Grief and Running, You Taught Me Well

by Jenny Rainone

Jenny Rainone

Hello!  My name is Jenny Rainone.  I am 36 years old.  About three years ago, I found myself at an all-time low.  I had a failing 2-year marriage to someone I’d dated for 7 years, compounded by fertility challenges. I had lost a job that I’d seemingly invested much effort, time, and heart into. I had a brother, whom I’d been very close to growing up, that I hadn’t spoken to, heard from, or seen in over a year. About 6 months later, during a routine doctor’s visit, I was told that I could be put on medication for high blood pressure, plus I was borderline diabetic. I was also 50 lbs heavier than average. I’d never thought of myself as being depressed. I’d always been athletic in high school, and was a casual exerciser throughout college, so during the drive home, I reflected on how I’d gotten to this point.

Grief is interesting, because there’s no definite beginning or end. It can appear, go away, and re-visit without warning or reason. I was grieving for a failing marriage, for children I’d always wanted and hadn’t had, for a job I’d lost, and for a brother that was, for all practical purposes, gone. When we don’t address large looming life stresses, they have a way of reminding you that they’re still present. They don’t go away; they will manifest themselves in other ways.  For the first time, I was feeling overwhelmed and defeated. I couldn’t see anything but obstacles and signs telling me I wasn’t good enough. I’d been unaware that I wasn’t being as social as I used to be; simple random conversation with my neighbors became stressful because I couldn’t stop thinking about those issues I couldn’t control. That’s how I got there. In the next second I decided to change. And not look back. Control your business or it will control you.

I headed out that night for a “run”. It was merely a walk/jog, but it was a warm, quiet summer night in the neighborhood. I didn’t burn up the course with my speed, but I collected my thoughts and made a plan. I ran again the next night. And several nights to follow. I began keeping a calendar-type “journal” that always hung on the refrigerator door: Mileage, weather, how I felt, what I’d eaten that day, and other notables. I began to see and feel differences. The only distances I’d ever run were between the bases when I played softball growing up and during conditioning for basketball in junior high. It wasn’t easy. I read everything I could about running – magazines, blogs, books. There were lots of times I’d tell myself, “Just lace up the shoes and head out. If I’m not feeling it after a mile, I can head back to the house.” That only happened once. Running was my therapy, my prayer time, my “happy hour” (Have you tried a Cliff’s Shot?!). Everyone says this, but running helped me clear my head.  Instead of seeing obstacles, I started seeing opportunities. Instead of drowning in the “why’s” (Why won’t my brother talk to me? Why can’t I get pregnant?), I started considering the “what if’s” (What if I finally went back to school to be a nurse?  What if I could run a 5K?  What if I could lose weight the correct way?) . I began entering local 5K (3.25 miles) races. I’d always wanted to run the annual Lexington Bluegrass 10K, so I made it a goal.  I did it and will run my 3rd this year.

I realized how emotionally tied I was to running during my first half marathon, the Louisville Derby Mini marathon. The first 3 miles of the course go through Iroquois Park, and it is probably one of the most challenging legs I have/will ever run. There are steep inclines, turns, and declines. You have to watch your footing and control your pace or you will be playing catch-up for the rest of the race. It was 82 at the start of the race, the warmest day yet that spring. I don’t know if it was the relief of coming out of Iroquois Park alive or what, but when Rob Thomas’s song “Ever the Same” came across my ipod and the lyrics “You may need me there to carry all the weight. But you’re no burden I assure…”, I thought of my brother and shed some tears. Running brought me the comfort of feeling like he was still with me, even though he wasn’t. 10.1 miles later, I finished. Since then, I’ve finished several 5K’s, 10K’s, 10-milers, and 16 half marathons, with LOTS to go! I’m addicted to the running events for the camaraderie of new friends, the celebration of life and taking charge of your health, and of course, the physical challenges.

I’ve trained through a tough job loss, a divorce, moving to a new house, working 12-hour night shifts, and going to school.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing up, I’d always played team sports, but sadly, friends, spouses, jobs, even family members may come and go. Sometimes all you have is yourself. You have to learn when to push yourself and when to coast.  However your find strength, celebrate and practice it every chance you get.  Every time I cross a finish line, I am thankful for the ability to do so. I’m not super-disciplined about my eating habits and I do not have the typical runner’s body, but 50 pounds are gone and more are going.  I have to keep buying smaller clothes, not the other way around. My blood pressure is under control, and I’m not diabetic. I have a “Motivation Wall” that has bib numbers, finisher medals, favorite quotations, and random swag from races I’ve finished. I’ve made amazing friends thanks to running. With my job, we self-schedule, so I’m fortunate enough to get to go to some very cool places in the name of running. Maybe most importantly, I can see challenges clearly and feel I can handle them.

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes, American ultra-marathoner

About the Author: Jenny Rainone is a graduate of the University of Kentucky (UK) with a dual Bachelor of Arts in English and Political Science. She is currently working as a Certified Nursing Assistant for the UKHealthCare Markey Cancer Center while pursuing a degree in nursing. Jenny is the oldest daughter of Peggy Sweeney, editor of the Journeys Through Grief Newsletters.

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