proud of your efforts (both). I know how much your Mom loved to run. She was such a supportive runner to you and so many others. She was there for my first marathon at Kiawah (she talked me in to it). In particular, I remember running the Myrtle Beach half marathon a few years back. Mary had finished a leg of the relay, and was waiting at mile ten for me. She could see that I was struggling through my last three miles. She settled in right next to me and talked me in, literally. I’m not sure I could have gotten a word in edgewise even if I had the breath to do so. They were great stories about people that I did not know, but she made them come to life. That was just another one of her gifts. As I got close to the finish, she peeled off, and shouted “go Phil go!!!”. I can still hear it now. I enjoyed other runs with your mom, but that one, the most.


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