Grief and Running, You Taught Me Well

by Jenny Rainone

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes, American ultra-marathoner

Grief is interesting because there’s no definite beginning or end.  It can appear, go away, and re-visit without warning or reason. When we don’t address large, looming life stresses, they have a way of reminding you that they’re still present. They don’t go away; they will manifest themselves in other ways.

Years ago, I was feeling overwhelmed and defeated. I couldn’t see anything but obstacles and signs telling me I wasn’t good enough. I had a brother, whom I’d been very close to growing up, that  I hadn’t spoken to, heard from, or seen in years. I’d been unaware that I wasn’t as social as I used to be; simple, random conversation with my neighbors became stressful because I couldn’t stop thinking about those issues I couldn’t control. That’s how I got there. In the next second, I decided to change. And not look back. Control your business, or it will control you.

I headed out that night for a “run.” It was merely a walk/jog, but it was a warm, quiet summer night in the neighborhood.  I didn’t burn up the course with my speed, but I collected my thoughts and planned. I ran again the next night and several nights to follow. I began keeping a calendar-type “journal” that always hung on the refrigerator door:  mileage, weather, how I felt, what I’d eaten that day, and other notables.  I began to see and feel differences.

The only distances I’d ever run were between the bases when I played softball growing up and during conditioning for basketball in junior high.  It wasn’t easy.  I read everything I could about running – magazines, blogs, books.  There were lots of times I’d tell myself, “Just lace up the shoes and head out.  If I’m not feeling it after a mile, I can head back to the house.”  That only happened once.

Running was my therapy, my prayer time, my “happy hour.” Everyone says this. Running helped me clear my head. Instead of seeing obstacles, I started seeing opportunities. Instead of drowning in the “why’s,” I started considering the “what if’s” (What if I could run a 5K? What if I could lose weight the correct way?).  I began entering local 5K (3.25 miles) races.

I realized how emotionally tied I was to running during my first half marathon, the Louisville Derby Mini marathon. The first 3 miles of the course goes through Iroquois Park, and it is probably one of the most challenging legs I have/will ever run. There are steep inclines, turns, and declines.  You have to watch your footing and control your pace, or you will be playing catch-up for the rest of the race.

It was 82 degrees at the start of the race, the warmest day yet that spring. I don’t know if it was the relief of coming out of Iroquois Park alive, but when Rob Thomas’s song “Ever the Same” came across my iPod and the lyrics

You may need me there to carry all the weight. But you’re no burden I assure…”

I thought of my brother and shed some tears. Running brought me the comfort of feeling like he was still with me, even though he wasn’t.

Jenny and her brother ,Tim

10.1 miles later, I finished.  Since then, I’ve completed several 5K’s, 10K’s, 10-milers, and 16 half marathons, with LOTS to go!  I’m addicted to the running events for the camaraderie of new friends, the celebration of life and taking charge of your health, and of course, the physical challenges.

I’ve trained through job loss, a divorce, moving several times, working 12-hour night shifts, and going to school. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing up, I’d always played team sports. But sadly, friends, jobs, even family members may come and go. Sometimes all you have is yourself.

You have to learn when to push yourself and when to coast.  However, you find strength, celebrate, and practice it every chance you get.  Every time I cross a finish line, I am thankful for the ability to do so. I have a “Motivation Wall” that has bib numbers, finisher medals, favorite quotations, and random swag from races I’ve finished. I’ve made amazing friends, thanks to running. Most importantly, I can see challenges clearly and feel I can handle them.

About the Author: Jenny Rainone is a graduate of the University of Kentucky (UK) with a dual Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Science. She is a Service Associate with the Stryker Corporation delivering medical equipment to hospitals in and around the Nashville, TN area. Jenny is the oldest daughter of Peggy Sweeney.

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