Would’ve have been easy never to go back. Or to stop altogether. And block out all of the amazing experiences and memories of the past. Not me. I wanted to run through the emotional pain and come out stronger on the other side.
June 2018 marked the end of my son’s school year. It also marked the beginning of summer cross country training for his most important junior year in high school coming up in fall 2018. Unfortunately, separation from my wife, and (temporary) estrangement from my son, meant we were both running on our own during the summer.
For me, and my two sons (the older son graduated in May 2018 from college), Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT was like our second home. Over many, many years, I watched my boys grow up in Waveny with too many experiences and memories to count. And bonds so strong they would never break. No matter the circumstances, no matter the conditions, no matter anything, we would run and race in Waveny Park (coincidentally home to the high school FCIAC or Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships). During the searing summer heat and humidity, during two feet of snow in January, in the aftermath of the 2012 Hurricane Sandy devastation, in the torrential downpour after dark with headlamps guiding us, and of course in the glowing fall sunshine lighting up the colorful trees, Waveny was where we wanted to be. Together.
On June 9, 2018, when I started my journey, I was so emotionally pained, I was seeking refuge and healing through running in Waveny Park. I would have to work through the emotional pain, and face my demons and wrestle them to the ground. It would not be easy, I told myself. I underestimated how hard it actually would be. Stepping out of the car, loosening my hips and glutes with the lunge matrix and leg swings, and syncing my Garmin, was the easy part. As soon as I lifted my eyes and scanned the cornfields and edge of the woods, visualizing me running with my younger son, or recalling the FCIAC championship Fall 2017 where he ran a PR, the pain became too much. It would’ve been easy to step back in the car and drive off, and not return. I took a few steps – mentally and emotionally focused on just starting to roll – and started to run one of our usual loops. I was on my way. But it would become worse, before it became better.
Those first few runs I was focused on just completing a 3-mile rolling loop across trails, grass and cornfields. Having done it hundreds of times, I could do it with my eyes closed. But every foot of that 3-mile loop brought back experiences and memories. I would check off the first mile. Then the second mile. Then came an uphill, and I would check out. Stop. Walk. Bend over. Fitness-wise, it should’ve been easy. Just a warm-up, really. Nothing hard. But emotionally I was overcome, and mentally and physically I started to shut down. I walked back to my car, emotions slowly under control, and then becoming upset that I let emotions control me. I DNF’ed (runner-speak for Did Not Finish).
Healing meant working through the past. Understanding what led to the separation, divorce, and (temporary) estrangement from my son. Re-discovering what I wanted to do and wanted to be. Realizing and accepting that I could not control others, and I had to prioritize and focus on myself. And focus on the things I could control. One of the major pain points I had to work through was the possibility that my son may decide to never run again (because he may not want or may not be able to work through the emotional pain). And that I had to do what’s right for me. To set goals, and to re-integrate running as an important part of my life, and to look forward, while working through the past. I will always love my son. And I am hoping and praying that we will re-connect. In the meantime, I have to run and heal.
Some days were better than others. Two steps forward and one step back. But the trajectory was positive. Within a month (July 2018), I was able to not only run the 3-mile loop, but hammer the pace and finish strong. I was making progress. During separation, there is always a sliver of hope for reconciliation. As that hope fades, I fell back into a hole again. And my struggles during runs returned. I worked through those as well. About two months after I started my journey (August), I introduced track workouts to improve my aerobic threshold, and complement my tempo and progression runs. Again, experiences and memories flashed before me, from pacing my sons during workouts, to coaching them, or just enjoying watching them. In September, with fall slowly descending on Waveny Park, and my son electing to not run Cross Country on his high school team, I continued my progress and was starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. I was looking forward to the end of my work day and driving to Waveny Park or to the track. My heart started to race when I stepped out of the car and warmed up. And during my runs I started to look ahead and set goals, plan how to achieve these, and focus on what I wanted to do to continue healing and become a better me.
Thank you for reading.
Note: Read my “Quick Recap of First 500 Miles”.