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Running Helps with Grief

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

I began running for my mental health long before I knew I was running for my mental health. Running found me in my late 20s, when the only coping mechanism I had was alcohol. Hard day? Happy hour. Great day? Happy hour.

Friends posing for a photo at the TCS New York City Marathon
Theodora posing with friend at NYC Marathon

Like many others, I started running for weight loss. But I quickly realized how great it made me feel mentally too.

I lived in New York City at the time, and began to crave sunset runs along the Hudson River in Battery Park. The fresh air on my face after a day of being in a cubicle felt splendid. Running diffused things, just a little, after a stressful day. Why I hadn’t started running sooner? How had I coped without it?

I began experiencing anxiety, and then its friend, depression, but the presence of running in my life stayed a constant, albeit sometimes at shorter distances than I had been running.

Running got me through dealing with my mom’s ovarian cancer and her eventual death.

Every time I was going to visit her, I’d run that morning. That way, no matter how hard the day was, at least I had run. The night before she died, I ran as hard as I ever have. Trying to outrun the pain, I hoped exerting my legs and lungs would make it impossible to feel the ache in my soul. The morning after she died and the morning of her funeral, I laced up without even thinking.

Running was one tiny thing I could do for me, like she would want me to. 

That little Sicilian, New Jerseyan mom of mine was the ultimate cheerleader in my life—and for all of my races. With the millions of spectators at the New York City Marathon, it’s still always a huge boost to see your spectator along the side.

Mother and daughter pose smiling in front of a building on a street.
Theodora and her mother

Even the week before she got diagnosed with ovarian cancer, as it was growing in her abdomen, unbeknownst to any of us, she still traipsed the boroughs, just for a chance to see her little girl run.

I still ran the race the year she died. I’d still feel sad that morning knowing the marathon memories I shared with her, so why not just run 26.2 miles anyway? (Runner logic is so warped.)

It shouldn’t have, but the race felt easy to me—so easy that at mile 25, I remarked to my friend that I felt like I could run a 50K! (Things I have not said since.) Everything was aligned for a rough race: my longest run had been 17 miles, it was pouring, I wiped out at mile 14, a fire truck stopped the race at mile 18. But, still I ran, with one of my best friends by my side.

I know my mom was there with me in spirit, if not in body.


Guest Writer

Guest Writer

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