Farther Finish Line: A Runner’s Grief

Jordan L. Silva, 5.29.2020

The (rightful) cancellation of the 2020 Boston Marathon is a deep crack in the heartbreak of the running community. The postponement announcement in March was a tough day for race entrants and fans alike, but it brought hope of a September event, when “normal” felt inevitable. Although it soon became clear “normal” was not just a jog up the block, it was comforting to have hope in our back pockets like an emergency gel. With a cancellation — and global uncertainty as to how far into the race for “normal” we are — disappointment feels permanent, like endless darkness.

Beyond Boston, track seasons, and other races, the past few months have brought much to grieve. Semesters and graduations have been lost to the far-off virtual world. People have lost their jobs, gotten sick, and missed out on big life events. Racism continues to be rampant, and each day we wake up to more death worldwide while we are isolated from friends. It feels like a nightmare we are collectively having, one impossible to wake from.

This period reminds me of exactly five years ago, when I was suffering from the worst depression I’ve faced. I’m thankful I’m here to tell its dismal tale. Grief was all I could feel, like there was nothing to look forward to and never would be again. I was a college runner, but my mind was so broken, I thought I’d never compete again. I felt isolated from everyone I knew and loved in every way. I thought I didn’t deserve joy, and finding joy was impossible anyway. I was heartbroken. I lost myself and the entire pre-depression world I knew; or so it seemed.

I made it through, cracked but whole. Some of us suffering from mental illness may feel it amplified in these dystopian-level times, but I think almost everyone feels some sort of isolation and bleakness in their lives right now. It is important to let yourself feel those emotions and know your feelings are valid; but it’s also important to learn how to dig yourself out of a black hole. Whether you are grieving the cancelation of Boston, or any other loss, I can offer you my advice on getting through grief and share what I learned from combating depression.

The most effective weapon against grief is companionship. I’ve always thought of depression as a paradoxical force: it isolates you when you need people the most. Find the people you trust and love in this world, and reach for them like you’re grasping at stars as beacons of light. Trustworthy people aren’t always readily available, and it’s tough work getting in touch sometimes, especially during an isolating pandemic, but, like putting in miles for a race, you must put in effort.

Once you have your team, you need to work to find your peace and prospects for hope. This is difficult. It means facing the darkest and bleakest parts of your world. Getting through grief means lacing up your shoes when your couch is the most comfortable; fighting through the last mile or repetition when your legs and lungs scream “this is impossible”; ridding your mind of despair when you arrive at mile 20 and realize you still have 10K to go. Hope takes effort, but, as people who voluntarily run for hours at a time or wake up at 6AM on Saturdays for track meets, we sure know how to work hard.

Personally, I fought depression by continuing to run, despite being unsure if and when I’d race again.

I fought by finding music, books, and TV shows that brought me joy, or at least brought me out of dark places.

I fought by lighting a fire of passion — I began writing. Passions can be found in a number of places; look within and around yourself. (A great place to start is dedicating yourself to a cause. Anti-racism is a great one right now. Check out this (bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES) list of resources to get started. I’ve also found Alison Désir’s Meaning Thru Movement virutal tour inspiring and engaging so far).

I fought by reconnecting with loved ones I felt isolated from and finding a new group of friends who understood and saved me more than any of us realized.

Finally, I fought by trusting I and the world around me would get better; and I held onto that belief like it was my last breath.

Running at any level and distance, from one mile to the marathon, is about fighting. It is a battle of strength between the uplifting attitude of achievement and the spiteful voice that urges you to quit. The battle against grief is no different. We’ve been in this fight before. We can do it again.

We don’t know what mile we’re running right now in the race to “normal,” and we can assume we’re in for more heartbreak along the course. We’re in the part of the race that feels like a permanent night, but we will not hit the wall. We will not give up. Take your gels, repeat your mantras, find your teammates, and trust yourself. The sun is right behind the horizon. Keep running toward it, however fast or slow you have to.

Daylight is coming.

A "Thinking of You" Card

A “Thinking of You” Card

To the mojito served with a tiny napkin and a paper straw while I’m sitting legs dangling on a stool. The pounding of the bass blocks out the “thank you” I tell the waiter. 

To the YouTube videos my co-workers and I secretly watch when we’re supposed to be restocking or organizing or…something. 

To the trashy TV shows my friends get ourselves into every Monday night, keeping us awake at an unreasonable hour and killing our brain cells a dozen at a time. And, of course, to the three-course meal we slap together with its own weekly theme and personality — an enticement, along with the good company, to watching bad TV. 

To the warm, buttery bread at Not Your Average Joe’s and the parmesan-topped dipping oil that comes with it. 

To the team that brightened the screen on my phone and took a handkerchief to my glasses; you help my running career burst with color and help me see my potential at every practice. 

To the class of 2020, who went from having smiles when they thought about their last two months with classes and friends and senior activities, to being in tears, learning that they’ve already experienced those last two months. 

To the dogs I’ve yet to meet and yet to pet. 

To my favorite stores and everything in them — the shoes with wads of paper still tucked in, the soft shirts, the rainbow dresses, the packages of chocolates and the sparkly earrings. 

To the party I wanted to throw in celebration of my new job, and all the friends who would come bearing gifts of alcohol and funny anecdotes and hugs. 

To all the things that make life what it is — or, more accurately, what it was and what it will be…I miss you, I’m thinking of you, and I know we will meet again.

Reasons

Reasons

I know why the sky is blue, but not why I fell in love with the boy with sky blue eyes. 

I know why a bird can fly, but not why some people leave and some people choose to stay. 

I know why the ocean moves in waves, but not why my dreams drowned the day I couldn’t find the air to fight my panic attack. 

I know how the earth came to be, but not why I came to be a writer and a runner. 

I know the grammatical rules of the English language, but not how to explain how much I love some of the people who have planted themselves on my planet — the trees supplying my oxygen. 

I know why 2 and 2 make 4, but not why I can’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up. 

I know how a car starts and runs, but not which destination to plug into the GPS of my life. 

I know why the body needs sugar and fat, but not why an eating disorder rampaged my life for years. 

I know why phobias exist and why our bodies respond with fight or flight, but not what journey my fears and sadness are taking me on. 

And I know why a glass will shatter if I drop it, but not why I pour myself into people who end up breaking my heart.

Reasons II

Sometimes we know what we know, sometimes we can find the answer, sometimes all we can do is yell into the abyss, “give me a reason why” and hope we get a response one day.