It was a perfect day for running. The morning was a bit cloudy, cool enough to wish for another layer, and there was a hint of fall crispness in the airâ€”unusual weather for Austin in October. I was heading to a race start-line for the first time in over a year. For once there were no pre-race jitters or time expectations, just a lot of memories and a different kind of determination.
On August 31ST of 2005, my husband Phillip was killed when he was hit by a car while out for his evening bike ride. Phil was not only an avid cyclist; he was also a dedicated runner. He began his running career as a high school track athlete. Continuing his love of the sport as a devoted community track coach, he volunteered long after his own kids had outgrown the program. Running beside the kids at practice was one of his favorite things to do. Phil was a regular at all the local races; a towering pile of race bibs had a place of honor on his dresser. At 39, he was at the top end of a competitive age group. He was counting the days to his age group change, looking forward to racing as one of the youngsters in his field. But Phil never got to race in the next age groupâ€”he died three months before his fortieth birthday.
Before we met, I was an occasional runner. Through our courtship and marriage, my husband introduced me to the joy of running. Vacations were planned around running, track season caused the cessation of all other activities, and date nights usually began in running shoes. My love of running developed as our relationship did. After Phil died, my world looked different from every angle. The lines that distinguished what he loved and what I loved became blurred. I didn’t know if I loved running or if I only loved running with him. In the darkness of loss, I could not find the drive to put on my shoes, and run out the door without him, I quit running. Each morning I woke up in the haze of grief, with only the thought of how to make it through the day. After months of feeling lost without my husband, it finally occurred to me that I might feel more connected to him on a run. So, with some trepidation I laced up my shoes. For months I ran away; away from the heartache, away from the shock, away from the inevitable reality that he was gone. When I ran, I felt close to him in my soul and in my stride. Each breathless moment was a testament to all I had learned from running beside the man I loved. On my runs Phil was still my partner. Those runs left me spent and sad, but I needed them. Running became my way of saying good-bye to the man who was my husband and my friend.
The act of running was freeing. It reminded me that I was capable of putting one foot in front of the otherâ€”in forward motion. The destination was not as important as the journey. As time passed, my heart slowly began to heal. Eventually the nature of my runs changed, and I noticed that my step was lighter. I realized that my purpose in heading out for a jog was no longer exclusively a desire to feel close to Phil. Slowly, I stopped expecting to see him at every turn of our favorite route. Running did not always reduce me to tears. With every step I took, I began to remember the joy of running. Gradually, I ran just because I wanted to.
On that brisk October day, I faced my first finish line without my husband. A dear friend of mine, who lost her husband to cancer, lined up beside me at the startâ€”we were there to run in honor of the men we had loved and lost, but not forgotten. Passing each mile marker, I marveled at the power of running. As we traveled the course, we shared stories about our husbands, we talked about the lives that were still ahead of us, and we celebrated the fact that we could run. Crossing the finish line I felt Phil’s absence, but I also felt his presence. Running had taken me across more than a literal finish line. As I crossed the line with cheering supporters in the background and my friend at my side, I realized that I wasn’t running just for Phil, I was running for myself, too.