Training for a Vibrant Life

I don’t like to acknowledge this – My brother’s death in 2002 changed me. Sometimes I think that if I don’t admit how it changed me, then maybe it didn’t happen. But it did happen. And I changed.

My brother Ben and I hanging out with our cat. (circa 1985)

I had thought that my house burning down in 1999 was tragic. It was, but not like the sudden death of my brother. After the house fire, I remember helping my parents make plans to rebuild; I remember going over to the new house every day to see the progress; I remember cooking in our make-shift kitchen in the basement of the new house while our real kitchen was being constructed upstairs. Yes, this tragic event impacted me – mostly in relation to how much stuff I own.

My brother’s death changed me.

My brother Ben and I chillin' at the Clay County Fair (2002)

After his death, I needed a way to process emotions that I couldn’t even name.  I was in college and working two jobs. Yet, I could hardly function. I needed to do something.

I started working out. For the first time in my life.

I was the kind of person in high school who thought Fun Runs were oxymoronic. And here I was, running.

At first, I would just run in place in my living room for five minutes. When I branched out and ran outside, I was terrified. What if I get so tired I can’t make it back home? It took all my courage to run five minutes out, 5 minutes back. I thought my heart was going to explode. Nevertheless, something inside me was compelling me to run.

I started working out 30 minutes twice a week, in the morning, before my classes. My workouts always varied. Sometimes I ran; sometimes I did aerobics; sometimes I did Pilates; sometimes I did yoga. I didn’t know how to do any of these things, so I bought books and followed videos.

Traumatic things happen to all of us. They will always impact us and sometimes change us. How they change us is the key question. Some people use creative arts to work through traumatic events. Some people write.

I exercise.

And slowly, my emotions started getting under control, and functioning became possible.

My brother Ben and I at the Fargo Air Show. (2002)

When I started my first job teaching English to high school students stress filled my life. If I thought I was busy in college, I was wrong.  Teaching high school is emotionally and physically draining. I needed a healthy outlet to relieve my stress. Again, I turned to exercise.

I had a beautiful arboretum nearby with a running trail that became my best friend. I signed up for my first 5K. EEK! I joined a gym, and during the cold months, I went to an aerobics class 3-4 times per week. I taught for three years - exercising regularly saved my sanity.

After my first 5K! (2006)

In the seven years since I quit the high school teaching gig, I have kept a regular exercise schedule –
although I must admit that sometimes it has been more intermittent than regular!

Before the Alexander House Walk For Hope - my favorite 5K. (2013)

…Then came this winter. This difficult, cold, snowy, never-ending winter…

I turned to exercise. This time, however, I turned up the volume.

Instead of sticking to my tried and true 3.1 mile runs, I decided to challenge myself. I used the Nike Training Club app (I love this – seriously, I love it!) to boost my workouts. I decided to try one of the several 4-week programs and was intimidated.

How was I supposed to run for 40 minutes AND do a 30 minute aerobic workout? Can I do that?! I found out I could.

How can I run for 60 minutes? I’m tired after 40! Can I do that?! I found out I could.

Darwin P. Kinglsey gave me inspiration:

“You all have powers you never dreamed of. You can do things you never thought you could do. There are no limitations in what you can do except the limitations in your own mind as to what you cannot do. Do not think you cannot. Think you can.”
So I channeled the Little Engine that Could and ran and lifted weights and ran and did yoga and ran until my 4-week program ended. But winter did not end. It has just begun.

I created my own personally challenging workout program. It looks like this:

When I was on vacation at the beginning of March and running outside, I suddenly felt inspired to make my runs even longer. My longest run ever was 70 minutes, during which I ran 7.7 miles. I was so proud of myself. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but half way through my run, I suddenly heard:

“Hi! What are you training for?” Another runner had caught up to me.

“Oh, nothing in particular.” I responded. But I am training for something: My life. I’m training for my vibrant life.

We chatted the rest of the way, and the time flew. I learned that she was training for the Iron Man in Australia and was on a 120 minute run! (So inspiring!) Her training and physical fitness path had been much different from my own and yet here we were – connecting.

Looking back at my 23-year-old self, I see a heartbroken woman searching for a productive way to process a traumatic event. I didn’t want my brother’s death to change me.

Yet, here I am – a runner.

I may have started running to relieve stress and calm my emotions, but I continue running to connect. Running connects me with myself. With my environment. With others. With life.

Before a glorious morning run in Florida. (2014)

How do you deal with stress? I'd love to hear your workout story!