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.


Ahmaud Arbery: More Than 2.23 Miles

The most afraid I’ve ever been on a run was last June, when I got lost for nearly twelve hours trying to run the 31-mile Pemi Loop and wound up running a random 26 miles. I had to call the police when I got out of the woods to take me to my car. When I glimpsed the tall, white policeman pull up to me, I saw him as my way home, not as my potential murderer.

I was afraid on this run because I was alone and didn’t know how to get off the trails and back into civilization. I never feared for my life. I’ve never thought I would be murdered — shot to death — by strangers. I’ve never feared I would be killed by running, or for the color of my skin. Because I am white.

Ahmaud Arbery felt real fear while running. He felt terror he wouldn’t make it out alive because of his skin color, and on February 23, 2020, he didn’t.

Right now, people in my community — runners — are outraged and spreading news of this egregious act of racism and violent injustice. This is more than politics: it’s murder. It’s a boy’s life, and it’s two murderers — with video evidence against them — who were not arrested until May 7th, 2020. So, it’s heartening to see the response in my community, from people who are usually active to people who are usually silent.

Many of us, however, including myself, are guilty of putting more effort into Ahmaud’s case because he too was a runner. There is a common bond. We can put ourselves into his running shoes and jog the miles with him and imagine if we didn’t come home. We can imagine how our parents and roommates and relatives and friends would feel — the sickening, icy way his did. But we must remember: Ahmaud didn’t die because he was a runner.

He died because he was black. We can choose to run, but he did not choose to be black. And he certainly did not choose the systemic racism that killed him.

I hope moving forward, the running community — my friends and teammates and competitors — will care as much about all cases of racial injustices as we do about Ahmaud. This is more than running or running safety. This was a lynching; it was far from the first, and it won’t be the last.

Running is a freedom white people take for granted, so to see a fellow runner be publicly stripped of that right hits home to us. Again, though, he did not lose his life because he was running; the horrifying, ever-growing list of black people who are murdered because racists see them as criminals proves it. Ahmaud lost his right to life while running, just as Trayvon Martin lost his while walking home, just as Jordan Edwards lost his while driving home with friends, just as Atatiana Jefferson lost hers while being in her own home, just as, just as, just as….

My friend, a black man, made a heartbreaking point: racism doesn’t just show up in the deaths. It’s all around black people, all the time. Microaggressions, overlooked by white people, are what lead to murder. I wish they weren’t called “microaggressions” because that makes them sound small, but for black people, they’re overpowering. That comment, that look, that cultural appropriation, that mistreatment…they aren’t harmless. They are dangerous, and they cost lives. As my friend told me, the black person shot and killed — whether running or not — could have been him.

Ahmaud was the same age I am now. We think of age 25 as adulthood, but truly, I still feel like a child in some aspects. I’m sure he did too. I still cry when I’m upset. I still bring laundry home when I visit my parents. I still don’t know how to do my taxes. America strips black people of their youth. You can see it in racist portrayals and language. Teenagers are “men.” 12-year-olds are killed for playing. Ahmaud was 25 when he was murdered, and 25 is a step beyond childhood.

Let’s pay tribute to Ahmaud and shed light on injustice, but let’s not do it because he was a runner, something we can relate to. Let’s do it because he is human, like all of us. Let’s fight against white supremacists — like his killers — who do not view black people as human. Let’s work to make running and walking and driving and playing and being a right that is extended to black people once and for all.

Jordan L. Silva

Jordan Silva is a fiction writer and competitive runner living in Watertown, Massachusetts. She works in student support services at MIT, and, after suffering from mental illness and going through counseling in college, she is an advocate for mental health awareness. Jordan received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing and psychology from Wheaton College (MA), where she completed an honors thesis for the psychology department and a Young Adult fiction novel as her creative writing senior capstone. She has since completed two additional fiction novels and is working on her fourth. Jordan ran twelve seasons of cross country and track at Wheaton and now runs for Battle Road Track Club in Boston. She received her master’s degree in sports leadership from Northeastern University, during which she coached at Tufts University and worked at a run specialty store, Marathon Sports, for two years. Jordan loves traveling, and last year she visited 17+ cities and 13 countries; travel is a big inspiration for her writing. She also loves dogs, cake, lifting weights, Taylor Swift, walking on the Charles River, Daenerys Targaryen, reading Harry Potter, and watching TV.