My name is Danielle and I’m a 27 year old marathon runner, Marathon Maniac, and member of the 50 States Marathon Club from central South Carolina. I’ve run 30 marathons in 25 states so far, and I ran the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon (where I got my PR!!) this year on my quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. I didn’t always have such ambitious goals, though. In fact, when I was a kid, I tried to avoid running at all costs. I quit my soccer team at age 7 because our coach asked us to run ONE lap around the field. I found an activity I loved in horseback riding and stuck with that throughout my teenage years. It wasn’t until my fledgling marriage started to crumble that I took up running, and I haven’t looked back.
Very shortly after I got married back in 2009, things started to fall apart. Without going into too much detail out of respect for my ex, it was literally one month into my marriage that I realized there was no hope for us to stay together. I just didn’t want to believe it. We went to counseling, of course. Our counselor actually told us we should get divorced – in those exact words. I didn’t even know marriage counselors could say that, but for the record, you should listen to them when they do. I ignored him.
In the mean time, I started running. It got me out of the house. I ran twice a day, sometimes three times. I ran every time I got mad or sad or felt overwhelmed. I cried while I ran; I screamed. It is fortunate that I live in a very small town with not too many people around, because I think everyone would have probably thought I was severely unhinged. To be fair, I was.
One day, I set out for an 8 mile run for no real reason. I ended up going 11 miles because I got lost. I figured that was only 2 miles short of a half marathon, so I might as well do a half marathon. I did one 5 days later, and I didn’t stop the entire time. I didn’t even stop for water because I was terrified I wouldn’t start running again. Fortunately it was 36 degrees and raining or I might have died. I crossed the finish line of that race thinking it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I couldn’t imagine how people would continue running that same distance AGAIN right after finishing it (i.e. run a marathon). The idea seemed preposterous.
Of course, you might have figured out, that that mentality lasted a week. I realized quickly that marathon training gave me an excuse to be out of the house (and away from my husband) even more. So I ran. I downloaded a training plan and then doubled the mileage it told me to do every day, believing I knew better than the Olympic champions who had designed them. I ran three 65 mile weeks in a row 2 months before my first marathon – and I had only started running 2 months before that.
On March 21, 2010, I ran my first marathon. And then I broke my hip. Yup, broken hips aren’t just for old people anymore! I got a stress fracture in my femoral neck that took EIGHT MONTHS to heal. This put a serious hole in my plan to never be home, so what did I do? Adopted a horse, obviously.
I have been riding horses for most of my life and I had one as a kid. I rode competitively throughout middle school and high school and loved it, so I thought getting another horse would be a good way to occupy my time. I had range of motion in my hip, I just couldn’t put any weight on it, so it was a good solution.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, I put bandage after bandage over my crumbling marriage and hoped that ignoring the situation would make it better, but it didn’t, of course. I was so in love with my ex that I didn’t want to admit to myself that it couldn’t work. I buried myself in work and hoped I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. It was that bad. I didn’t think I had the strength to end it. Then, one day, my coworker came over to my desk and started to complain about work, like he did every day. I listened to him and laughed and said nothing, like always. Then he stopped, looked me right in the eye and asked “Why is it that you never complain about work? Everyone else complains every day, but you never say anything. Why?” And my immediate thought was “because it is so much better than being at home.” I didn’t say that, of course. I said something silly and laughed it off. But when I realized that I would rather be at work (which at the time was miserable) than at home with my husband of a year, I realized something had to change. So I went home and I told him, quite calmly, that it wasn’t going to work and we were going to get a divorce. And he, equally calmly, said “ok” and started looking for places to move. And that was that. There was nothing left to fight about. Nothing to say.
He moved out, and right around that time, I started running again after my hip finally healed. I had no aerobic base at all. I was starting from scratch, and I trained for my second marathon with Team in Training. It was there that I really learned what running means and how important the running community is. I made fast friends with my TNT group, and I came to rely on them for advice, a shoulder to cry on, and people to laugh with. I told them about my internet dating adventures as I slowly made my way back out into the dating world. In case you were wondering, one guy wrote me a 3 page email yelling at me for lying about being a Christian, saying I claimed to be one when I’m not. That logic doesn’t make sense to me to this day!
Marathons for me are more like social events than actual races, and my divorce is honestly the reason for that. For about the first 8 months that my ex and I were separated, all I did was go to work, run, watch Netflix, and do homework for grad school. That’s it. I didn’t want to be around people. I didn’t want to explain why I felt sad on any given day.
But running gave me confidence. Finishing marathons made me believe I had what it took to get through it. I could run 26.2 miles by myself. I could travel by myself. Surely, then, I could live by myself. And with the help of the friends I made through running, I slowly started to believe those things were true. And really, many of my closest friends now have become my friends through running, even if that’s not how I met them. The coworker I always said hi to in the halls became a trusted confidant on our runs. The random guy running through my neighborhood is now one of my best friends.
Little by little, running started to give my my life back. But really, it was the people I met through running that did it. Running has helped me to understand that I am never alone no matter where I go. I have friends all over the country now, and not just because I have met so many people at races or because I write this blog. Running connects us all in a spiritual way. Fast or slow, sprinter or marathoner, we all run. We all know pain and we all know what it means to push through it. I suppose that can be said of the human condition too, but sometimes we don’t realize our bond with others until we see them lace up a pair of running shoes.
So why do I run?
I run because I can. I run because for the first time in my life, no one is telling me what to do and who to be, so I’m deciding for myself. I run because when my family and best friends were far away and couldn’t come hug me, my fellow runners were there, and they listened, even if all I had to say that day was the sad patter of my shoes on the pavement and the huffing of my breath in the morning air. I run because running gave me freedom. Actually, running didn’t give me freedom. It just taught me I was strong enough to give it to myself.
And I lived happily ever after. Because I decided to.