In 2015, I thought I was running the Chicago Marathon in the fall. Instead I separated from my husband.
For runners, it’s an all-too-familiar story: I ignored a nagging pain in my knee, denying its severity and pressing onward through workouts, until I hobble-walked my broken spirit into physical therapy.
For spouses, it’s also familiar: I bottled anger and unhappiness, pressing onward with hope that both would dissipate miraculously, until they spilled out like lava erupting – exposed, seething, flowing unstoppably.
I wish I could tell the younger version of myself that to press onward in denial isn’t an achievement of iron will. It’s a recipe for breakdowns. That year, everything broke down.
“You’re just not finding your path forward,” a good friend impressed upon me a little while later. I was paralyzed. I keep imagining divorce as waters to wade through, or maybe a mountain to summit. A finite journey that would reward me with an endpoint eventually. But it’s a bit more like the Robert Frost poem, where wandering through is a constant – not a clean-and-simple to and from – and you’ve taken the road less traveled by. It’s unlit, grown over and hard to navigate.
I couldn’t focus on a way forward, a simple one-foot-in-front-of-another. I deliberately, enthusiastically took this less-traveled path in a sort of desperation, and then I was dragging my feet to walk it.
I wish I could tell the younger version of myself that to not press onward, to stay put in fear, isn’t a failure of iron will. Sometimes the circumstances are bigger than you.
Like the times I’ve stopped and started running – more than I can count – because of injury, or pregnancy, or life. Every single time, restarting seems overwhelming. It’s paralyzing.
I never think I’ll be as good or fast or strong as I was before. But I always surprise myself.
Coming back to running was different this time. I wasn’t trying to force it, the way my younger self might have done. I didn’t have a plan. I stopped and started, dabbled and stalled. I came to it when I felt like it, noncommittally and sporadically. I wandered aimlessly for a bit. But I never stopped meeting it. I never stopped slowly chipping away at my paralysis.
Just like every other time I’ve returned, running greets me like an old friend, never caring about the reasons I’ve been gone or how long I’ve stayed away. Few things in life are like this.
Without even knowing how I got here, I’m building up my mileage again. I’m taking special care of my knee, making time to strengthen and cross train.
I’m careful with how I’m moving forward.
But I’m finding my way forward nonetheless. And it’s made all the difference.