Running into Shame and Grief

Crossroads: success or failure
Photo by stockmonkeys.com via Flickr’s creative commons.

I ran a marathon last week, and it broke my heart.

“It was hard, but at least I finished,” I tell the people I don’t know as well. With others, the words “excruciating” and “demoralizing” and “disappointing” might make their way into my answers. But I’m still smiling as I list the reasons why my race was all those things.

I’m not very good at letting people see my grief. I know this because sometimes they’ve laughed when I’ve told them about my race, and I’m sure they thought they were laughing with me.

One week ago, I was shivering in shorts and a T-shirt and marveling at the colors in the morning sky. It had been a long week and I knew it would be a hot day, but I had no misgivings, no latent fears that my body might fail me.

It was Easter Sunday when I first put my hair up and ran a few blocks down the street and back. Before the month was out, I had all but decided that this would be my year to run a marathon. I printed out a training schedule: 168 boxes with 168 assignments.

I was an outstanding pupil, waking up while everyone else slept, strapping water to my waist, filling my weekends with running and recovery. Little by little, running became my life in a way nothing else was.

I can write, but I haven’t written much this year. I have people I love, but there is almost always some sort of distance. I love to talk, but fear has kept me silent. I have dreams and desires, but I slip into nothing and everything.

Running has been my constant. I can run, and I did run. I hated always getting up early and running the same routes until I was sick of them and taking the bus to yet another street corner. But I did it. This was my success story, my purpose, maybe even my identity.

Every so often when I wondered if I would really be ready come October 18, the stars would align on the trail and I would be smiling through the sweat and my confidence would rise.

And then October 18 came.

The first half of the race went as expected. The second half did not.

I must have started too fast. I must not have eaten enough that morning. The sun did not relent. And then pain slowly took over my pelvis.

I virtually stopped running by mile 18, but by then even just walking was hard. I almost cried at one point because I was so miserable. I don’t know exactly when I realized that I would not be bouncing back, that it would not be getting better, that there would be no glory in this day, but I know that by a certain point I wasn’t just physically shattered; I was heartbroken and ashamed.

I texted my roommates, who were waiting at the finish line with homemade signs, that I would be much later than expected. How low I have sunk that I’m texting during my marathon.

I passed people holding signs and cheering. They must think I didn’t prepare for this at all.

I thought of the pin I had proudly purchased at the Expo two days before. I can’t imagine wearing that now.

I turned the last corner and saw the finish line just ahead. I started running so that I could finish with at least a modicum of dignity. It’s barely even accurate to say that I ran a marathon.

It felt like a cruel trick. I had done everything I was supposed to do since May. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. I felt no sense of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line, when I posed for a picture with my roommates, when I answered excited questions later. Rather, I cringed and cried heartbroken tears and wished I hadn’t told so many people about the race.

And then I decided I had to redeem myself by running the Colfax Marathon in May. Never mind all my reasons to take a break from distance running; I had to fix this mess as soon as possible.

This is where I am right now: grieving, grateful that the questions are subsiding, and realizing that my identity is clipped onto my ability to run longer distances than most people I know. I’ve had moments of joy on this journey, but it’s all been too dependent on what happens on a single day in October. If I end up running the Colfax Marathon next year, I want it to be for the right reasons.

But for now, I am letting myself be still and grieve.

10K in 2009
My first race: a 10K in 2009
Marathon in 2015
My latest race: a marathon in 2015

7 Replies to “Running into Shame and Grief”

  1. Oh Lizzie, I’m sorry that things didn’t turn out anywhere close to the way you wanted them to. As a non-runner, all that still sounds like an amazing accomplishment, but that doesn’t stop making it feel disappointing for you. I hope that as the grieving fades, you will be filled with a renewed sense of purpose for whatever God has ahead for you, both in running and in the other parts of your life.

    1. Thanks, Susan! It was helpful writing this post — I cried in parts and felt a little encouraged in parts. A good part of the process. 🙂

  2. Thank you for your vulnerability. I am sorry you felt like this, but I must say, as I followed your posts about running and even as I read through your story the only thing in my mind was “She made it!”, “She made it to the end!”, “She actually ran every day and went through the whole thing!” When I think of the many times I’ve dreamed of taking a step into fulfilling my dream of running a marathon, and I haven’t even dared to run a 5k, your story brings me hope! You are a fighter and your determination is inspiring. It is not the running all the way, with a smile at the end or the sense of “deserving”, but the pure fact that you did it! In spite of all the difficulties and struggles. I pray God gives you the eyes to see the beauty in your journey and how every battle leaves wounds, scares and victories! <3

    1. Thank you. It was painful to live and to write about, but there are sometimes those things that need to be spoken out loud in all their messiness and incompleteness, and this was one of them. Blessings to you, friend.

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