I ran a 5k today, my first. I didn’t really run. I completed it in 39 minutes which is barely a jogging pace, but I jogged the entire time, stopping only once to linger in shade. It was 84 degrees at start time, quite reminiscent of the day in 2007 that Kevin ran his first and only marathon. That day was so hot a few of the runners crossed the finish line on stretchers, one was intubated. Kevin was suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion. He had a look on his face that was different from anything I had ever seen. But I would see it again when, a year and a half later, after surgery to his spine, he developed a hematoma and wasn’t getting enough air to his lungs or his brain. That run precluded his cancer by only a few months and he came to think that the extreme training regimen he endured could have had some causality.
|Twin Cities Marathon|
I have never liked running. Honestly, I still don’t. I’ll run a few times a week and improve my pace, maybe shoot for a longer run someday, but I don’t think I’ll ever get the “runners high” that Kevin loved so much. I am a social person who loves group exercise like aerobics and Zumba or group bike rides. Kevin was more solitary than most people realized and he loved individual pursuits. He also loved a challenge, especially one that he gave himself. So running to him was a personal challenge to be better than he thought he was, or better than others thought he could be. I understand now, more so than I ever did before, how one can be caught up in the self- imposed challenge. I have dared myself multiple times in the past five years to move forward, try something new, do something I never thought I could. The decision to run a 5k (and I should say, I did it as part of a social group) was just another in a line of tests I’ve given myself.
Rising to those challenges has changed me in many ways. And I am constantly dealing with that change. I can’t help but feel sometimes an almost overwhelming sense of betrayal for all that I’ve started and accomplished in the past five years (and thanks to my dear friend Dania for helping me put a name to this strange feeling). If Kevin were here right now, he would barely recognize this person I’ve become: a teacher, a writer, a Detroiter, and hardest sometimes to reconcile, a happy person.
As I trained for the 5k--running with a group of people I’d never met before and making new friends as we moved along the Dequindre Cut Greenway, one of my favorite spots in Detroit--I very often thought about Kevin and his love of running. As I've mentioned, it was something that we didn’t share and there were times when I would be aggravated by his need to get up and run in the morning when the kids needed tending and we were all rushing to get out the door, or Saturday mornings when there was a long list of chores and he would go out for an hour to drive to the trail and run. It wasn’t until after he was gone that I fully understood how much he needed that time and that routine. His ADD made it difficult for him to stay on task and being able to tick something off each day before he even got in the shower was important and helped to get him focused for the rest of the day. Some of his ashes are spread along his favorite trail. I wish I had understood more thoroughly and been more generous.
As with many things around loss, I learn about Kevin and I learn about myself as I learn something new. I know that this challenge to run and complete a 5k was motivated in part by the feeling of betrayal or moving away. I know on some level I thought that maybe if I do something he would have loved for me to do, I can be at peace. The first time this thought came to me, about two weeks into training, this Kenny Chesney/Dave Matthews song came up on my phone as I was completing my run.
Of course it never had before. It was part of Kevin’s chemo playlist and was suggested to Kevin by another dear friend, Jenny, as he was compiling treatment music. I had purposely avoided loading any of Kevin's treatment music onto my phone because it's still very emotional, so I have no idea how it even got onto my playlist.
When the song came on after our run, I didn’t hang around the group to stretch, but went straight for my car and had a good cry.
Today, I purposely loaded Kevin’s running playlist onto my phone. I felt it fitting that he would be with me in this way; another challenge. I was running with him and for him and for all the running he was never able to do. I was running for me and our kids as we see a future and try our best to embrace it with all our hearts. I was running for forgiveness. More than anything else, I was running for forgiveness.
About five minutes into the run a goofy song came on that Kevin loved and I hated. I won’t even mention its name since it is really goofy and I’d have to tell the whole long story behind it. But of course I knew that he was laughing at me having to listen to this song, and telling me it was ok that I didn't love every single thing about him.
"Live this good and full and happy life," Kevin would say. "To do any less would be the real betrayal."
"Leave that burden right here, at this finish line, and don’t keep trying to make me happy. Make yourself happy. Live your life."
I don't think I’ll ever grow to love running. But I’ll keep doing it. I'll keep running toward all that awaits me.
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